China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, brings with him a first lady that boasts a title of one of the country’s most well known pop-folk performers. Her name is Peng Liyuan. Watch her in “When the National Anthem is Sung” below.
Most of China’s first ladies have been relegated to the background, often invisible, and have had no conspicuous role in state affairs. However, the highly visible Peng Liyuan could change that. According to this New York Times article, “Peng Liyuan could be an enormously positive thing for China, which really needs female role models,” said Hung Huang, publisher of a fashion magazine. “Just imagine if she turned out to be a first lady like Michelle Obama.”
Chinese men have typically made it quite hard for women to become involved in the party. The number of women in Chinese politics is very low, reinforcing a traditional view that women are generally less able than men (thus a preference to have male children). These views are deeply ingrained – the NYT article cites an example:
There is no shortage of ancient proverbs, some still in popular use, that describe what happens when women get close to power. ‘A great beauty will bring about the downfall of cities and nations,’ goes one of them.
Peng’s own image has been tamed to suit the new found stature of her husband: her performance schedule has declined and she’s no longer seen wearing her typically flamboyant clothing.
Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the party would be wise to use Ms. Peng as a soft power weapon, both at home and abroad.
‘If people see that Xi has such a beautiful wife, it would make the party seem more humane and less robotic,’ she said.
But she is not counting on much change. ‘Obama trots out Michelle because it brings him popular support,’ she said. ‘The Communist Party has no need for that, because when you already have all the power, what’s the point of bringing out the wife?’
What potential benefit could Ms. Peng’s visibility add to China’s image both domestically and internationally?