INDIAN WELLS, Calif. - A crowd of Chinese supporters waved flags, held signs and cheered in front of the Hyatt Regency in Indians Wells, the home for the Chinese delegation during the weekend meeting with President Obama. While people were excited to see President Xi Jinping, his wife drew lots of cheers. "We have a lot of fans here, here for the First Lady," said Charles Lu, a Chinese-American. "Because actually, the First Lady was famous earlier than the president."
The supporters say its not uncommon for China's first lady, Peng Liyuan to steal the spotlight from her husband. Before the two married in 1987, Peng already reached celebrity status in the country as an opera and folk singer. Now as the first lady, she's drawing the world's eyes for a different reason. Peng continues to make several high-profile international trips with her husband, including to Southern California. She greets prominent leaders, shakes hands, even took a trip to the Palm Springs Art Museum, without President Xi. It's a far cry from her predecessors who were rarely seen or heard. "China more open, more open, so the president and the first lady go together," said Sue Zhang, a Chinese-American.
It's a concept we're used to in the United States, but in China, it's a major change. And if Peng can grow the role of the first lady, the supporters are hopeful the country can enter a new era. "You know China not just changing economically, the whole country, the speech, the people, rights of the people, freedom," said Lu. "It's a lot of change and we see gentle by the gentle, it's very good."
Lu hopes it means an increased spread of Western culture to China. Which draws a comparison between Peng and Michelle Obama. Similar in age, both gaining popularity for their fashion choices, but one difference stands out. Peng made the trip this weekend, Mrs. Obama did not.
"Concerned about your family, that's okay," said Zhang. "But I think this is a very good chance. It's not easy to have this chance later, why you miss this chance?"
The White House said the First Lady stayed home this weekend because itw as the last week of school for the Obama children.