- 65-year-old accomplished academic is considered China’s number one authority on US writing on the natural world
- A quiet and effective figure, Cheng often accompanied her husband on official overseas visits
Outgoing Premier Li Keqiang is undoubtedly a household name in China and while his wife, Cheng Hong, cannot match Peng Liyuan – the spouse of President Xi Jinping – in terms of her public profile, Cheng is nonetheless an influential figure.
Despite her low profile in recent years, Cheng, 65, is an accomplished personality and on International Women’s Day, many in China are paying tribute to the quiet but effective role she has played.
A professor of English at the Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing, she has built a reputation as China’s number one researcher on American nature writing having written two books on the subject and translating other works on the subject from English to Chinese.
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The university’s website lists Cheng as a “renowned scholar” and member of the institute’s academic committee. She has been selected as one of its 10 best teachers on two occasions.
As a youngster Cheng received numerous awards from the Beijing municipal education authority for her lectures. However, it is reported that she rejected an attempt by the university to make her dean of its English department.
In the two years after her husband was appointed as Chinese premier in March, 2013, Cheng often accompanied her husband on foreign visits.
During this period, a number of mainland media outlets published articles about Cheng, praising her background in the intelligentsia and her elegant temperament.
Also, she was often described as the “soft power” behind Li in the foreign media.
“Professor Cheng Hong is popular among her students. She is a person of authority in her field as a renowned scholar. As the wife of Li Keqiang, she stays away from social intercourse, and thus she wins respect from the public,” a report by Guangzhou Daily published in December, 2013, said.
In the past few years Cheng has almost disappeared from the public view.
However, an article in the Shanghai-based Jiefang Daily published in 2019, which did introduce a revised version of Cheng’s translation of the work Tranquility Is Beyond Price, stopping short of identifying her as Li’s wife.
Cheng was last seen in public in November last year when she accompanied her husband on a visit to Cambodia.
With Li set to step down from his position Cheng will no doubt embrace a new life with her less-busy husband.
This could well be good news for family-oriented Cheng.
While visiting Nigeria in 2014, the wife of the Nigerian president proposed to Cheng and the wives of other countries’ leaders that the women should “leave the kitchen”.
Cheng responded: “I am a university professor and this is my profession. I love teaching and reading. But I also love cooking at home for my husband and my daughter. These two things can be combined perfectly.”
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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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