China’s first lady ‘en­chants’ world me­dia, good for soft power, says main­land ex­pert

The China Post - - GUIDE POST -

A Chi­nese aca­demic study hailed the role of the coun­try’s first lady in public diplo­macy, re­ports said Thurs­day, the lat­est sign of Bei­jing’s hunger for soft power on the global stage.

Peng Liyuan, the wife of Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, has “en­chanted do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional me­dia,” said the Ren­min Uni­ver­sity study.

It hailed Peng’s “mod­esty, ap­pear­ance and el­e­gant man­ners, as well as her pas­sion for char­ity and at­ten­tion to vul­ner­a­ble groups,” ac­cord­ing to the state-run China Daily news­pa­per.

“China has con­veyed kind­ness and good­will to the world through the first lady’s public diplo­macy when the coun­try has been chal­lenged dur­ing the rapid eco­nomic devel­op­ment,” it added.

The wives of Chi­nese pres­i­dents have tra­di­tion­ally been far less prom­i­nent pub­licly than their coun­ter­parts over­seas, par­tic­u­larly U.S. first ladies.

But Peng, a well-known for­mer army singer, has taken on a more high­pro­file role, ac­com­pa­ny­ing Xi on trips abroad in designer out­fits and speak­ing at events on health and phi­lan­thropy within China.

Last month, she at­tended an HIV/ AIDS and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis pre­ven­tion event in south­ern China with Zam­bian first lady Esther Lungu and Mi­crosoft co­founder and phi­lan­thropist Bill Gates.

China’s state me­dia have de­voted sig­nif­i­cantly more at­ten­tion to Xi and Peng than his pres­i­den­tial pre­de­ces­sor Hu Jin­tao and his wife, Liu Yongqing.

The study’s au­thors in­clude a for­mer of­fi­cial of the State Coun­cil In­for­ma­tion Of­fice, the pro­pa­ganda arm of China’s Cabi­net.

The fawn­ing at­ten­tion to the first cou­ple has led some ob­servers to spec­u­late as to whether a new “cult of Xi” is de­vel­op­ing in China, where the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party has been wary of charis­matic lead­ers since the death of strongman and found­ing fa­ther of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic Mao Ze­dong in 1976.

Late last year, a video lit­er­ally singing the praises of Xi and Peng went vi­ral on­line.

The catchy hit “Un­cle Xi loves Mother Peng” — cel­e­brat­ing the “leg­endary” ro­mance be­tween the two — showed a mon­tage of Xi and Peng ex­chang­ing sub­tle glances.

Lines in the song in­clud­ing “Men should study un­cle Xi, women should study mother Peng” re­minded some Web users of the cult of per­son­al­ity built around Mao in the 1960s.

In re­cent weeks, the Com­mu­nist Party’s Cen­tral Party School launched a mo­bile app con­tain­ing all of Xi’s speeches and books.

And a re­port last year by the Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong’s China Me­dia Project found that Xi’s name had graced the pages of the party’s flag­ship news­pa­per, the Peo­ple’s Daily, more fre­quently than any other leader since Mao.

The China Daily re­port noted that Peng has made use of her mu­sic ca­reer as a way to com­mu­ni­cate abroad, in­clud­ing singing a Chi­nese folk song with Rus­sian artists in 2013.

The first lady “has been telling of China’s kind­ness through mu­sic and gain­ing res­o­nance with the world,” it said.

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