NPR’s Louisa Lim profiles Peng Liyuan – the wife of new Chinese leader Xi Jinping, one of China’s most famous singers, and an AIDS activist – and explores whether she will pull out of the public spotlight now that her husband has ascended to the top:
In June 2011, she stepped up her role, becoming a World Health Organization ambassador for tuberculosis and AIDS — even as her husband was heading for the top. Hood says it would be a loss of face for her to step down now. But China’s first ladies have traditionally played a supporting role not much seen in public. So could China be paving the way for a new kind of first lady?
“I really do hope so,” Hood says. “[Peng] is an incredibly talented woman. She’s very well-educated, she speaks well, she’s knowledgeable, she’s powerful. And she’s one of the perfect people to pave the way for a new role model.”
But there is official nervousness about Peng already. Her name has become a forbidden search term on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, and several online stories about her have been deleted recently.
Given China’s recent history, Peng’s cultural and artistic background doesn’t necessarily work in her favor. The last high-profile spouse in recent memory was Madame Mao — or Jiang Qing — the wife of Chairman Mao Zedong who dictated the country’s cultural life for a decade, limiting cultural fare to a series of “revolutionary operas” and “revolutionary songs.”
Jiang was subsequently blamed for the decade-long Cultural Revolution, and sentenced to a suspended death sentence as a member of the “Gang of Four.” She committed suicide in prison in 1991, but her legacy is one that hangs over all subsequent first ladies, consigning them to the background.
Most have assumed that Peng would
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