Peng Liyuan, First Lady of China, Dimmed Her Star

Peng Liyuan, First Lady of China, Dimmed Her Star | NYTimes.com

For more than two decades she was a lavishly costumed fixture on the nation’s must-see Chinese New Year variety show, often emerging from a blur of synchronized backup dancers to trill about the sacrifices of the People’s Liberation Army, which bestowed on her a civilian rank equivalent to major general. More recently, she has extended her celebrity to public service, comforting survivors of the Sichuan earthquake and gently scolding young people about the dangers of smoking and unprotected sex.

“Peng Liyuan could be an enormously positive thing for China, which really needs female role models,” said Hung Huang, publisher of a fashion magazine. “Just imagine if she turned out to be a first lady like Michelle Obama.”

Their relationship has required many compromises. The two are seldom together, she said, and in 1992, his official duties during a typhoon in Fujian forced him to miss the birth of the couple’s daughter, now a student at Harvard University. Even being in the same city does not guarantee face time. “People would gossip if I bring my wife with me all the time,” he reportedly told her. “It’s not good for our images.”

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