China's busy censors have seldom been as quick as this time.

On Wednesday night they only needed a few minutes to clear allegations of abuse by a prominent tennis player against a former vice prime minister.

Nevertheless, the topic was still on everyone's lips in Beijing on Thursday.

China's internet users are used to securing critical posts by screenshot and using all kinds of means to circumvent censorship.

After the term "tennis" was on the index in the meantime, there was a lot of talk on the Internet about "eating watermelon".

This is colloquial language and means engaging in gossip or witnessing a scandal.

Friederike Böge

Political correspondent for China, North Korea and Mongolia.

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The professional tennis player Peng Shuai accused the former top official Zhang Gaoli in an open letter of forcing her to have sex ten years ago and again three years ago. In the meantime, she had entered into an extramarital affair with him, she wrote on the Weibo network. However, when Zhang was promoted to the Standing Committee of the Communist Party's Politburo, China's most powerful body, in 2013, he dumped her and did not contact her again until he retired in 2018.

Peng writes that she has no evidence to support her allegations. During their meetings, Zhang always made sure that she couldn't take pictures or collect other evidence. "From start to finish, you always told me to keep our relationship a secret, even from my mother," writes the tennis player, who was once number one in the world rankings in doubles and won Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014 with her tennis partner . She let her mother drive her to church and then secretly got into Zhang's car. His wife knew about the meeting and covered her husband's machinations. The 35-year-old Peng expresses deep shame in her text. “I admit I'm not a good girl.” Elsewhere she writes of “love”. In the end he "threw them away".

MQAQ: For the moment, sure

Accusations of this kind against a high-ranking party official are extremely rare in China.

From the point of view of the apparatus, they endanger the reputation of the party.

It is true that in corruption proceedings against functionaries it regularly happens that they are accused of having mistresses and visiting prostitutes.

But that only applies to politicians who have fallen out of favor.

The reveal comes at a sensitive time. The party's central committee will hold its sixth plenary session in Beijing on Monday. The meeting is intended to establish the ideology of state and party leader Xi Jinping even more firmly in the party's canon and to consolidate his position of power. In this respect, it was inevitable that Peng's open letter would also fuel political speculation. Many wonder who would damage Zhang's benefit. Some observers describe the 75-year-old Zhang as an ally of Xi Jinping. During his time as deputy party leader in Guangdong Province in the 1990s, he is said to have maintained close relationships with Xi's father. But also to the former head of state and party leader Jiang Zemin, whose network was weakened under Xi Jinping.

The reaction of the party apparatus was different than in many other cases of alleged sexual abuse. More recently, the state media had repeatedly scolded alleged perpetrators before the police could establish the facts and the judiciary could make a judgment. This is what happened to the singer Kris Wu, for example, who served as evidence of the alleged depravity of the entertainment industry. That went well with a campaign that enacted socialist values ​​in show business. Of course, the allegations against Zhang were not reported at all. The social network Douban even blocked the South Korean television series "The Prime Minister and I" as a precaution. On the Internet, users tried to avoid censorship with abbreviations and code words. Tennis blogger Ouyang Wensheng wrote "MQAQ",which means something like "safe at the moment". This was taken as an indication that Peng Shuai was safe. The four letters MQAQ were later deleted.