The case of tennis player Peng Shuai shows that China is far from being the “exemplary society” praised by lifelong dictator Xi Jinping. Photo: Francis Malasig / EFE / EPA
How sad for the dictators. It is increasingly difficult for them to rule by terror, to force people to believe in their legitimacy and to impose their unique ideology. Despite all the technology they have – virtual espionage, social media censorship, facial recognition programs – people don’t believe it anymore.
In places where protesting is too dangerous, people resort to irony. Even in the Soviet Union, popular humor has always been how people laugh at their despots and tyrannical pretensions. Whatever the obstacles, the truth comes out, whether it be in the Iron Curtain of yesterday or in the great firewall of today. As proof, I present the fact that the #MeToo movement came to China from Xi Jinping, a country that should have been hermetically sealed to Western influences.
The big problem mobilizing Chinese public opinion these days, through parallel networks and word of mouth bypassing the official press, is not Xi declaring himself his own successor, but the denunciation of Peng Shuai. that Zhang Gaoli raped her. Who are Peng Shuai and Zhang Gaoli? Peng is a world famous tennis player – the best and most popular of Chinese tennis players. Zhang is a former high-ranking Communist Party member and former deputy prime minister.
Peng accused Zhang of repeatedly raping her, with the complicity of his own wife, who locked the door on him. Such crimes were common in ancient China and also among the Communist Party’s elite: Xi himself expelled several prominent Communists for “corruption and debauchery.” And no one was more “debauched” than Mao Zedong: he deflowered young virgins and spent his days in bed.
What is new in the Peng Shuai case is that, for the first time, the victim speaks openly and accuses one of the most powerful men in China. More than that, she asked all victims to expose rapists and stalkers. The #MeToo movement has indeed reached China, despite the Communist Party’s efforts to prevent the country from being contaminated by Western ideas.
Remember, when the #MeToo movement emerged in the United States, after the escapades of Harvey Weinstein and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the official Chinese press said that this kind of debauchery could only occur in capitalist countries, the China having remained pure, women being equal to men. But this claim has never been credible in China; the sexual habits of Mao and his successors were known to the Chinese. It is also clear that there are no women in high political positions in China. But no one expected Peng to do what she dared to do. She was arguably influenced by the #MeToo movement (like all of patriarchal Asia, from South Korea to Japan) and considered herself a relatively protected national icon.
Seriously, a dictator doesn’t really get any rest. Peng will likely be spared (although she has not been seen in public for some time) and Zhang will end her days in prison or a forced labor camp. Xi has no choice. But this case, which undoubtedly set a precedent, will not help China in its efforts to pass itself off as an exemplary company.
The image of the Communist Party is already eroded: in just two years, we have witnessed the global Covid-19 disaster that began in Wuhan; the conquest of Hong Kong; threats against Taiwan; war games in the Pacific; the arrest and extermination of Uyghurs; increased censorship; a president declaring himself dictator for life; attacks against India; resolute support for North Korean totalitarianism, etc.
After nine years of absolute power, Xi destroyed the “Chinese model”. Maoism was an export ideology (whatever it was), whereas today’s China has nothing to export other than material goods.
The 21st century will not be Chinese. What a pity for China and its people, for it was once a great civilization whose destruction began with the military conquest of the state by Mao. What was left of her is destroyed by power-hungry men. Curious that the revolution started with a woman.
Guy Sorman is a French intellectual, editor of the City Journal and author of several books.
© 2021 City newspaper. Posted with permission. Original in English