Photo surfaces of China first lady serenading Tiananmen troops
Beijing: A photo of China's new first lady Peng Liyuan in younger days, singing to martial-law troops following the 1989 bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, flickered across Chinese cyberspace this week.
Although it was swiftly scrubbed from China's Internet before it could generate discussion, the image revived a memory the leadership prefers to suppress and shows one of the challenges in presenting Peng on the world stage as the softer side of China.
The country has no recent precedent for the role of first lady, and also faces a tricky balance at home. The leadership wants Peng to show the human side of the new No.1 leader, Xi Jinping, while not exposing too many perks of the elite. And it must balance popular support for the first couple with an acute wariness of personality cults that could skew the consensus rule among Chinese Communist Party's top leaders.
The image of Peng in a green military uniform, her windswept hair tied back in a ponytail as she sings to helmeted and rifle-bearing troops seated in rows on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, contrasts with her appearances this week in trendy suits and coiffed hair while touring Russia and Africa with Xi, waving to her enthusiastic hosts.
But the lifespan of Peng's Tiananmen image on Chinese Internet has so far been short, and she remains a beloved household name with huge domestic popularity.
The photo has circulated mainly on Twitter, which is blocked in China. The few posts on popular domestic microblogs did not evade censors for long.
Many young Chinese are unaware that on June 3 and 4, 1989, military troops crushed weeks-long pro-democracy protests in Beijing, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of people.
Those who do know about the crackdown tend to be understanding of Peng's obligations as a member of a performance troupe in the People's Liberation Army.
In an indication of Peng's appeal in China despite her past, a man whose 19-year-old son was killed in the Tiananmen crackdown said he bears no grudges against her.
"Looking at it objectively, it's all in the past," said Wang Fandi, whose son Wang Nan died from a bullet wound to his head. "If the military wanted her to perform, she had to go. What else could she do?"