China’s First Lady-in-Waiting

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Peng Liyuan, celebrated folk singer of China

Jackie Kennedy got to be US First Lady through her camera.

Peng Liyuan, the celebrated folk singer, is becoming China’s First Lady through her microphone. Whereas Jackie was a lesser known figure prior to her meeting up with President John Kennedy, Peng Liyuan is a celebrity in her own right. She’s glamorous, cultured, well educated with a master degree in folk music. It was her voice & singing that first wooed the heart of Xi Jinping, the next President-to-be of China.

She’s totally different from all the First Ladies you’ve ever known or heard of.

She’s China’s own & absolutely exceptional.


Until 2007, when Xi Jinping was promoted to top Party leader in Shanghai, his wife Peng Liyuan was a fixture at government-sponsored events, CCTV Festival Extravaganza which are the country’s largest and most conspicuously events watched by hundreds of millions. Ms. Peng was admired as much for her soprano vocal as she was for the way she exercised them in “shimmering chiffon gowns, with crimson-glossed lips.

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Her profile is summarily mentioned here:

* Ms. Peng, whose name means “Beauteous Beauty” in Chinese, has been known as a faithful “soldier of the arts.” in a state news agency profile page.

* She is China’s first folk-song master-degree recipient; youngest civilian general in the Chinese army’s musical troupe; honorary professor at Shanghai Teachers’ College.

* Her travels include trips to “various revolutionary districts, impoverished mountainous regions, and minority neighborhoods.”

* Ms. Peng has also been put forward as a celebrity ambassador for issues of public health including AIDS,requiring her to lobby foreign governments to help cure such dreadful disease & others.

* A friend and photographer once took pity on young Peng and snapped her first picture, immortalizing the young star for whom camera lenses would, soon enough, become a constant companion. That was late 60s or early 70s when she first set her eyes on a camera.

* The glamorous starlet initially dismissed the future President as a xiang ba lao, a country bumpkin with coarse skin who wasn’t much to look at, an impression that isn’t entirely unfounded, according to an article in the Zhanjiang Evening News in 2007 that was widely copied on the Chinese Internet but has since been mostly deleted.

* Even her final verdict came with honest qualifiers: “Isn’t [he] the one I’ve been looking for? Unsophisticated but really intelligent.” As for Mr. Xi, he was quoted as telling her that he knew she would be his wife within 40 minutes of meeting her.

She has also described how she was introduced to Mr. Xi through a mutual friend when he was working as the deputy mayor of the eastern port of Xiamen in 1986. Mr. Xi had been married once before, to the daughter of a Chinese ambassador to Britain, but that only lasted three years when her own desire to study abroad overtook Xi’s political ambition, and they had no children.

Political analysts say Ms. Peng, who is now 49, is already helping to bolster and soften Mr. Xi’s public image in a country that, stimulated by social media, has become increasingly hungry for news about its leaders and their personal lives.

She has already broken the mould by talking about her relationship with Mr. Xi prior to his promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee in 2007.

When he comes home, I’ve never thought of it as though there’s some leader in the house,” she once told a state-run magazine. “In my eyes, he’s just my husband. When I get home, he doesn’t think of me as some famous star. In his eyes, I’m simply his wife.”

She has however taken a few tentative steps into the limelight again in recent years, fuelling expectations that she will be the first spouse of a Chinese leader to play an active “first lady” role after her husband takes power in October or November.

Last year, as mentioned, she became a Goodwill Ambassador for Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS for the World Health Organization – a job that requires her to help lobby governments around the world to take action to prevent and cure the two diseases.

And after the devastating earthquake in Wenchuan, Sichuan Province in May 2008, she staged special performances in affected areas and announced publicly that their daughter, Xi Mingze, who was then 16 at the time, had volunteered to help relief efforts – another first for a Chinese leader’s family.

Come this fall, when Peng’s First Lady identity eclipses her superstar status, we must await to see the transformation in our dazzling star. Would she remain a noble, dignified mother only & a faithful wife?

The question is “Will she do anything exceptional to further boost the image of China? Or like her three other predecessors retreat into the background & remain a mystery?”


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