Chinese tennis champion disappears from social media after sex abuse claim against top party official

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Peng Shuai is a household name in China who took the Wimbledon doubles title in 2013 with Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei - Edgar Su/Reuters
Peng Shuai is a household name in China who took the Wimbledon doubles title in 2013 with Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei - Edgar Su/Reuters

A Chinese tennis star who appeared to make allegations of sexual abuse against a former top official in the all-powerful Communist Party has seen her online presence blocked and her name wiped from social media.

The reported claims by Peng Shuai, 35, a Wimbledon doubles champion, against former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, 75, mark the country’s highest-profile allegations of their kind and come just days before a major meeting of the Communist leadership.

Activists said the claims revealed the “excessive abuses of power” of China’s ruling elite.

In a social media post that was almost instantly removed, Ms Peng described a more than decade-long, on-and-off relationship with the one-time member of the Politburo Standing Committee.

Their affair began in Tianjin, near Beijing, where Mr Zhang was then Communist Party chief, according to the post.

The relationship allegedly ended before he ascended to the seven-member standing committee and became vice-premier.

But three years ago they met again in Beijing, the post claimed.

Ms Peng went to the married Mr Zhang’s home to play tennis and he later demanded sex, it said.

“You said a lot, basically to ask me to unload any mental burdens. I wasn’t willing after supper, and you said you hated me! You said you never forgot me in the seven years and promised to be kind to me,” she wrote.

“With fear and panic, and with my feelings from seven years ago, I agreed.”

Zhang Gaoli was the Communist Party head in Tianjin and later a member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee - Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Zhang Gaoli was the Communist Party head in Tianjin and later a member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee - Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The following three years were unpleasant and the pair separated again in recent days following a row, according to the post.

It was not possible to verify whether the post was written by Ms Peng, who has not responded to media requests for comment. Internet users took screengrabs of the lengthy statement and circulated them online before the account was blocked and tennis forums on the popular Weibo social media platform were silenced.

Ms Peng, a household name in China who took the Wimbledon doubles title in 2013 with Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei, appeared to admit she had no evidence to back up her claims.

“Except me, there’s no evidence to prove,” the post said. “No voice recording, no tape, only the real experience of a distorted me.”

It added: “You’ve said you are not afraid, but even as an egg hurled at a rock, a moth to a flame for self-destruction, I will speak the truth with you.

“I admit I am not a good girl, but a very very bad girl.”

Some Chinese celebrities and other public figures have been brought low by allegations of sexual abuse in the wake of the #MeToo movement in the West.

But until now, such allegations have not been aired against officials of the Communist Party, which tightly controls the country’s media and judicial system.

Lv Pin, a Chinese women’s rights activist, said the post exposed the “rotten and decadent” system at the top.

“Her revelation is very important, for it lets people get a glimpse of the real life of China’s highest leaders, their excessive abuse of power, corruption and their fear behind a moral façade wrapped in power,” Lv said.

“They’ve always been exploiting women, but it’s only that it’s been done behind black curtains.”

China’s top officials are set to meet next week for the first time in more than a year, as leader Xi Jinping sets the groundwork for a third-term in power - unprecedented since the time of Mao Zedong.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said he “hadn’t heard” of the Peng allegations when asked to comment by journalists on Wednesday.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting