China's Peng Shuai Makes #MeToo Allegation Zhang Gaoli

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Peng Shuai’s accusation against Zhang Gaoli takes the country’s budding #MeToo question to the apical echelons of the Communist Party for the archetypal time.

The Chinese tennis prima  Peng Shuai astatine  the Australian Open successful  Melbourne, Australia, successful  January 2020.
Credit...Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

Steven Lee Myers

Nov. 3, 2021, 1:35 a.m. ET

Peng Shuai, the nonrecreational tennis star, publically accused a erstwhile vice premier of China of intersexual assault, igniting an online firestorm of attraction to a #MeToo allegation that for the archetypal clip touched the pinnacles of Communist Party power.

Ms. Peng made the allegation successful a station connected Tuesday nighttime connected her verified relationship connected Weibo, China’s mentation of Twitter. In it, she described an battle that began an on-and-off consensual narration with Zhang Gaoli, who from 2013 to 2018 served on the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the apical ruling assemblage successful China.

The station was removed wrong minutes, but the allegations swirled done the country’s heavy controlled internet, fueled by the fame of the accuser and the accused. That kept the censors wrong China’s Great Firewall scrambling.

Searches of her sanction and adjacent the connection “tennis” appeared to beryllium blocked, reflecting the bonzer sensitivity wrong China of discussing misconduct by enactment leaders.

“The interaction of #MeToo has been accumulating for 3 years,” Lü Pin, an activist who founded the now-banned Chinese online forum Feminist Voices, said successful a telephone interrogation from New Jersey, wherever she present lives. “When the archetypal women began talking astir their experiences 3 years ago, nary 1 could person imagined that it would scope this precocious level.”

Ms. Peng’s accusations could not beryllium corroborated. In her post, she acknowledged that she would beryllium incapable to nutrient grounds of her accusation, suggesting astatine 1 constituent that Mr. Zhang had expressed worries that she mightiness grounds their encounters.

She could not beryllium reached for comment. The State Council, China’s governing body, did not instantly respond to a petition for comment.

The authorities person charged authorities officials with intersexual misconduct before, often successful conjunction with corruption investigations. Never before, though, has an accusation of intersexual misconduct been leveled publically against arsenic elder a governmental person arsenic Mr. Zhang.

“These allegations are not shocking successful substance but are shocking successful the target,” Bill Bishop, the laminitis of Sinocism, a newsletter connected Chinese affairs, wrote.

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Credit...Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

An economist by education, Mr. Zhang, present 75, roseate done the ranks of the enactment and government. He served arsenic politician of Shandong, the coastal province, and past arsenic party caput successful Tianjin, the provincial-level larboard metropolis connected the Bohai Sea. As vice premier from 2013 to 2018, helium was 1 of 7 members of the Politburo Standing Committee, headed then, arsenic now, by China’s leader, Xi Jinping.

“I cognize that for idiosyncratic of your eminence, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ve said that you’re not afraid,” Ms. Peng wrote successful her post, “but adjacent if it’s conscionable me, similar an ovum hitting a rock, oregon a moth to the flame, courting self-destruction, I’ll archer the information astir you.”

Women successful media, astatine universities and successful the private sector successful China person each travel guardant with accusations of intersexual battle and harassment — lone to look pushback successful the courts and censorship online.

In China, galore women say, determination remains an ingrained patriarchal tradition of utilizing positions successful concern oregon authorities to summation intersexual favors from subordinates oregon different women. In 2016, the country’s apical prosecuting bureau listed the speech of “power for enactment recklessly” arsenic 1 of six traits of elder officials accused of corruption.

The accuser successful different high-profile harassment case, Zhou Xiaoxuan, posted a enactment expressing sympathy for Ms. Peng, illustrating however wide the accusation became known contempt the censorship. “I anticipation she’s harmless and sound,” she wrote.

Ms. Zhou, who successful 2018 accused a salient tv anchor of intersexual harassment 4 years earlier, emerged arsenic a trailblazer of China’s fledgling #MeToo question and besides a unfortunate of the societal and ineligible challenges women who travel guardant face. In September, a tribunal successful Beijing ruled that she had “tendered insufficient evidence” to beryllium her lawsuit against the anchor, Zhu Jun, who has sued her for slander.

Mr. Zhang retired successful 2018, when, according to Ms. Peng’s account, the 2 resumed a narration that had begun erstwhile helium served successful Tianjin, which would person been betwixt 2007 and 2012. She said helium had archetypal assaulted her aft inviting her to play tennis with him and his wife. “I ne'er consented that afternoon, crying each the time,” she wrote, not specifying erstwhile precisely the battle occurred.

At the clip she was soaring done a nonrecreational vocation that would propel her to a No. 1 ranking successful doubles with the Women’s Tennis Association successful 2014 and arsenic precocious arsenic 14th arsenic a singles player.

With her partner, Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan, she won the doubles title astatine Wimbledon successful 2013 and again astatine the French Open successful 2014. That year, playing singles, she reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open. She remains ranked 189th successful singles and 248th successful doubles, past playing astatine the Qatar Total Open successful February 2020, according to the association.

She was 1 of the athletes who broke retired of the country’s sports system, which mandates that astir bid nether authorities coaches and springiness astir of their earnings, adjacent from endorsements, backmost to the state. She was 1 of the archetypal to scope an statement to let her to bid and question by herself and support a larger stock of the earnings.

Her station continued to circulate successful surface shots and different messages adjacent aft it was deleted, a testament to the resonance accusations similar hers has successful Chinese society.

“The censorship is not working,” Ms. Lü, the activist, said. She added that portion it was important that radical were discussing the issue, “changing argumentation is the astir hard part.”

Chris Buckley and Hannah Beech contributed reporting. Claire Fu and Liu Yi contributed research.

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