China's Next First Lady Moves to a Bigger Stage

Article excerpt

Byline: Melinda Liu

Hu Jintao's wife is, by many accounts, stern but low-key, the latest in a long line of near-invisible first ladies of China. Since the death of Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, a Shanghai actress who became notorious for her brutal part in the Cultural Revolution, the wives of Chinese leaders have been conspicuously absent from the public stage. But that's all about to change.

Vice President Xi Jinping, who is widely expected to succeed Hu as party chief next year, is married to China's most dazzling folk singer, Peng Liyuan. And his wife's high-powered wattage doesn't seem to bother the future president in the slightest.

American author Robert Lawrence Kuhn recalled how, when visiting Xi several years ago, the Chinese politician proudly showed him a photo of an Army song-and-dance troupe posing with then-president Jiang Zemin. Pointing to a singer, Xi excitedly said: "'Do you know who this is? She's my wife!" recalled Kuhn, who wrote a biography of Jiang. Xi seemed delighted that Kuhn was unaware of his celebrity connection. …