Peng Power: China’s First Lady charms India

PengNot many first ladies can claim to be more popular than their husbands, but China’s charismatic First Lady Peng Liyuan have had a huge fan following before her husband became president of the world’s second largest nation and most populous country.

Her charm was on display when she arrived, along with Xi, in Ahmedabad, India on September 17 to begin a three-day trip to China’s largest neighbour. Dressed in an immaculate pink dress, she waved and smiled generously, bringing a touch of glamour to the India-China diplomacy. Peng will also be accompanying Xi to a function at a school in south Delhi where she will interact with students learning Mandarin.

Peng, better known in home as a celebrity folk singer and actress, charmed television audiences in China for more than three decades. In 1986 when Peng met Xi Jinping she was a famous star while he was a relatively unknown deputy mayor of Xiamen City in southern Fujian province and a divorcee.

But after just a few months of courtship, the two married in September 1987. The power couple of China, has one child, Xi Mingze, born in 1992.

Since her husband came to power, she has stepped slowly away from the spotlight, toning down her image, and taking up a more socially active profile.

While her husband has emerged as the most powerful leader of china since Mao Zedong, she, too, is China’s first high-profile political spouse since Jiang Qing, the late wife of Chairman Mao.

As a member of the Public Diplomacy Association, she has taken on the responsibility to enhance China’s appeal abroad.

Domestically, Peng has accepted offers from China’s Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization in Geneva to become a “goodwill ambassador,” for its anti-smoking health campaigns, and HIV/AIDS awareness.

Her popularity and power has found her a spot in the Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and Forbes’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2013 and 2014. Even the Unesco appointed her as an special envoy to promote education for girls and women.

Nicknamed the “The Peony Fairy”, Peng worked as a propaganda entertainer for the Communist Party, singing songs favoured by the State.

Like Xi, Peng comes from a family that suffered persecution during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 until 1976. In 2004, she clarified that her family was termed “counter-revolutionary” as few of their relatives served in the Taiwanese army.

In recent years, Peng has wooed the media at home and in China with her famed style. The media has compared her to other fashion savvy first ladies, including US’ Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni, former wife of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

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