A rare scandal involving a former top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official has reverberated across the Chinese internet after a prominent Chinese tennis player’s account of their decade-long relationship went viral on Nov. 2.
Peng Shuai, a former number one ranked tennis doubles player, accused China’s former vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual coercion, before becoming his mistress. Peng posted the allegation on her verified Twitter-like Weibo account on Tuesday. Although the post was taken down in less than an hour after it was published, a screenshot of the post was widely circulated online.
A sexual allegation against a high-ranking CCP official is rarely made public in China. The internet is heavily censored by Chinese authorities, and information on the private lives of top leaders are highly confidential.
At the time of writing, the 1,500-character post was removed from Peng’s social media account. The Epoch Times couldn’t verify the authenticity of the post.
As of Nov. 3, Peng’s verified Weibo account is available, but the comment and repost functions were turned off, and the earliest post is from last year. Searches for Peng’s name on Weibo yielded no results, and discussions of the topic were blocked. Users of WeChat and QQ, another chat app, were blocked from sharing the screenshot.
According to the screenshot, Peng, 35, accused Zhang, 75, of coercing her to have sexual relations with him several years ago, and they later had an on-and-off consensual relationship. Peng claimed that their relationship began 10 years ago in China’s port city Tianjin.
The Chinese regime tried to evade the topic during a press briefing on Wednesday. When asked about Peng’s social media post, Wang Wenbin, Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said he had not heard about it, adding, “this is not a question related to foreign affairs.”
However, recent scandals involving Chinese celebrities have come under the spotlight.
Last month, the celebrated pianist, Li Yundi, was accused of soliciting sex services. Beijing police announced the charge in a post with only part of Li’s name, but the CCP’s mouthpiece, People’s Daily, confirmed Li’s detention almost immediately. Soon after, his name was removed from a TV show he played a role in.
While Li’s account was banned from Weibo, censors allowed wide discussions on the social media platform, and topics related to Li’s case topped trending hashtags on Oct. 21.
In contrast, posts containing just the names of Zhang Gaoli and Peng Shuai are censored on Weibo. On Nov. 3, users received an error message when they searched the names, saying the content contains information that violates Weibo’s community rules.
Charges relating to extramarital relationships involving CCP cadres are usually publicly announced by Beijing’s disciplinary watchdog when they take down corrupt officials.
Though Zhang retired in 2018, he still has a good political reputation. Zhang was a member of the powerful Politburo Standing Committee between 2012 and 2017. He was also a key member of a political faction—known as the “Jiang faction” for its loyalty to former CCP leader Jiang Zemin—that opposes Xi Jinping’s leadership.
Reuters and Winnie Wu contributed to this report.