China is facing the biggest hurricane #MeToo to date after one of the biggest tennis stars allegedly online had been sexually assaulted by a retired senior Communist party official.
The country's internet analysts quickly tried to clear up any misconceptions about the issue by blocking certain search terms and recent comments from people suspected of being involved.
On Tuesday night, a long message explaining the allegations was posted on Weibo's confirmed social media account of paid tennis player Peng Shuai, 35. Sinocism Newsletter also confirmed to NBC News that you had seen the post live before it was removed.
Peng's account, with more than half a million followers. It is not yet clear whether you have deleted this post or made it by Chinese inspectors.
Peng, who was once ranked first in double tennis, in a message said he was sexually abused during an agreement, consistently agreed with Zhang Gaoli, a former deputy prime minister who also served on China's Politburo Standing Committee. he was one of the country's most powerful officials after President Xi Jinping.
Zhang Gaoli prepares for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in April 2017. Alexei Druzhinin / Sputnik via AP file
The Information Council of the National Council of China, the Chinese governing body, has not responded to requests for comment.
Zhang is one of the top officials of the Chinese Communist Party in recent years, and as a result his contact details are not publicly available, so he could not be contacted directly.
The Chinese Tennis Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It is not yet clear who is in charge or representing Peng and no one in his team can be contacted.
Asked about the matter Wednesday at a press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said he "did not know" and that "it was not a question of officials."
This is not the first time a high-profile man in China has been charged with sexual harassment following the #MeToo movement that spread worldwide in 2017. But never before have such allegations been made against the former most powerful official in the country - the state of the party.
In a deleted post now, which does not include a clear timeline of events, Peng said he had engaged in consensual sex with Zhang, who was married, several times during the past 10 years. But he said one of these times was inconsistent. He did not say when the alleged assault took place and said he could not prove his allegations.
“That afternoon, I was terrified. I did not expect it to be this way, ”he told Weibo, a Chinese social media platform like Twitter. "I did not agree to sleep with you and I have been crying in the afternoon."
It is unclear why Peng's allegations surfaced now, but they come at a crucial time in the Communist Party, which holds a special rally in Beijing next week. The event is crucial to Xi's plans to win the third unprecedented conference at next year's club conference, which takes place every five years.
This week, online searches or comments about the alleged attack were banned on Weibo, and users were unable to search Peng's profile or comment on his previous posts. The term “tennis” was also tested, meaning that 500 million stadium users could not directly discuss the game.
Zhang, aged 75 or 76, served as China's deputy prime minister from 2013 to 2018 and was a member of its top leadership, a seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.
The internal functioning of the Chinese government is rated by monitors as one of the world's most opaque. It imposes stricter limits on freedom of speech, especially when it comes to criticism of the Communist Party and its top officials.