Zhou, Long, and her mother met for lunch, where Zhou spoke openly about his business ambitions. Long's mother was wary and told her not to see or talk with him, even by phone. Long shared her mother's dislike of his badgering for coal connections, but like most any teenager, she also resented her mother's suspicions. Long had declined much of Zhou's hospitality, but she had already by her own account accepted hundreds of dollars in gifts, including a plane ticket, food, and clothes. She was edging toward the guanxi labyrinth of debts and obligations.
On Jan. 7, 2009, according to Long's account to Foreign Policy, Long invited Zhou for a meal at the Mao Family Mansion restaurant in Guiyang to explain what her mother had told her, at which Zhou allegedly exploded. She says that he shouted: "Do not even think about vanishing before finishing the task!" The following day, she alleges, Zhou was waiting at her Guiyang hotel when she returned to collect her bags before heading back on a flight to Beijing that her mother had booked for her. According to Long, the last thing he said before beating and raping her was: "When you receive gifts, you reciprocate."
Rape allegations are notoriously tricky to prosecute throughout the world. In China, the problems are compounded because the Communist Party explicitly controls the courts, and money can buy almost anything that isn't seen as challenging the party's grip on power. Whatever took place between Long and Zhou at 3 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2009, it's not clear that the Chinese legal system can deal with it. Cases of this sort are depressingly common. In August of this year, a woman was sentenced to 18 months of re-education in a labor camp for protesting in front of government buildings in Hunan province to petition for justice on behalf of her daughter who, at age 11, had been reportedly kidnapped, raped, and forced into prostitution in October 2006 by local officials. The mother was released after a nationwide outcry.
Long's mother advised against reporting her complaint to police, to avoid public humiliation, according to Long. Nevertheless, on June 13, 2009, five months after the alleged rape had occurred, a colleague of Long's mother joined Long at a police station on China North Road in Guiyang to file a statement. The officer on duty gave her a sympathetic hearing, she said, and investigators soon identified Zhou's DNA on a hotel sheet she had stashed into her bag and paid for on her credit card while leaving the hotel. After the alleged rape, he had hand-washed the sheet, she claims, but not thoroughly. Zhou acknowledged the existence of this evidence in an interview with Chinese media, but claimed that their relationship was consensual. "This only explains that we had sexual relations, not that I raped her," Zhou told a Hong Kong media outlet in July 2011.
Foreign Policy listened to more than an hour of what Long says are taped phone conversations that she made (without Zhou's consent) on the advice of a friend. In one of them, which she says was recorded four days after she had gone to the police, Zhou says they had been "lovers." In other tapes, reviewed by a journalist at Phoenix Weekly, a Hong Kong magazine, Zhou allegedly boasted to Long about the personal connections that had enabled him to acquire and defend his mining interests. His success depended not only on having a prodigious political network but also on being seen to have it, necessary in a system where wealth is chronically vulnerable to officials and businesspeople higher up the food chain.
Zhou had cultivated connections above the heads of Long's parents and beyond Liupanshui. Long says he told her, but she never confirmed, that one of his key business partners was a son-in-law of China's former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Whoever Zhou's most important partners were, Long believes, they were in his debt and potentially exposed if he fell. Long said that she gradually saw that she was not taking on one person, but a whole machinery of wealth, politics, and unfettered administrative power.
After Long lodged her police complaint, Zhou began to demonstrate what Chinese call "mobilization capacity." Long says that in the weeks after she filed the complaint in June 2009, the policeman who took her complaint began avoiding the family, and investigators at the China North Road police station declined to accept receipts that showed, for example, that she had paid for the bedsheet when checking out of the hotel. Frustrated, Long's mother threatened to put on her police uniform and petition in Tiananmen Square if they closed her daughter's case file. Soon it was clear the case was going nowhere, and Long, running out of options, resolved to petition. Her family first accompanied her to Beijing to petition together in January 2010.