China's President Xi Jinping's visit to India, focus on first lady

  • Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, Beijing
  • Updated: Sep 09, 2014 18:49 IST

When President Xi Jinping travels to India later this month, he might have to, maybe gladly, compete for attention.

There will be sharp focus on the first lady, Peng Liyuan, who is likely to accompany him, during the visit.

Officials here refused to comment on her schedule during the India visit but indicated she might visit a school or a charity organisation.

Since Xi assumed power, Peng has changed some of the rules of the game for the wife of the President; till her, the wives of powerful Chinese politicians were considered little more than as a prop for photo opportunities during visits to other countries.

It is widely believed in China that for a long time Peng was more famous than her husband, now considered among the most powerful men in the world.

Her prodigious singing talents propelled her from being a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to becoming a senior officer.

She was sent to the front during the war between China and Vietnam to sing and boost the morale of the forces.

Peng became a household name after she performed on China Central Television, China’s national broadcaster, during the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year, gala programme in the early 1980s.

The yearly programme which is still popular is viewed by millions every year. Earlier this year, Forbes magazine named her the 57th most powerful woman in the world, comparing her to Michelle Obama.

“Parallels between China's First Lady Peng Liyuan and her U.S. counterpart, Michelle Obama, include their sharp sense of style, prominence on the global stage, and commitment to their nation's health and education,” Forbes wrote.

It added that Peng promotes rural education in China and campaigns against tuberculosis for the World Health Organisation.

She is also known to use China-made accessories like clutch bags rather than opt for MNC brands Her sense of dressing has also caught the eye of both the media and common Chinese citizens, with many commenting favourably on her style.

“Peng appears to like structured clothing. Tailored jackets, nipped in at the waist, seem to have become a favourite of hers. She also likes modernised Chinese qipao dresses, Chinese floral motifs and mandarin collars - a stylistic statement and a strong visual theme for her brand of ‘soft power’,” South China Morning Post wrote recently.

That’s one show of power that her husband will have no trouble with.

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