Jan 09, 2014 07:08 PM

Wendi Deng Got What She Wanted – Mostly

In its end-of-2013 review, British daily The Guardian awarded its Divorce of the Year prize to media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and his now ex-wife Wendi Deng. Ah, but of course. For it is not just this year, but throughout our new millennium that Madame Deng has commanded our attention.

Fourteen years ago, Murdoch abruptly separated from his second wife, Anna. Just seventeen days later he married Deng, a Chinese woman 38 years his junior. Everyone was taken by surprise. To worldwide attention this tall and glamorous Asian woman, hanging on the arm of the most powerful media mogul on the planet, appeared both alluring and puffed up with pride.

For the next decade, dazzling reports about this power couple produced a steady supply of headlines. First it was about the use of Murdoch's frozen sperm, supposedly hidden from his second wife, that helped Deng become the mother of two heirs of Murdoch's business empire. Deng would then become the chief strategy officer of News Corp.'s MySpace website. (She also famously blocked a "pie-throwing attack" while her husband was at his lowest moment in recent years during a British Parliament investigation into his newspapers' phone-hacking scandal.)

Still the couple's two daughters did not end up obtaining the right of voting control over the family's trust holding as Deng had wished. Eventually, by mid-2013, Mr. Murdoch would wind up filing for divorce, and the two, within ten minutes, brought to an end their marriage by year's end in a New York court.

Spoils and Youth

No outsider is going to know exactly what happened behind the scenes during the past 14 years. What we see though is the relaxed and happy face of the media tycoon, while Deng, once seen as so vibrant and cheerful, wears the sullen expression of the loser in the whole affair.

Most gossip about Ms. Deng is about her spoils, even as some snipe that what she's lost in exchange is her youth. After all her earthshaking efforts to have a stake in the empire, all she has gained are two innocuous properties. The only difference between her and say, an ordinary divorced middle-aged Beijing woman, seems to be that Deng will decorate her flats on New York's Fifth Avenue.

Still, there are others who applaud Deng and praise her talent for knowing well how to maximize the utility of it, saying she is still defined with words like "assertive," "successful," "highflier" and "glamorous."

I have never met Wendi Deng. But I have met other tough women, ones who fly under a black cloud and attack by surprise in a dense mass. They set a goal, build the model, then advance like a bulldozer, exerting irresistible force over the lives and souls of others.

They are the major thoroughfares of the world, not the quiet labyrinths. Their lives are an ode, majestic but impossible to adjust to a lower tone. Their capability of awareness is particularly strong, a kind of sixth sense to assess those around them. In their eyes, everybody is divided into two categories — useful or useless.

If you are the latter, your fate is to simply be ignored by her, but if she sees some utility, you are destined to be selected like a piece of a puzzle and assembled as one of the bricks and tiles of her life's construction.

I often sigh to myself: why is it that the more successful a man is the more popular he is, while a woman's success will have just the opposite effect. I believe that part of the blame is in the design of institutions and the weight of social prejudice. But it is also related to our own limitations, which include that women tend to be fixed to their pre-determined objectives, unable to extricate themselves along the way.

The degree of one's success reflects also very often one's absurdity. This is because even a glamorous lifestyle will not withstand questioning. I have a luxurious mansion right next to the Forbidden City and my Upper East Side New York apartment is worth US$ 44 million. So what? I have become the world's leading socialite with Tony Blair and Hugh Jackman as friends. So what? I had the chance of controlling the world's largest media empire. So what? Everybody, we can never forget, ends up as a handful of new soil.

What will a lack of sensitivity turn a woman into? One only has to look at Wendi Deng. It's nothing that cosmetic surgery can help. Vanity is ultimately the worst enemy of any woman. It's often rooted in purpose. The contradiction of beauty and purpose are often thought to live side-by-side in so-called successful women. For some, facing the choice of being a nice person or a strong person, the latter seems more economically viable.

So what will you choose to be – a nice person or a tough one? I'm fed up with the talk of success. I dare you and everyone else, to be someone nice.

The author is a TV host and columnist of Caixin

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