Chinese online censors on Thursday rejected claims by a tennis star that a powerful politician sexually assaulted her, the first time the #MeToo movement has reached the top echelons of the ruling Communist Party.
Peng Shuai, a former world number one doubles player, allegedly reported on former Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli in a Twitter-like post on Weibo on Tuesday.
Peng allegedly alleged that Zhang, who is now in his 70s, “forced” her to have sex and that they had an intermittent relationship that lasted for several years.
The post appears to have been deleted quickly and AFP has been unable to verify the authenticity of the screenshots containing the allegation, nor to substantiate the claims made therein.
Weibo data indicated that Peng posted something to his verified account on Tuesday and the post was viewed over 100,000 times, but the content is unknown.
There was no further word from Peng, 35, or a public response from Zhang, a former member of China’s powerful seven-member Politburo standing committee who is believed to be close to Premier Li Keqiang.
Chinese censors have since blocked any mention of allegations apparently made by Peng, a former doubles champion at Wimbledon and Roland Garros.
“Courting the disaster”
Searches of the tightly controlled internet in China, including Weibo and the Baidu search engine, also show no results when Peng and Zhang’s names are entered together.
Peng’s Weibo account was still active on Thursday, but does not appear in search results on the platform.
In the apparent screenshots of Peng’s long, heartfelt post accusing Zhang of forcing her to have sex, she reportedly wrote, “I was very scared.”
“I refused at first and kept crying.”
Peng reportedly claimed that they continued to have a relationship that continued until Zhang recently stopped contacting her.
She had no proof of the claimed relationship, she said, but added that Zhang’s wife knew about it.
The experience left her with self-loathing, she reportedly wrote.
“Even if it’s just a matter of throwing an egg against a rock, I – wooing disaster like a moth drawn to a flame – will talk about the facts about what happened,” Peng reportedly wrote.
China saw a fledgling #MeToo movement emerge in 2018, with allegations involving powerful public figures.
But such claims against the main political leaders have not been made publicly so far.
“Peng Shuai speaks out shows #MeToo won’t be stopped,” said Zhou Xiaoxuan, who in 2018 accused a prominent TV host of sexual harassment.
“As long as there is sexual assault in unbalanced power structures, there will be women who experience pain … and who speak out,” she added.
Feminist activist Lu Pin told AFP that Peng’s accusations were “very important” because they pointed to an invisible side of senior Chinese officials.
“Peng Shuai’s self-assessment is that of another flawed victim,” Lu said on Twitter.
“It is very difficult to break the unspeakable and the normalization of sexual violence imposed by an entire society with the meager power of an individual.”
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