Zhang Gaoli’s ‘Online Presence’ Goes Viral After Olympic Committee’s Video Call With Peng Shuai

By Lucy Crawford | December 7, 2021
Born and raised in China, Lucy Crawford has been living in Canada for over 20 years. She has great sympathy for Chinese and human suffering in general. With a Master's degree in Education and having worked on various professions, she now translates and writes about stories in ancient and modern China. She lives in Calgary with her husband and four children.
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This combination of file photos shows tennis player Peng Shuai of China (L) during her women's singles first round match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 16, 2017; and Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli (R) during a visit to Russia at the Saint Petersburg International Investment Forum in Saint Petersburg on June 18, 2015. (Image: Paul CROCK and Alexander ZEMLIANICHENKO / AFP)

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has been in the spotlight after she accused former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault earlier this month. She has not been seen since. 

In response, the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s President Thomas Bach held a video chat with Peng Shuai to “confirm her safety. ” It has led to concerns about the IOC’s endorsement of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and raised suspicions of the organization acting as a propaganda tool for the CCP. It has also been reported that Zhang Gaoli was in charge of organizing the Beijing Winter Olympics and knew Bach since 2016, adding another layer of complexity. 

Photo showing the president of the Olympic Games and Zhang Gaoli shaking hands went viral

Zhang Gaoli became the head of the 24th Winter Olympic Games Task Force in 2015 and was in charge of its preparations. According to the Wall Street Journal and Reuters, Zhang was in charge of economic affairs while serving as vice-premier of the State Council. He organized the ” leadership group” that oversaw and directed the Winter Olympics until 2018. He then handed the job over to the current vice-premier Han Zheng.

Xinhua also reported that Zhang met with IOC President Bach in Zhongnanhai’s Ziguang Pavilion on June 12, 2016. In addition to thanking Bach and the IOC for their support of Beijing’s bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, Zhang stressed that the Chinese Communist government attaches great importance to the preparations for the Beijing Winter Olympics. The two shook hands for a photo opportunity.

In response, Bach said that “the Chinese (Communist) government has been active in promoting the Olympic Movement. I believe that the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will be a great success.”

It has sparked concerns since the news broke. In response, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said it was normal and common practice that IOC representatives often meet with relevant parties. But many believe it has made the incident of video communication between the IOC and Peng Shuai more suspicious.

Some have left comments such as “IOC is an organization affiliated with the CCP, and has long lost its founding spirit, sad”; and “IOC has been kissing the Communist Party for a long time, so why not move to Beijing, China, and call it CIOC instead!”

CCP dismisses alleged sexual assault by Zhang Gaoli

Peng Shuai has disappeared after her Weibo post. Since she is a famous Chinese tennis star, the news of her disappearance immediately triggered a great deal of international attention. 

The World Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) even warned the CCP that if it fails to investigate the case, the WTA will withdraw from the Chinese market at the expense of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. In response, Chinese officials have been throwing out videos of Peng Shuai to show that she is “fine and safe” but have also deliberately avoided the issue of Zhang Gaoli.

Hu Ping, editor-in-chief emeritus of Beijing Spring, tweeted on the 22nd that Zhang Gaoli had in reality seriously violated Article 150 of the Communist Party Discipline. The article stipulates that if a person has inappropriate sexual relations with another person, causing adverse effects, and the circumstances are serious, he or she shall be given the punishment of revocation of party position or probation; if the circumstances are serious, he or she shall be expelled from the party.

Hu Ping also said in another tweet, “Peng Shuai’s Weibo post is a double-edged sword. If it is true, the sword will cut down Zhang Gaoli; if it is false, it will cut down Peng Shuai (guilty of slander). The authorities want the world to believe that Zhang Gaoli is safe and sound, and so is Peng Shuai. This is logically impossible.”

Radio France, for its part, cited an analysis by French political scientist Antoine Bondaz. Bondaz stated that the CCP’s emphasis on the role of leaders as role models and the scandal of Zhang Gaoli’s alleged sexual assault has destroyed this carefully crafted image of the CCP.

Moreover, some commentators pointed out that Zhang’s sexual assault of Peng Shuai once again revealed a “culture of sexual assault” in mainland China under the CCP’s rule. Zhang is a prime example of the CCP’s “culture of sexual assault” in that he not only had the privilege to sexually assault women when he was in office but also continued to do it after his retirement. Although Peng Shuai is a victim of such a culture, she has received attention because she is an international celebrity. However, unknown women who have been sexually assaulted won’t likely receive any attention even if they write a thousand posts.

So far, although Peng Shuai has made “frequent appearances” overseas, information about her is still banned in mainland China. The issue of whether Zhang Gaoli is suspected of sexual assault has been deliberately avoided by Beijing authorities.