Chinese Tennis Star Accuses Politician of Assault, Social Media Account Then Deleted

Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai has accused a former politician of sexual assault, but her voice was quickly silenced as her social media account was deleted after she pleaded her case on Tuesday.

Chinese authorities have repressed all online discussions of the sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaoli, a former vice-premier and member of the party's Politburo Standing Committee, who Peng said forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals three years ago.

Peng wrote the allegations in a social media post Tuesday night on her verified Weibo account, a leading Chinese social media platform. Peng, 35, wrote that Zhang, now 75, and his wife played tennis in Beijing about three years ago and that he later brought Peng into a room at his home where the assault occurred.

"I was so frightened that afternoon, never thinking that this thing could happen," the post said.

The post was deleted quickly and a search for Peng's account on the platform now provides no results. The accusation is the first against a prominent government official since the #MeToo movement began in China in 2018. The #MeToo movement was quickly stamped out by the Communist Party in the same year and cracked down on civil society.

The Communist Party continues to shut down assault cases such as Peng's, as activists' online posts have been censored or deleted. China's response to Peng's case and the #MeToo movement illustrates its determination to control public opinion and restrain social movements it may not be able to control.

The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of Peng's social media post since it had been deleted, although screenshots of the post have circulated on Twitter, which is blocked in China. Neither Peng nor Zhang could be reached for comment.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai
Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai accused a former politician of sexual assault, had her case quickly silenced and social media deleted after she pleaded her case on Tuesday. Peng plays a shot against Romania's Sorana Cirstea during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris, France. Tuesday, May 30, 2017. Michel Euler

Peng is a former top-ranked doubles player, taking 23 tour-level doubles titles, including Grand Slams at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.

Screenshots of the post have circulated on Twitter, which is blocked in China, reinvigorating discussion on that platform about gender relations in China, where men dominate the top levels in politics and business.

Rumors and overseas reports about affairs between younger women and leading officials have long been staples of Chinese politics, starting with the founder of the People's Republic, Mao Zedong.

Cases brought against present and former officials under party leader and President Xi Jinping's decade-long anti-corruption campaign also frequently feature accusations of "lascivious lifestyles," along with bribery and abusing their positions.

Zhang retired in 2018 and has largely disappeared from public life, as is usual with former Chinese officials.

Peng hasn't played at the top tier since the Qatar Open in February 2020. In singles, she reached the semifinals of the 2014 U.S. Open and the Round of 16 at the subsequent Australian Open but hasn't progressed beyond the third round at any major since Wimbledon in 2017.

Zhou Xiaoxuan, a former intern at Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, was shoved by bystanders in September as she went to court in a case against a well-known presenter.