China's Next First Lady Is A Literal Rock Star

Life for Chinese women is in a state of flux. On the one hand, there’s a something of a sexual revolution going on. On the other, Chinese organisations can offer some stunningly paternalistic advice. One aspect where this is readily apparent is politics, where just five women hold high office.

Next month China’s leadership will change, and initial reports that a women could enter elite office (the 7 person standing committee) appear to be false. However, Xi Jinping, the man widely expected to be next president, is bringing something very interesting to office with him — his wife.

49-year-old Peng Liyuan is a renowned soprano singer in her homeland, even attaining the equivalent rank of major general as a “artist-soldier” in China’s army and is well-known for her charity work.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the fact that China’s next “first lady” would be a glamorous pop singer has raised some eyebrows — the country’s leaders have generally kept their wives out of the limelight since the days of Chairman Mao. Peng has already earned comparison to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s glamorous first lady, Carla Bruni.

In the LA Times, Julie Makinen explains why Peng and her image makers may have a difficult time.

Yet crafting a public role for Peng will require Communist Party image makers to delicately navigate millenniums-old suspicion of women near the centre of power in China, the party’s own squeamishness about making officials’ private lives public, and a gossipy media culture increasingly critical of elites’ lifestyles and behaviour.

“In China, there’s still this strain of thought, particularly in the countryside, that there are two possible roles for a female: the woman is either servile … or an empress type,” said Ross Terrill, who wrote biographies of Mao and his wife, Jiang Qing. “There’s still a feeling that women can lead men astray, especially in affairs of the state.”

The scandal involving Bo Xilai wife Gu Kailai — officially found guilty of killing a British businessman after apparently suffering a mental breakdown — looks like it may make Peng’s position even more difficult.

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