When Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Mexico tomorrow for an official state visit, at his side will be Peng Liyuan, his graceful wife who is a star in her own right.
Peng is an opera and folksinger known to hundreds of millions of Chinese for her television appearances on Chinese New Year, and she is the object of incessant chatter on the internet about her clothing, beauty and general image.
There is more than a slight parallel with Mexico, where President Enrique Pena Nieto is also married to a woman known to millions of Mexicans as a television idol. Pena Nieto’s wife, Angelica Rivera, has been kept largely under wraps since the Mexican leader took office Dec. 1, with the exception of a few appearances as titular head of a federal family social welfare organization.
Apparently Peng, who you can see in the video above, has been a big fan of Mexican soap operas, so one of her activities on Tuesday will be visiting the studios of Televisa to watch a soap opera taping. At her side, of course, will be Rivera, who is known to Mexicans as La Gaviota, or sea gull, for her part in a widely viewed drama.
There are other similarities between the two couples. In both cases, the wives were used in polished media campaigns to boost the images of their husbands.
Peng, however, appears to do more heavy lifting on behalf of her husband. An Agence France-Presse story filed out of Trinidad, Xi’s first stop on a swing that also took him to Costa Rica and will end in the United States later this week, said Peng was taking the limelight of the visit.
"She's a very beautiful person, very warm, and to chat with her in English was very wonderful," Trinidad Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said after meeting Peng.
Chinese censors stay atop of Peng’s image. Case in point: In March, a photo appeared on the internet of a younger Peng singing to martial law troops following the crack down on Tiananmen Square democracy protesters. The photo was quickly scrubbed from the internet. Coincidentally, Peng and Xi arrive in Mexico June 4, the anniversary of the bloody quashing of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising.
A note about the video above: In this 2007 performance, Peng dresses in native Tibetan costume, backed by a chorus of Han Chinese also dressed as Tibetans, and sings of the glories of the People’s Liberation Army. She comes on after about 50 seconds, and there are English subtitles. Tibetans find such performances offensive, and say it is akin to white singers putting themselves in “black face” to portray people of African descent.
But it is par for the course in mainland China, where ethnic minorities (comprising only 8.5 percent of the 1.3 billion population) are often seen as objects of fascination and but also viewed as backward and inferior to majority ethnic Han.