“Now is the end of our quest for a graceful first lady,” wrote the deputy editor of the Hong Kong Commercial Daily newspaper on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
The Beijing News ran a full page of stories about Mrs Peng’s itinerary in Moscow, alongside a photograph of her arriving at a speech dressed in an elegant Chinese-style silk tunic and skirt.
“In her role as first lady on this visit abroad, Peng Liyuan is exhibiting China’s soft power,” Wang Fan, head of the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, told the newspaper.
The footage of her in Moscow quickly caused something akin to the “Kate Middleton effect”, with copies of her coat instantly appearing on Taobao, an online shopping site, for 499 yuan (£53) – and advertised as “in the same style as the first lady’s”.
Already a celebrity in her own right as a famous singer, Peng has taken center stage as the Chinese Communist Party looks to polish its image. She could be a valuable diplomatic asset as China struggles to effectively project its soft power abroad, according to Jane Perlez and Bree Feng of The New York Times:
It could be that Ms. Peng’s star power will push the diplomats into the background. Although Mr. Xi may not like the comparison, some see her as a figure akin to Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who helped humanize the Soviet leader as the Soviet Union fell apart. Mr. Xi has singled out Mr. Gorbachev as a man who let down the cause of Communism.
Others see her as roughly equivalent to Michelle Obama: modern, outgoing, intrigued by fashion. They await the moment when Ms. Peng and Mrs. Obama stand with their husbands at a state visit, either in Washington or Beijing, a lineup that is likely to happen in the next four years. The couples share some common ground. The Obamas have two daughters; Mr. Xi and Ms. Peng have one daughter, Xi Mingze, who is registered under a pseudonym as an undergraduate at Harvard.
While China’s censors sprung into action to block searches for the overcoat Peng wore in Moscow, The Wall Street Journal reports that her clothing selection may have boosted the prospects of several domestic clothing companies rumored to have made them.