Tennis star's shocking sex claims against China's former vice premier

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Peng Shuai and Zhang Gaoli, pictured here in China.
Peng Shuai has accused Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex. Image: Getty

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has seen her name completely wiped from social media after she publicly accused a former vice premier of forcing her into sex several years ago.

According to a screenshot from her verified Weibo account that appeared late on Tuesday, Peng said Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex and they later had an on-off consensual relationship.

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Peng said she went to the married Zhang’s home to play tennis and he later demanded sex.

“You said a lot, basically to ask me to unload any mental burdens," the former doubles World No.1 wrote.

"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.

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

Zhang became a member of the Politburo Standing Committee - China's top decision-making body.

Peng's post was deleted around half an hour after it was published, but screenshots were shared among private WeChat groups and over iMessage.

Searches for Peng's name on China's tightly controlled internet surged after the posting.

A Weibo timescale function showed that a hashtag of Peng Shuai's name, which had few to no mentions prior to Tuesday, has racked up more than 20 million views since her post. 

Discussions of the hashtag surged around the time of Peng's post, but later plummeted as posts on the topic were deleted.

By early Wednesday, searches for Peng's name on Weibo yielded no results and discussions of the topic were blocked.

Peng Shuai, pictured here with Su-Wei Hsieh after winning the Wimbledon doubles title in 2013.
Peng Shuai (R) with Su-Wei Hsieh after winning the Wimbledon doubles title in 2013. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Peng Shuai disappears from social media after claims

Users of WeChat and QQ, another chat app, were blocked from sending the screenshots to each other.

China's internet is heavily censored and the private lives of top leaders are an especially sensitive subject.

While Peng's Weibo account remains available with earlier posts visible, the comment and repost functions have been disabled.

Peng 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.

“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.”

Zhang Gaoli, pictured here with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017.
Zhang Gaoli with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

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

“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.”

Sexual harassment and assault were for years rarely broached in public in China until a #MeToo movement began in 2018, when a Beijing college student publicly accused her professor of sexual harassment. 

That spread to non-government organisations, media and other industries.

Peng became World No.1 in doubles in 2014 - the first Chinese player to achieve a top ranking.

She won doubles titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.

Zhang, now 75, was a vice premier between 2013 and 2018 and had also been party secretary of the northeastern province of Shandong. 

He served on the Politburo Standing Committee between 2012 and 2017.

with Reuters

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