China Can’t Censor Away Growing Anger Over Athlete’s #MeToo Accusation

Ms. Peng’s case is the first #MeToo accusation leveled against someone within the highest ranks of power in China, the Politburo Standing Committee. It has highlighted the country’s swaggering confidence in its ability to suppress all criticism, including from women who have come forward with accusations of misconduct.

“She is definitely not the first one to be forced into silence and disappeared,” Lü Ping, an activist who founded the now-banned Chinese online forum Feminist Voices, wrote in a message from New Jersey, where she now lives. “This kind of encounter is absolutely not uncommon in China now. The authorities have too much power and no one can hold them accountable.”

What has elevated Ms. Peng’s case is her celebrity at home. As she skyrocketed through the ranks of professional tennis, she was once held up by the Chinese government as a model athlete. “She is like a breeze in women’s tennis,” the People’s Daily, the main newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, wrote in 2013. “She’ll always be our Chinese princess.”

That was shortly after she and her doubles partner, Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan, won the championship at Wimbledon. They won again at the French Open in 2014, the year she reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open as a singles player and was lauded by officials as a “golden flower” of Chinese sports.

On Nov. 2, her accusation became a thorn in the government’s side.

In a long, at times disjointed post published on her verified social media account that night, Ms. Peng described an on-and-off relationship with Mr. Zhang, a former provincial governor who served as one of seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee between 2012 and 2017. When he stepped down, her post said, they reunited and he assaulted her after inviting her to play tennis with him and his wife.

Ms. Peng, 35, described feeling powerless in making accusations against such a politically powerful man. In the account, which has not been corroborated, Ms. Peng acknowledged that she could not provide evidence.

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