Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai disappeared after accusing senior official of rape

Peng Shuai during the Roland-Garros tournament, in Paris, in May 2018.

A week after tennis player Peng Shuai, 35, was told in detail about her rape by former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, 75, the young woman is missing. The champion, who notably won Roland Garros in doubles in 2014, accused, on November 2, the former leader of having forced her to have sex three years ago.

While China has seen several scandals in the #MeToo wave, in recent years, censorship and oversight of justice by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has kept the movement from gaining momentum. Such rape accusations affect for the first time a leader of such high rank within the CCP. But the total silence of the young woman since the case was made public lets fear the worst about her.

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Peng Shuai’s lengthy tale spent about twenty minutes on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter), enough for thousands of users to have time to take screenshots and then share them. Since then, the account of the former professional player has not published anything new. Comments have been disabled, and the topic is subject to tight censorship across Chinese social media. On the day of the revelation, even the word “tennis” (wangqiu) has been banned by Weibo.

A delicate moment for power

Refined over the years, censorship tools are now able to recognize screenshots or images used to allude to a situation or person. On the Douban social network, a leader of a discussion group dedicated to women’s rights asked members not to talk about the subject, to prevent the group from being closed.

During a daily press conference on November 3, the spokesperson for the foreign ministry refused to raise the subject: “ I haven’t heard of it and it’s not a diplomatic question. The affair came at a delicate moment for the authorities, less than a week before the sixth plenum of the Party, which brings together until Thursday, November 11 more than three hundred members of the central committee of the Communist Party. One year from XXe Congress which must renew part of the leadership of the apparatus and, in all likelihood, confirm Xi Jinping at the head of the Party and the country, the current plenum is of strategic importance.

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In his account of more than 1,500 sinograms, Peng Shuai recounts a troubled relationship that began seven years ago, shortly before Zhang Gaoli’s accession to the post of Deputy Prime Minister and the Standing Committee of the CPC Political Bureau, pinnacle of power bringing together the seven most senior leaders. After years of silence, Mr. Zhang, just retired, contacted her again three years ago for a game of tennis. The afternoon, he invites her to his home while his wife is at home, and forces her to have sex. ” I was very scared. That afternoon, I initially refused. I kept crying she writes. In the grip of fear and turmoil (…), I gave in and we had sex. “ Meanwhile, the ruler’s wife “Stand guard outside”. A relationship resumes, but Peng Shuai describes it as abusive, laden with lies and evasion, until an argument arose the week before the player’s revelations.

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