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Tennis Player Peng Shuai Accuses Former High-Ranking Chinese Official Of Sexual Assault

Peng Shuai hits a shot at the 2020 Australian Open.
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai wrote a message on the social media platform Weibo on Tuesday that described an assault by and a consensual relationship with Zhang Gaoli, who was until 2018 one of the highest-ranking officials in the Chinese Communist Party.

Three years ago, Zhang retired from his post as a Vice Premier and a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the state’s most powerful governing body. According to Peng’s Weibo post, after Zhang’s retirement, he invited her to play tennis with him and his wife, and assaulted her that same day. Peng wrote that they later resumed a relationship that had initially begun a decade ago. Noting that she had no evidence to corroborate the events she described, she wrote that “even if I’m an egg throwing myself at a rock, even if I’m a moth flying at a flame, courting my own destruction, I will still speak the truth of us.”

A screenshot of the original message can be read here; below is a full translation:

I know I won’t say this perfectly, and that saying it will be useless anyway, but I still want to say it. I am such a hypocrite. I admit it. I’m not a good girl. I’m a really, really bad girl. About three years ago, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you retired, and you contacted me through Doctor Liu at the Tianjin Tennis Center. You asked me to play tennis with you at the Kangming Building in Beijing. That morning, after we played, you and your wife Kang Jie took me to your home. You brought me into your room, and just like you did in Tianjin over a decade ago, you insisted on having sex with me. I was very scared that afternoon. I never imagined it would be this way, with someone standing guard outside—who would have ever believed your wife would be OK with this?

Seven years prior we’d had a sexual relationship and then you were promoted to the Standing Committee and went to Beijing and never contacted me again, burying everything away in your heart. Back then you had no intention of taking responsibility for your actions, so why come back for me again, take me to your house, and force me to have sex with you? You’re right, I have no evidence. It would be impossible for me to have had any, and later you denied everything. But I know you cared, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to reach you. That first afternoon, I didn’t agree to it and I cried the whole time. At dinner I sat eating with you and Auntie Kang Jie, and you talked to me about how the universe was so big, and how the earth was only a grain of sand in the universe; we humans were less than even a grain of sand. You said a lot of other things too, all to try to ease my mind and make me forget. But after dinner I still didn’t want to do it. That’s when you told me you hated me! That for the last seven years you hadn’t forgotten about me, that you would be good to me, etc etc…Scared, panicked, and still harboring feelings for you from seven years ago, I acquiesced…and yes, we had sex. Feelings are complicated things, I can’t explain it, but from that day forward my love for you was reignited.

After that we had good times—when you get along with people you can be a very, very good person. You were good to me; we talked about everything from modern history to ancient times, you shared knowledge of so many things with me—economics, philosophy, there were endless things to talk about. We played chess together, we drank tea, we played ping pong, table tennis, tennis—we played so happily. Our personalities fit together so well, it seemed we really were a good match. From when I was very young I was deprived of love. I left home at such an early age. In the face of all that I never thought I was a good girl. I hated myself, I hated that I came to this world, that I had to experience all this. You told me you loved me, very much. That you wished that in the next life we would meet when you were twenty and I was eighteen. You said you were lonely, that you were pitifully alone. We spent days doing nothing but talking, never running out of things to say. You said that because of your position, there was no way you could get a divorce. That if you’d met me when you were still in Shandong, you would have gotten one, but there was no way now. I thought about just staying like that with you, completely in secret.

At first it was all right, but as the days went on things slowly changed; the insults increased, the injustices grew. Every time you made me leave, I had to carry with me all of the insults and ugly things your wife said to me, ridiculing me and mocking me. If I said I liked to eat duck tongue [she] would take a dig at me and say how disgusting it was. In the winter if it was a smoggy day in Beijing and I said the air wasn’t so good, she would say to me, “Oh that must just be in your district, we don’t feel anything here.” And so on… she’d make these kinds of remarks all the time. But when you were around, she wouldn’t do it. Just like the way you and I were: When two people are alone it’s one way, when there’s someone else listening, it’s another way. After hearing too much of this from her, I told you I felt uncomfortable.

I haven’t spent a penny of your money, since the day I met you. I have never benefited from your power nor through your privilege. But reputation is an important thing, and for everything that’s happened I still ought to be ashamed for my life. From start to finish you made me keep our relationship a secret. I couldn’t even tell my mother about the nature of our relationship. Every time we met she would drop me off at the church at Xisheku, and then I would have to get into the car you’d sent to go to your place. The whole time she thought I was going to play Mahjong, that I was going to your house just to play. You and I were invisible people in each other’s lives. Your wife was like the queen in The Legend of Zhen Huan—and I can’t even find the words for how unbearable I felt I was; so many times I wondered—am I still a human being? I felt like I was the walking dead, all pretend, every day I was pretending: Which me was the real me? I shouldn’t have come into this world, but I don’t have the courage to leave it either. I could have been suited for a simpler life, but things don’t always turn out the way you want them to. That night, the 30th, when we had that big fight, you told me to come back to your house on the afternoon of the 2nd and we’d talk things through calmly. Today at noon you called me to say something came up, and you’d get in touch again later—putting everything off, making an excuse and saying we’d “talk another time”… this is exactly how you “disappeared” seven years ago, playing with me for as long as you wanted and then dropping me when you felt like it.

You say no transaction ever took place between us; you’re right. The feelings we shared have nothing to do with money or power—nothing whatsoever. But this is three years’ worth of feelings, and that is something I can’t forget, even if it’s so hard to face. You’re afraid I had a tape recorder on me, that there is some trace of evidence left. No. Other than me, I have no evidence at all: I have no audio, no video—just the real experiences of twisted, ruined me. I know that as far as you’re concerned, high-ranking Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ll say you have nothing to be afraid of. But even if I’m an egg throwing myself at a rock, even if I’m a moth flying at a flame, courting my own destruction, I will still speak the truth of us. With your IQ, I know you’ll find ways to deny this or to turn this on me; you’ll play with the world without consequence. You always used to say that you hoped your mother would bless you from heaven. I’m a bad girl, unworthy of being a mother. But you’re a father. You have a son, a daughter. I’ve asked you before: Would you force all this on your daughter, even your adopted daughter? When the time comes, after all you’ve done in this lifetime, will you be able to face your mother with peace of mind? Look how sanctimonious we all are…

Defector contacted China’s State Council for comment on Peng’s allegation, and will update this post if there is a reply.

While Weibo might have created space for genuine dissent in its early days, it has since fallen in line with standard practice for criticism of the Chinese state or its officials: Peng’s message has been scrubbed away. Weibo users observed that they were barred from posting or searching her name, “tennis,” or “melon” (in slang, “melon eaters” are onlookers to a scandal), as well as emoji that phonetically suggest Peng’s name.

Peng peaked at No. 14 in the world in singles in 2011, and No. 1 in doubles in 2014. She won two doubles majors with Hsieh Su-wei.


Translation by Katy Pinke