Chinese tennis star accuses former top leader of sexual assault

Chinese tennis star accuses former top leader of sexual assault
© Alan Diaz / Associated Press

Professional tennis player Peng Shuai on Tuesday accused former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. 

Peng posted the accusation on her verified account on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site akin to Twitter. There she alleged that Zhang had assaulted her before the two began a years-long consensual relationship, according to The New York Times. The post was removed from Weibo within minutes.

"I know that for someone of your eminence, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ve said that you’re not afraid," Peng's accusation read, per the Times. "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."

ADVERTISEMENT

The post's removal highlighted China's strict online censorship culture. On Wednesday, it was not possible to create any Weibo posts containing the names Zhang Gaoli and Peng Shuai. Attempts to create such posts were met with a notice that they violated "relevant laws and regulations," according to The Washington Post

Searches of Peng's name and even the term "tennis" were also seemingly prohibited, the Times reported.

The Times added that Peng noted in her post that she would be unable to provide evidence to back up her accusation. She said that Zhang, who served on the country's top ruling body — the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee — from 2012 through 2017, had previously voiced concern that Peng might record their encounters.

In 2014, Peng became the first Chinese tennis player to be ranked No. 1 in doubles by the Women’s Tennis Association. She won doubles titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014 along with her tennis partner Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan, the Post reported.

Peng's accusation follows a number of other allegations of sexual abuse from accomplished athletes. U.S. lawmakers last month called for investigations into sexual harassment and abuse claims in the National Women’s Soccer League. 

In September, U.S. gymnastics stars offered a scathing review of the FBI's handling of its investigation into accusations of abuse against disgraced gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

The public nature of Peng's allegation is relatively unprecedented in China, the Post noted, as the country's officials tend to be extremely private about personal matters.