Saturday, March 23, 2013

PRC First Lady Is a Star In Her Own Right

The songstress helping to 'demystify the Chinese leadership'

23 Mar 2013 14:13 - AFP

China's glamorous first lady has become a media and internet sensation as she accompanies husband President Xi Jinping on a state visit to Russia.

Already famous and immensely popular in her homeland due to her long career as a singer, Peng Liyuan set Chinese media and social network sites abuzz with her elegant style from the moment she stepped off the plane in Moscow on Friday.

Photographs of Peng and Xi were plastered across the front pages of state media, which usually do not focus on the country's first ladies.

Major newspapers in Beijing Saturday featured a shot of the Chinese leader and his wife smiling as they left their plane, rather than a photo of Xi's handshake with President Vladimir Putin on his first overseas trip as head of state.

Carrying a handbag and wearing a navy blue coat standing beside her husband, Peng was even shown briefly arm-in-arm with Xi in a public display of affection rare among the communist leadership.

"Since yesterday this has become the main topic of discussion for people," said Li Jun, a commentator with a major Nanjing newspaper.

"Peng Liyuan is elegant and gracious, which could reduce the perception of China as an international threat," he said, adding that she could help "demystify the Chinese leadership".

Peng's image of youth and spontaneity was in stark contrast to what the Chinese public have grown accustomed to over the past 30 years.

"This scene makes the Chinese happy because they have been waiting for it for a long time," said Hu Xijing, editor of the Global Times, while regretting that the media's comments did not give the event the importance it deserved.

Peng did not stop smiling before and during the official welcome from their Russian hosts.

That smile and her sense of style attracted widespread attention on China's Twitter-like microblogs.

"What elegance!" said one charmed commentator using the name "Lanpingzigaidexingfu".

"What a beauty," added "Renxiaoxuanxuan", while a more restrained "Yanhuozhiqiu" praised her as being "dignified" and "open minded".

Peng's coat was the particular object of attention. Just hours after the first images were broadcast of her descending from the aircraft, copies of the garment were being offered on the internet shopping site Taobao (China's version of eBay) for between 499 and 10 000 yuan ($80 and $1,600).

Since Jiang Qing, the last wife of Mao Zedong, the wives of Chinese leaders have remained mostly in the shadows.

Liu Yonqing, the austere and reserved wife of former president Hu Jintao, was rarely exposed to the limelight and usually seen standing behind her husband.

Peng, however, was already a household name in China thanks to her role over the past 25 years in the state television New Year gala, which is watched by millions of viewers.

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