China’s New First Lady Has Ability To Influence Public Health Activism

In an opinion piece published on contextChina, Robert O’Brien, a PhD candidate in international relations at the University of Oxford, examines how China’s new first lady, acclaimed folk singer Peng Liyuan, might influence public health activism in the country. “While Peng is not likely to wield the sort of power held by … most American first ladies, the combination of her fame and closeness to [China’s] preeminent leader with her public health activism could prove a boon for organizations, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that are seeking to realize a China that is both healthier domestically and more active in efforts to secure public health around the globe.”

O’Brien highlights Peng’s “various public health ambassadorships,” noting she has served as a Chinese Ministry of Health ambassador for HIV/AIDS prevention, a national ambassador for tuberculosis control and prevention, and an official WHO goodwill ambassador for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. He notes “her fame and access to the Chinese leadership both bode well for the myriad of public health advocates looking to develop stronger ties with [Chinese] authorities.” He concludes, “With this in mind, her installation as China’s newest first lady offers a wellspring of hope for those individuals and organizations seeking both a healthier China and an increasingly constructive Chinese role in funding and supporting global public health regimes” (2/12).