China’s Peng Shuai Makes #MeToo Claim Against Zhang Gaoli

An economist by education, Mr. Zhang, now 75, rose through the ranks of the party and government. He served as governor of Shandong, the coastal province, and then as party secretary in Tianjin, the provincial-level port city on the Bohai Sea. As vice premier from 2013 to 2018, he was one of seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, headed then, as now, by China’s leader, Xi Jinping.

“I know that for someone of your eminence, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ve said that you’re not afraid,” Ms. Peng wrote in her post, “but even if it’s just me, like an egg hitting a rock, or a moth to the flame, courting self-destruction, I’ll tell the truth about you.”

Women in media, at universities and in the private sector in China have all come forward with accusations of sexual assault and harassment — only to face pushback in the courts and censorship online.

In China, many women say, there remains an ingrained patriarchal tradition of using positions in business or government to gain sexual favors from subordinates or other women. In 2016, the country’s top prosecuting agency listed the exchange of “power for sex recklessly” as one of six traits of senior officials accused of corruption.

The accuser in another high-profile harassment case, Zhou Xiaoxuan, posted a note expressing sympathy for Ms. Peng, illustrating how widely the accusation became known despite the censorship. “I hope she’s safe and sound,” she wrote.

Ms. Zhou, who in 2018 accused a prominent television anchor of sexual harassment four years earlier, emerged as a trailblazer of China’s fledgling #MeToo movement and also a victim of the social and legal challenges women who come forward face. In September, a court in Beijing ruled that she had “tendered insufficient evidence” to prove her case against the anchor, Zhu Jun, who has sued her for slander.


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