China's First Lady Peng Liyuan Makes Debut On Forbes Most Powerful Women List At 54

  • Peng 23May2013
    China's First Lady Peng Liyuan. Reuters
  • Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan
    Chinese President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan arriving in Tanzania, March 25, 2013. Reuters
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China’s first lady, Peng Liyuan, has captivated the nation of 1.3 billion just two months after taking on the role, when her husband Xi Jinping officially took the helm as president in March. After making her first official appearance on a visit to Russia in late March, Peng immediately became a fashion icon for Chinese women. Now, the first lady has solidified her position as a global icon, making her debut on Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

Peng entered the list at No. 54, ranking the fourth most-powerful mainland Chinese and one of seven women representing China on the list. In a separate article, Forbes highlighted 11 standouts from the list, spotlighting Peng as one of this year’s women “who are inspiring change and driving conversation.” The article recounted Peng’s rise from national to international celebrity.

“Peng is the glamorous second wife of China’s newly installed president Xi Jinping,” the article said. “After joining the People’s Liberation Army at 18, she found fame as a folk singer, later performing in operas and appearing in television specials.”

While many in China were familiar with Peng’s rousing performances of patriotic folk songs, it wasn’t until she was seen getting off a plane in Russia that people adopted her as China’s very own Michelle Obama or Kate Middleton. “Since her husband’s rise in politics, she’s taken a step back from performing, but has emerged as a fashion icon and trendsetter,” Forbes said.

Some even jokingly consider Peng as more of a Chinese icon than her husband. It is said, “Who is Xi Jinping? He is Peng Liyuan’s husband.”

Peng is in good company, being joined by the list’s only other first lady, America’s Michelle Obama, who ranked fourth, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who topped the list, while Dilma Roussef, the president of China’s South American booming-economy counterpart, Brazil, ranked second.

Other Chinese names on the list were some of the nation’s biggest real estate magnates, like Wu Yanjun, the chairwoman of real estate giant Longfor Properties, and Zhang Xin, the co-founder and CEO of Soho China, a luxury real estate development company.

Moving up on the list is Chairwoman Sun Yafang from Huawei Technologies, who climbed 14 spots to rank 77th. The chief financial officer of search engine giant Baidu, Jennifer Li, also made her debut on the list at 98.  

Margaret Chan, the Hong Kong-born director-general of the World Health Organization, was the highest-ranked Chinese at No. 33. 

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