China tennis star ‘forced’ by Communist Party official

A Chinese tennis star has accused a party leader of raping her more than 10 years ago, but he denies it. Peng Shuai, a two-time Grand Slam semifinalist, said she was raped by her then-boss, a retired official who later became a vice chairman of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Here’s a look at the accusation and the man who has been accused of it.


Peng Shuai came forward in June, an anonymous source told the Chinese-language Guangzhou Daily in July. She claimed the party official, Li Zheng, offered her champagne at a party and then sexually assaulted her in his office. At the time, Peng said she first accepted Li’s offer and then angrily rebuffed him, then tried to leave after he forced himself on her. He reportedly carried her out by the shoulders, forcing her to stand in a corner as a friend held her purse. “I screamed several times but he didn’t listen. I resisted him so much I didn’t understand why he was suddenly calming down,” Peng told the Guangzhou Daily. She filed a police report, but the newspaper said Li was previously accused of rapes by 11 women. The paper, citing unidentified sources, reported he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2011 for rape, kidnapping and other crimes, though an official court recording of the ruling is not public. Courts in southern China routinely ban victims from naming suspects after seeing their families and supporters mobilize in a rally around the family. Li was one of the survivors who spoke to the media at an event organized by the Foundation Against Sexual Violence in August 2016, a year after he was found guilty. Li did not attend the event, where Peng described her ordeal.


Peng’s accusations against Li come after a spate of high-profile cases of corruption in Chinese politics over the past year. Earlier this year, former high-ranking police official Meng Jianzhu became the highest-ranking official to be sentenced to prison in decades for bribery and abuse of power. He was given a suspended death sentence, making him eligible for release after 15 years. Political rival Xu Caihou, formerly one of the vice chairs of the military commission, died of bladder cancer after serving 18 years in prison. Police are reportedly still looking for Guo Boxiong, a former vice chairman of the politburo standing committee, who disappeared after being stripped of his position in early 2012 over corruption allegations. Guo is an ally of former president Jiang Zemin. Xi Jinping, who took power in 2013, has taken a hardline approach against perceived abuses of power, including prosecuting senior party members. Dozens of officials have been arrested in corruption probes in recent years, at a time when government anti-graft commission claims party members “seriously infringed upon the function of public officials.”


The Beijing-based China Daily newspaper quoted Li’s younger brother as saying he doesn’t believe the accusations, saying Li was a man of great kindness and integrity. It was not clear if the newspaper article referred to an interview that took place with his sibling or another.


Peng is a two-time Grand Slam semifinalist from China, and her accusations have drawn comparisons to the string of cases against high-ranking officials in the country. Her claims drew criticism from some in China. “Peng Shuai is China’s last hope for men’s tennis. She’s already one of the biggest attractions, and if women athletes can actually tolerate such a thing, we will all be in good shape,” one person wrote on China’s popular Sina Weibo microblog, according to The Telegraph newspaper. Others suggested Peng’s claims should have been made in a political context, giving it a social value. “Is this the 1st time that athletes participate in men’s affairs so that they can be accepted in this arena? Is this the first time that they are made the subject of a social debate? Let’s think,” another person wrote on Weibo.


China’s anti-corruption watchdog has recommended that Li is removed from his party role and stripped of his Communist Party membership. He remains a member of the All-China Women’s Association, a party-run organization that oversees women’s sports and technology and promotes a gender-equal society. He could face criminal charges in an unrelated case where he is accused of accepting bribes, state media have reported.

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