When Wendi Deng made a rare public appearance a month ago at the Shanghai International Film Festival, together with her husband Rupert Murdoch, the strongest impression she left on my colleague was her height: “She is really tall and stands out,” I was told.
Deng, possibly the most powerful woman on the global scene by family association, enjoyed something of a dubious reputation back in her home country. Suffice it to say, she was not universally loved or admired in China.
On the contrary, she was seen as the classic gold-digger. Her detractors constantly point out her less-than-glorious history: She was sponsored by an elderly American couple to pursue higher education in the United States, where she ended up marrying the husband – just long enough to obtain her green card.
To many in China, this ran counter to the quintessential Chinese moral principle. Not only did she break up a family, but she seemed to have done it for her own convenience rather than for loving the man, 30 years her senior.
No spinmeister could turn that episode into a touching love story. Even normally nationalistic youth in China have poured out sympathy for the American couple, Jake and Joyce Cherry.
But all that ill-will was largely washed away when Deng came down on Murdoch’s attacker during Tuesday’s Parliamentary hearing. Most online opinions in China hurrahed her.
In a Sina Weibo poll, about 70 percent cheered for her, 20 percent said the incident had completely changed their mind about her, leaving only 10 percent who still believed she is a manipulative woman whom they “dislike”.
A lot of people associated her knee-jerk reaction with love. They were convinced Deng did it out of love for her husband. “This made us believe in love again,” summed up a Tencent post, implying that the flurry of recent celebrity divorces have shaken public confidence in the foundation of a hallowed institution.
Some attributed Deng’s “slam dunk”, half-jokingly perhaps, to her volleyball skills that date back to her high-school years in Jiangsu province. Other jokes include suggestions that she should be assigned the task of safeguarding China’s South Sea islands because of her uncanny ability to protect her territory.
Not everyone was convinced, though. A netizen with the handle “Walking Vivian” posted: “I respect Wendi Deng’s choices in life, but I hope we do not elevate her to a source of pride. She destroyed the marriage of someone who had helped her because she needed a green card, and later she destroyed Murdoch’s marriage that had lasted many years. She was unscrupulous every step of the way. If we admire her current success, that would be too materialistic and bone-chilling.”
There are also conspiracy theories that put Deng’s decisiveness and the subsequent rise of News Corp stock together, suggesting she could have arranged the pie throwing. “Sister Deng, do you need to pay the actor afterwards? After this, Rupert may have to change his will,” writes “Doyen-Vest”, a netizen suspicious of the whole affair.
The traditional virtues of a Chinese wife range from being demure in public to having multiple talents such as painting and music. This week Deng played the role to a hilt, and with a modern twist. She kept a low profile during much of the hearing, yet remained quite conspicuous by the color of her dress. When the occasion called for it, she displayed an agility and a physical stamina that are worthy of Chinese martial arts.
Zhang Yihe, a prominent female scholar, summed it up this way: “Whatever your attitude toward her as a person, she turns out to be the ‘right’ wife.”
Source: China Daily