Chinese Women who Redefined Fierce!

BY LEE HAN SHIH
May 18, 2009
*Special to asia!

If Wendi Deng Murdoch is ever in need of a role model, she needs look no further than Washington DC, the hometown of Anna Chan Chennault.

A legendary figure whose life intersects with the giants of World War II and the Cold War: Franklin Roosevelt, Chiang Kai-shek, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Mao Zedong and Chou En-lai, the 77-year old Anna Chennault, who as a young journalist met and married General Claire ‘flying tigers’ Chennault in war-torn China and followed him to the US, is arguably the most famous Chinese woman in 20th century America.

Wendi Deng, 37, and potentially the most famous Chinese woman in 21st century America, could do worse than following in her footsteps.

The two women, separated by four decades, have had uncannily similar experiences. Both were reporters and met their husbands during the course of work. Both married men much older than themselves. Both have a pair of daughters. Both live in the US and exert much influence through their husbands. Anna Chennault’s influence, in fact, grew after General Claire Lee Chennault died of lung cancer, a fact that would not escape the notice of Wendi Deng, whose husband is 78 and in remission from prostate cancer.

Of course, there are marked differences as well. Anna Chennault came from a privileged background while Wendi Deng did not. Much of Chennault’s value as an undercover agent to successive American presidents during the Cold War era arose from the fact that she was one of few Chinese who could speak to both Washington and Beijing with ease. Today, there are thousands of mainlanders in the US who could—or would—do the same job. Wendi Deng’s origin does not make her a scarce commodity.

Nevertheless, being the wives of powerful Americans (Australian-born Murdoch took American citizenship so he could own a television station) has its unique benefits. One of them is accessibility. Chennault had leveraged her connections to the max, thus ensuring herself a place in the history books as the person who helped to bring about Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972.

Wendi Deng’s place in history, if such it is, lies in the future. She has decades to forge her path. As the Chinese-born spouse and partner of a global media baron whose adopted country is locked in a love-hate relationship with the rising power that is China, she has to navigate a minefield of conflicting interests that did not exist during Chennault’s days. As the mother of two young daughters whose husband already has four grown kids, she also has to fight for her share of the family empire. None of this is easy. But as Chennault would have told Wendy, the most difficult part of the journey lies with finding the right husband and moving in the right circles in the US. Once this is done, everything else is a cakewalk

 


 

ANNA CHAN CHENNAULT

Birth:  1924

Place:  China

Father:  Diplomat

Profession:  Reporter

Husband:  General Claire Chennault, American, Founder, Flying Tigers (now part of Federal Express)

Age Difference: 31 years

Length of Marriage:  11 years*

Children: 2 daughters

Residence:  USA

US Political Friends:  Democrat: Franklin Roosevelt; Republicans: Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan

Role in US/China:  Helped Nixon's reconciliation with China

 

WENDI DENG MURDOCH

Birth:  1968

Place:  China

Father:  Factory Manager

Profession:  Reporter

Husband:  Rupert Murdoch, American, Chairman, News Corp

Age Difference:  37 years

Length of Marriage:  6 years, ongoing

Children:  2 daughters

Residence:  USA

US Political Friends:  Democrat: Hillary and Bill Clinton; Republicans: George W Bush

Role in US/China:  Helped Murdoch's investment in China

lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.

 

Contact Han Shih