, BEIJING, April 16- A Chinese academic study hailed the role of the country’s first lady in public diplomacy, reports said Thursday, the latest sign of Beijing’s hunger for soft power on the global stage.
Peng Liyuan, the wife of President Xi Jinping, has “enchanted domestic and international media”, said the Renmin University study.
It hailed Peng’s “modesty, appearance and elegant manners, as well as her passion for charity and attention to vulnerable groups”, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper.
“China has conveyed kindness and goodwill to the world through the first lady’s public diplomacy when the country has been challenged during the rapid economic development,” it added.
The wives of Chinese presidents have traditionally been far less prominent publicly than their counterparts overseas, particularly US first ladies.
But Peng, a well-known former army singer, has taken on a more high-profile role, accompanying Xi on trips abroad in designer outfits and speaking at events on health and philanthropy within China.
Last month, she attended an HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis prevention event in southern China with Zambian first lady Esther Lungu and Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates.
China’s state media have devoted significantly more attention to Xi and Peng than his presidential predecessor Hu Jintao and his wife, Liu Yongqing.
The study’s authors include a former official of the State Council Information Office, the propaganda arm of China’s Cabinet.
The fawning attention to the first couple has led some observers to speculate as to whether a new “cult of Xi” is developing in China, where the ruling Communist Party has been wary of charismatic leaders since the death of strongman and founding father of the People’s Republic Mao Zedong in 1976.
Late last year, a video literally singing the praises of Xi and Peng went viral online.
The catchy hit “Uncle Xi loves Mother Peng” — celebrating the “legendary” romance between the two — showed a montage of Xi and Peng exchanging subtle glances.
Lines in the song including “Men should study uncle Xi, women should study mother Peng” reminded some web users of the cult of personality built around Mao in the 1960s.
In recent weeks, the Communist Party’s Central Party School launched a mobile app containing all of Xi’s speeches and books.
And a report last year by the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project found that Xi’s name had graced the pages of the party’s flagship newspaper, the People’s Daily, more frequently than any other leader since Mao.
The China Daily report noted that Peng has made use of her music career as a way to communicate abroad, including singing a Chinese folk song with Russian artists in 2013.
The first lady “has been telling of China’s kindness through music and gaining resonance with the world,” it said.