Chinese tennis star makes explosive #MeToo allegations

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Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has accused retired Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct  (Reuters)
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has accused retired Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct (Reuters)

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai said she was sexually assaulted by the country’s former vice premier Zhang Gaoli, the first time a #MeToo case has been alleged against a retired Communist Party official.

The allegations have triggered a firestorm and swift online censorship by authorities.

In a post on Chinese social media platform Weibo on Tuesday, Ms Peng, 35, described the assault, that led to an on-and-off consensual relationship with Mr Zhang, reported The New York Times.

Mr Zhang, 75, served on the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the top ruling body in China from 2013 to 2018.

In her post, Ms Peng said: “I know that for someone of your eminence, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ve said that you’re not afraid.

“But even if it’s just me, like an egg hitting a rock, or a moth to the flame, courting self-destruction, I’ll tell the truth about you.”

In her post, she said that he first assaulted her when she was invited to play tennis with him and his wife. “I never consented that afternoon, crying all the time,” she wrote.

While Ms Peng did not specify a date in her post, she said the relationship began when he was serving in Tianjin, believed to be between 2012 and 2017.

Ms Peng added that the two resumed their relationship in 2018 after the vice premier retired.

While government officials have been charged with sexual misconduct before, this is the first time that a senior member of the Communist Party has faced such an allegation.

Ms Peng’s post said that while she did not have any evidence for her allegation, Mr Zhang had earlier expressed concerns that she may be recording their encounters.

The post was removed within minutes, but screenshots continued to be circulated online. Searches for her name or even the word ‘tennis’ soon appeared to be blocked, reported Bloomberg.

Neither Ms Peng nor the State Council, China’s governing body, responded to requests by The Times for a comment.

Ms Peng has held the world number one ranking in doubles with the Women’s Tennis Association in 2014.

She had won the doubles championship at Wimbledon in 2013 and again at the French Open in 2014.

Women in China have faced pushbacks while coming forward with sexual misconduct allegations. In September, a court in Beijing ha ruled against Zhou Xiaoxuan, who became the face of the country’s #MeToo movement after she accused a prominent television anchor of harassment.

The court said she had not produced enough evidence against the anchor, who had sued her.

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