Stepping off a plane in Moscow, in a classic black peacoat and a simple unbranded black handbag, Peng Liyuan, China’s new first lady, made her first public appearance on Friday after her husband Xi Jinping took office.
Photos of her glamorous looks during the couple’s first foreign trip have been making waves on the Chinese Internet. Netizens flocked to cheer at her beauty and elegance. As netizen 阳光明媚的时候 commented: “Our first lady is so pretty, elegant and magnanimous. I feel proud.”
In response to a post in which Peng Liyuan was put in comparison with all of China’s past first ladies, including Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, netizen 宝贝亲亲笑嘻嘻 sighed: “Finally a presentable first lady, full of elegance.”
Such sentiment that Peng is the best first lady so far is widely shared among netizens. Like netizen 情意绵绵花仙子 commented: “She is the most beautiful first lady since PRC was founded. Hope she can bring good luck to the Chinese people.” 麻利杂高 echoed: “She’s got charisma. The first out of all China’s past first ladies.”
Peng’s popularity isn’t for nothing. She has been a popular singer in China since early 80s. People know her name way before they know who Xi Jinping is. Besides her apparent talent in singing, she’s also known for being low-key and easy-going.
Days before her Friday trip to Moscow, one of her early interviews in 1999 with Phoenix TV’s popular talk show Behind the Headlines with Wentao also went viral. In the interview, she described herself as a tradition wife, loving to cook and take care of housework. And probably the most interesting part to many Chinese netizens, in response to a question regarding her husband, she said: “ I’m in the marriage for more than 10 years…and it’s been full of happiness.”
It’s not very common for China’s top officials to show their human side in public. In fact, very rare. Their family life, in particular, is something that has always been kept away from public attention. Sometimes, names of top officials’ family members are even sensitive words subject to censorship. Many of China’s past first ladies never made public appearance except for in official trips. So…image how netizens are thrilled to see Peng publicly showed her affection for Xi Jinping. People simply love their love story.
But online chatter wasn’t all about Peng’s looks. 张欣, China’s real estate mogul, commented: “People have only good words to say about the current first lady, from media to netizens. The diplomatic role of first lady is hard to ignore.”
In fact, there seems to be this fear that netizens’ swoon may be too much of a sexist gaze that her more important role as a first lady may get overlooked. Netizen 大魔王的曉允 asked: “What a first lady’s appearance has to do with her husband’s ability to run the country? And what a woman’s look has to do with a country’s development?”
假装在纽约, a celebrity on Weibo, China’s Twitter, commented: “Personally, I like her. But I also think that there needs to be a line. At least, we should stand upright and admire, not crouch and worship. At least, we should keep in mind very clearly that apart from showing her elegance, Peng and Xi besides her have more important responsibilities. Let’s save the applaud until after they show us their accomplishments.”
假装在纽约 wasn’t alone in having higher expectations of Peng in her new role. Netizen 手捧着你的清香 commented: “Beautiful looks don’t mean beautiful deeds. Please show us what she can do.” Another netizen 喔噢噢-是天屎-是天使 commented: “She is prettier than all the past first ladies. So what? I’m waiting to see what she’s able to do that can bring us real benefits.”
However, to show the Chinese people what she is capable of doing may not be a direction that Peng wants to take. For one thing, throughout the country’s several thousand years of history, the fear that an emperor’s wife would interfere with politics and thus ruin the country never disappeared – women, especially emperors’s wives, have no role in politics. For another, most people in China still remember very well what happened the last time when a first lady tried to show her capability – Jiang Qing, wife of Mao, led the “Gang of Four” and almost turned the whole country over during the notorious Cultural Revolution.
Peng’s journey has just started, and it will surely be an exciting one, for both herself and the onlooking Chinese people.
Peng in comparison with China’s past first ladies, starting from Jiang Qing.