BEIJING — The arrival in China of President Barack Obama’s daughters, 15-year-old Malia and 12-year-old Sasha, for a weeklong trip with their mother prompts the question: What about President Xi Jinping’s daughter?
Xi’s daughter, Xi Mingze, never appears in public. The 21-year-old is believed to be a student at Harvard University, enrolled under a pseudonym. That has never been mentioned in the Chinese press, and searches of her name on the Chinese Internet are blocked.
The most recent photo of her available was from when she was about 10. The only other confirmed photograph, released last year by Chinese state media, shows her riding on the back of her father’s bicycle when she was about 5.
In contrast, the Obama girls have been splashed all over the Chinese media, deplaning in shiny taffeta skirts on Thursday. On Friday, they were seen mingling with students at the Second High School of Beijing Normal University, chosen because of an exchange program with the Obama girls’ private school, Sidwell Friends School.
Increasingly intolerant of secrecy about their own leaders, many Chinese have dared to question the conspicuous absence, some even noting that this is the week of spring break at Harvard. The trip has been hailed as a family get-together with Peng Liyuan, Xi’s wife, a celebrated singer, escorting the Obama family through Beijing.
“If there’s a first lady, why no first daughter?” Zhang Xin, the head of Soho China, a prominent real estate developer, wrote on her microblog account.
“Two American princesses are running around. Why won’t our own princess come out?” asked another microblogger, Zheng Wei.
Tao Wenzhao, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Xi’s daughter could help build a personal relationship between the two families.
“People are really very interested in Michelle Obama and her daughters,” Tao said.
There had been speculation in the Chinese press that Xi’s daughter might attend a family dinner Friday at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. She was a no-show, although Xi attended to greet Michelle Obama, a gesture beyond the usual protocol since she was traveling without the president.
The entourage, which includes Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, is receiving extensive coverage. The Chinese state press relish the chance to crow about their own first lady, whom they love to compare to Michelle Obama.
“The first ladies of China and the U.S. … have much in common: They are symbols of glamour in their own countries and stand uneclipsed by their more powerful husbands,” the English-language China Daily said in a lavish photo spread of the women’s wardrobes. “They are loved by the public not because of their spouses but for who they are. Each woman has created a ‘power center’ — a kind of soft power — from a combination of femininity and self-assertion.’
Over the course of the week, the first lady, her daughters and mother will visit Chinese highlights including the Great Wall, the terra cotta warriors in Xian and the pandas in Sichuan province.
Beyond showing off her fashion sense, Michelle Obama has a theme for the trip: international education. Among other goals, she would like to bolster the presence of Chinese students in U.S. universities.
Oddly, that might be the most sensitive subject when it comes to Xi Mingze. The Chinese government is not eager to advertise that many children of the elite are attending universities in the United States, many of them also acquiring U.S. passports.
In one of the few articles about her, published by the New China News Agency last April, Xi Mingze was referred to as a graduate of Hangzhou Foreign Language School in Zhejiang province who had “entered Zhejiang University” in 2009.
The article made no reference to her transfer to Harvard in 2010. The photograph accompanying the story showed the young Xi walking beside her grandfather, who was in a wheelchair. The photo was undated, but since the grandfather died in 2002, it had to have been taken when Xi Mingze was no more than 10.