By Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman
Tennis star Peng Shuai has accused a former ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader of pressuring her into a sexual relationship, according to a screenshot of a post made to her verified social media account late on Tuesday.
“I know this won’t come out right, and there’s no point in saying it. But I still want to. I know I’m a hypocrite,” the post said. “I freely admit that I’m not one of the good girls.”
“Former vice premier Zhang Gaoli, you contacted me about three years ago, after you’d retired … saying you wanted to play tennis with me at Tangming Mansions in Beijing,” the post said, referring to an encounter in 2018.
“We played in the morning, and when we were done, you and your wife Kang Jie took me back to your home, then into the bedroom. It was the same scenario as in Tianjin more than a decade ago. You wanted to have sex with me.”
“I was pretty scared and very cautious … I couldn’t stop crying … After dinner, when I still didn’t want to, you said you hated me! You said you’d never forgotten me from seven years ago, and that you’d been waiting [to get back together with me again]. So, pressured by the weight of these feelings you’d been carrying around for the past seven years, I consented,” the post said.
“And, yes, we had sex … You said you couldn’t get a divorce because of your position, that if you’d met me when you were [CCP party secretary] in Shandong, you could have. So I thought I would be your companion in the shadows,” it said, before detailing humiliation, mostly from Zhang’s wife, and a sense of social isolation caused by being made to keep the affair secret.
She described Zhang as paranoid, and obsessed with the idea that she could be bringing hidden recording devices to their meetings.
“Then you ghosted me again, just like you had seven years earlier. You’d had your fill and now you were done. You denied that there was anything between us, and you were right: the only things we had were sexual attraction, money, and power, but no actual relationship,” the post said.
Censors erase story
A Weibo search for “Peng Shuai” on Wednesday yielded only items dating to Sept. 10, suggesting that censors have now erased the story from China’s tightly controlled social media platforms. But screenshots of the post have been circulating widely, both inside and outside China.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin declined to comment on the story, saying it had nothing to do with foreign affairs.
China’s #MeToo movement made headlines in 2018, when Beihang University fired a professor, Chen Xiaowu, after he was publicly accused by his former PhD candidate Luo Xixi on social media of sexual harassment and assault.
Luo’s #MeToo whistleblowing was among the first to make headline news in China, and Chen’s dismissal represented an “initial victory” for Chinese women, she has said.
But government censors and CCP propagandists have clamped down on the country’s feminist movement, detaining five feminists on International Women’s Day 2015 after they planned a campaign targeting sexual harassment on public transportation.
Worship of power, money
Southern Metropolis Daily founder Cheng Yizhong said Peng’s alleged affair with Zhang would have taken place in an atmosphere that worships power and money around the CCP elite.
“Peng Shuai may have acted out of a sense of obedience to power, or a kind of worship of it,” Cheng said. “Maybe that doesn’t make it right or justifiable, but it happens.”
“To this day, she may feel that she has been massively humiliated.”
Some commentators pointed out that the timeline referred to in the now-deleted post suggests that Peng was 19 years old when the initial sexual encounter happened in Tianjin. Zhang would have been 59.
Veteran journalist Liu Chengkun said the fact that the post references a former member of the Politburo standing committee will rock the CCP leadership.
“This is something nobody would dare to speak about, even in private, because it involves a member of the Politburo standing committee,” Liu told RFA.
He said Peng could now be targeted via the CCP-controlled judicial system.
“There is an atmosphere of red terror in this country right now, and this woman is very likely to be subject to retaliation via the criminal justice system for smearing the name of a national leader,” Liu said. “If they charge her with picking quarrels and stirring up trouble, she could get up to 10 years’ imprisonment.”
Zhang, now 75, served as vice premier between 2013 and 2018 and was a member of the Politburo standing committee between 2012 and 2017.
Peng was the world No.1 doubles player in 2014 after taking doubles titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.