Ever heard of Peng Liyuan? Watch out, she may soon become a household name. In a stark departure from regimes past, incoming Chinese President Xi Jinping is carving out an important role for his wife Peng Liyuan. Is she the new PR weapon for China?
China’s First Lady, Ms. Peng will have her own speaking engagement at an upcoming conference for the economic powerhouse nations of the new century. The countries commonly known as BRICS include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Held in South Africa at the end of March, it’s an important venue for the new president and the promotion of Ms. Peng is a shrewd move.
A folk singer known for her passionate renditions of patriotic songs, Ms. Peng is far better known than her husband Mr. Xi, until his relatively recent political ascent. She is glamorous, reportedly a warm personality, and has already demonstrated her “issues-ability” in her role as Goodwill Ambassador for the World Health Organization on HIV and tuberculosis. With this pedigree and the support of her husband, will she stand alongside Michelle Obama, Jackie Kennedy, and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy as one of the world’s most significant First Ladies?
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Peng Liyuan. She represents the “softer side” of China, a side that the world is curious to glimpse.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Charm charms. Even totalitarian states understand that in the age of smartphones and Twitter, they need to do more than issue propagandized press releases. Somehow they need to be likeable. By giving his wife a profile, China’s new strongman is softening his own image and ultimately that of his country. In addition to giving his wife a PR platform, he has been recently quoted by the media joking with U.S. schoolchildren and kicking a football in Ireland. In old China, these media opportunities would not have happened, much less been publicized. This new president and his wife are already laying the groundwork for a PR charm offensive. Stay tuned.