A day or two ago we wrote how the world’s media were avidly following Xi Jinping on his maiden overseas trip as China’s new President; they are also clearly fascinated by Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, who seems destined to have a much higher profile than previous Chinese first ladies. Mrs Peng, a singer famous in her own right and a Word Health Organisation Ambassador for tuberculosis and AIDS, will undertake some personal engagements in Africa. A source told The Financial Times: “She can help China build soft power.”
But could Peng Liyuan be a friend to the Tibetan people? Granted, we don’t know how much influence she has with her husband, but she is said to be a Buddhist – could this make her any more sympathetic to the views of Tibetans? Might the fascination the Chinese media and public have displayed in her elegance and clothes be extended at some point to her personal interests? And if she really is a follower of buddhism, surely she could point out to her husband the hypocrisy of the atheist Chinese Communist Party’s insistence on having the final say in “recognising” reincarnated religious leaders such as the Karmapa, the Panchen Lama and, presumably in the (hopefully distant) future, the Dalai Lama?
However the evidence is not promising; she’s a Major General of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), having joined up when she was 18. She is best known for her renditions of patriotic folk songs, and given to dressing in Tibetan clothes to belt out such classics as Qomolangma(known to Tibetans as Chomolungma, and the rest of the world as Mount Everest), and the extraordinary “Laundry Song”, in which happy Tibetan peasants ask who is going to liberate them and sing of their appreciation of the “dear PLA”, who are so caring they help do the laundry! (With thanks to our friends at High Peaks Pure Earth)
And as final evidence of her patriotism, a photo of Peng Liyuan singing to martial law troops in Tiananmen Square in 1989 appeared online in China recently, and was hastily removed. Thankfully Associated Press took a screenshot so it is not lost for ever….