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China`s new first lady

Posted November. 19, 2012 02:12,   


The future of China under new president Xi Jinping is far from the only thing the Chinese people are curious about. The role his wife Peng Liyuan will take is also attracting interest. Peng is a famous singer in China since the 1980s, having charmed audiences with her beauty and talent. When the two got married, people understood if someone said “the husband of Peng Liyuan”, not “the wife of Xi Jinping.” The New York Times said Peng could revolutionize the image and role of the Chinese first lady with her talent.

There are three stereotypes of the Chinese first lady. One is the “Wang Guangmei type,” referring to the wife of the country`s first head of state Liu Shaoqi. The “Jiang Qing type” refers to a nasty wife, namely the wife of Mao Zedong. The third is the “Liu Yongqing type,” referring to the spouse of the previous leader Hu Jintao. Wang was born to a prestigious family and had exceptional talent in mathematics. She became the first woman in China to earn a master`s degree in nuclear physics. Fluent in English, she helped her husband in foreign affairs, with her efforts earning the nickname “Qipao diplomacy.” In part, she resembled Jacqueline Kennedy, who freed America from the notion of being Europe`s stepson with her elegant appearance and speaking English with a French accent.

Jiang Qing was one of Mao’s five secretaries appointed by the Communist Party. She initially had a reputation as honest and having a well-rounded personality. After giving birth to Mao’s daughter, however, she is said to have grown overly egotistic and assumed a leading role in the Cultural Revolution. She later became a victim of the movement along with her husband. Yet others consider her a cause of the destructive revolution. They say Jiang, who came from an extremely poor family and became an actress after many hardships, must have developed delusional jealousy of the beloved First Lady Wang, who was intelligent and beautiful, and that Jiang`s jealousy kept growing until it almost endangered the country.

Due to the negative consequences of Jiang’s legacy, all first ladies in China, from Zhuo Lin, the wife of Deng Xiaoping, to Liu, have kept low profiles in public regardless of their personal capabilities. Peng has proven to be an important asset to Xi. Like Hillary Clinton, she also stood by her man when rumors spread over his affair with a TV announcer. Peng said, “Xi is a good husband and father.” When Xi defeated Li Kechang for the presidency, people said she made it possible. For now, Peng seems like neither the wild Jiang or the silent, but is likely to play the role of a soft power like Wang did.

Ass`t Culture Desk Editor Lee Jin-yeong (ecolee@donga.com)