Paul French

The emergence of Peng Liyuan, the popular singer, at the side of the next Chinese president, Xi Jinping, brings back the stories of earlier ‘Dragon ladies’. Author and China veteran Paul French explains in SMH why she will will never become a first lady in US-style.


Different because China hasn’t had the easiest of relationships with women who’ve married into power. The most recent example being Gu Kailai, wife of former politician Bo Xilai. Her story is the stuff of soap opera: a beautiful and highly accomplished wife of one of the country’s most charismatic “princelings” is found guilty of murdering a British businessman. According to writer Paul French, her story fits – perhaps too conveniently – into a form of misogyny called ‘Dragon Ladies’, “an all-too-familiar trope in Chinese history: A successful man achieves power, wealth, and the love of many before being brought low by an excessive ambition encouraged by his wife, a beautiful woman obsessed with money and power.”

French says ‘Dragon Ladies’ are characterised as being “married to a man but wedded to the throne”. Whether it’s Dowager Empress Cixi of the late 19th century, Soong Mei-ling, wife of Chaing Kai-shek, or actress Jiang Qing – better known as Madame Mao – they are framed as sexually promiscuous, power hungry wives whose ruthlessness and mismanagement single-handedly brings the country to the brink of disaster. Tales that according to French are preferable to exposing the reality of “a massive internal rupture in the halls of government.”

More inSMH.

Paul French is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

This week, on November 22, the China Weekly Hangout is about the future of nuclear power in China. You can register at our event page here. (Two weeks earlier we missed the change in daylight saving time in the US and had to cancel.) First part will focus on the resumption of building nuclear power stations, the second part of the chances NIMBY protests can derail this ambitious program. Planned participants: Richard Brubaker and Chris Brown.
You can access all editions here.

In September the China Weekly Hangout discussed the position of foreigners in China, and why some of them are leaving the country. Including: Andrew Hupert, Richard Brubaker and Fons Tuinstra.

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