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China`s dynamic first lady

Posted March. 26, 2013 08:50,   


In the Hollywood movie “Lincoln,” Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, is depicted as a nagging wife who is not over the premature death of her third son. She was a spendthrift but spent a lot of money on interior decorating and furniture in the White House, causing a conflict with Congress. She was so violent that she frequently hit her husband, who was a poor lawyer. Abraham Lincoln might have been obsessed with the 14th Amendment to end slavery because he found no comfort at home. The media at the time is known to have left Lincoln pretty much alone because they were too busy criticizing his wife. Then, she must have been a necessary prop to make her husband a hero.

The wife of a powerful man is not simply a supporter but someone who has great influence over her husband’s thinking and judgment. Certain first ladies were more popular than their husbands, such as Eva Peron of Argentina. In the era of media politics, a president’s wife often represents the image of her country. Jacqueline Kennedy, who used to wear above-the-elbow gloves and iconic sunglasses, gave the world an impression of a young and sophisticated America. Carla Bruni who was France`s first lady after marrying Nicolas Sarkozy after he was elected president, showed a flamboyant and liberal France to the world. When Ri Sol Ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, appeared, the world expected a change in the Stalinist country.

During the first overseas trip of Chinese President Xi Jinping, First Lady Peng Liyuan with her charm and fashion has been more in the limelight than her husband has. The best-known singer in China, she was more famous in China than Xi. She joined the Chinese People’s Liberation Army at age 18 as an artist soldier and served in the military for more than 30 years, being promoted to a high-ranking position. At a younger age, she looked like Chinese actress Tang Wei. Peng has a sense of responsibility thanks to her military background and is mild-mannered. Some say her popularity among the Chinese people helped her husband succeed.

First ladies in the past had no presence in China because of the deep trauma over Jiang Qing, the widow of Mao Zedong and one of the masterminds behind the disastrous Cultural Revolution. Peng has apparently broken the taboo set by Jiang. If either former Chinese Presidents Ziang Zemin or Hu Jintao had a beautiful wife, the taboo might have been gone earlier. Despite its enormous economic power and strong global presence, China is considered shoddy and far behind global trends. Peng’s popularity shows that the Middle Kingdom has taken a step closer toward the center of the world, showcasing China’s fashion and arts.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)