Meet Asia's Dynamic First Ladies

BY LEE HAN SHIH
Dec 29, 2008
*Special to asia!

In 2003, Taiwan's former First Lady was named one of Time magazine's Asian Heroes. Now she could face jail time. Her Thai counterpart is doing no better, having been sentenced to three years for tax evasion, without her other half. Between a graft indictment and a divorce-of-convenience, Asia's First Wives have shown that they are no mere tai tais or ladies of leisure.

Like it or not, the First Wives are role models for the women in their countries. They are, by and large, the most visible females in societies where women have long expected to stay at home and make babies. The fact that they can expand their role beyond the domestic has inspired many of their gender to follow suit. Even Jiang Qing, painted as evil incarnate by Chinese officials, is an inspiration in her own right.

The most inspiring of all is perhaps one who is not born Asian, but now a ruler in her own right. Sonia Gandhi, an Italian, is the widow of Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister killed by a suicide bomber in 1991. She was unremarkable as the First Wife. Her career only blossomed after Rajiv’s death. Today she runs the ruling Congress Party and, through the PM Manmohan Singh, decides on the fate of 1 billion people. The First Wife has become the First Person of India.

 

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

 

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