Two days ago, Ivanka Trump published a vacation shot from Croatia with Wendi Deng Murdoch, a woman best known for her taste in supervillain-level evil men: first as the wife of billionaire News Corp head and living conflict of interest Rupert Murdoch; now, in a rumor that looks increasingly more like a fact, as girlfriend of none other than Vladimir Putin. Deng Murdoch, it seems, has been a friend of Trump’s for quite some time: She’s been credited with setting up the Republican nominee’s daughter with investor Jared Kusher. (“Whenever a famous person is dating another famous person,” a friend once told Vogue, “chances are that Wendi Murdoch brought them together.”)
The news of a Trump–Deng sightseeing trip, assuming the latter is indeed seeing the Russian autocrat, further cements the weird alliance between Putin and the Trump family; in the last month, Ivanka’s father has expressed an alarming reverence for the Kremlin, and as Gawker noted the day after the Instagram of the two women was taken, a number of the Trump campaign’s advisors have ties to Russia—not to mention speculation that the Donald himself may owe significant debt to Russian businessmen. But whereas the details of such public figures have been the subject of intense scrutiny, Deng Murdoch’s most visible stage has been, essentially, the society pages. So who exactly is this evil genius of a human?
Though her name may not be immediately recognizable to anyone who doesn’t read New York tabloids, the 47-year-old Chinese immigrant has had quite the run since she landed Stateside in the ‘80s. Frequently profiled, occasionally lauded by the Chinese media for her embodiment of a particular kind of bootstrapping, and perpetually underestimated by pretty much every dude she encounters, Deng is fond of pointing out that when she was growing up, all she ever wanted was to be rich enough to eat meat once a day. Obviously, those benchmarks have a way of shifting: Now she’s the type of wealthy person who wonders where she’ll ever park the kids while she’s hanging in the Google tent at Burning Man.
Formerly Deng Wen Ge—she was named after the cultural revolution, born to parents with strong ties to the Communist party—Deng grew up around Guangzhou, the daughter of a factory director. The details of her early life, which didn’t surface publicly until well into her marriage to Murdoch (much to his extreme discomfort) place her early on as a medical student and a competitive volleyball player. “I dropped out of medical school, which I enrolled in to please my parents, who wanted a doctor in the family, because I was unhappy in the lab,” she told Vogue.
In the late ‘80s, Deng met a California couple, the Cherrys, who sponsored her to come to America; she shared a room with their small daughter and attended Cal State Northridge until Jake Cherry’s infatuation with her broke up his marriage. Deng moved out and transferred to the Yale School of Management, eventually living with and marrying Cherry. They would stay legally married for exactly two years and seven months, though reports suggest Cherry, in his fifties, and Deng, in her twenties, lived together for less than half a year. (The most recent attempt to track down Cherry for comment in a glossy magazine’s Murdoch Deng profile, a semi-regular occurrence these days, resulted in the man himself yelling at a journalist, “Take me off your list!”)
Deng, now armed with a visa, casted about for a job and was eventually hooked up with an internship at Star TV in Hong Kong, a News Corp property with few Chinese natives; she promptly moved up the ranks. She would later say she was the first Chinese woman to be a manager there—”Usually the women pushed the tea trolleys,” she proudly told Vogue. In the late ‘90s, Murdoch, still married at the time to his second wife, Anna, visited the station to run a series of distinctly softball town hall meetings; Deng reportedly raised her hand and asked bluntly, “Why is your China strategy so bad?”
She would travel with him, acting as an interpreter, for much of his time in China. Nearly everyone, Murdoch’s ex-wife included, speculates that the relationship began well before his divorce in 1999. In any case, Deng and Murdoch were married on a yacht 17 days after his split was finalized. According to the same Vogue profile, Murdoch introduced his new wife to his children as a “nice Chinese lady,” a minimization foreshadowing 14 years of tension over Deng’s role in the Murdoch empire.
For the first years of their marriage Deng was painted as the lovely housewife, a quaint village beauty who only had, like, ten pairs of shoes: The year they were married Murdoch (who had taken to wearing black turtlenecks instead of his customary dead-guy suits) told the Wall Street Journal Deng had little to do with the news business and was “busy working on decorating the new apartment” in Soho. Sure, he noted, she was “a bit frustrated” by the narrow scope of her activities. But “we’ll just have to resolve that somehow.”
The frustration was relieved somewhat when Deng began advocating for Murdoch’s troubled business in China, traveling to Beijing regularly and brokering deals with businessmen who preferred a friendly face to Western suits—it’s estimated Deng initiated or advocated for as much as $45 million in Chinese internet investment during her marriage to Murdoch. She also turned out to be a formidable networker, hosting dinners for the likes of Tony Blair, Bono, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, and Amy Chua, the latter of whom she cold-called after the publication of Tiger Mom, hoping to set their children up on a playdate. By 2011 she had produced a movie—Snow Flower and the Secret Fan—and become the chief strategist of MySpace China.
Deng seemingly tried to stay out of the press, besides as an occasional side-note in the business pages and, by now, for being a legit socialite—she’s been the subject of many a fashion slideshow. But by the late 2010s her public relationship to Murdoch grew distanced, and the two often traveled separately. Bolstered, one might imagine, by her success in business she grew more critical of Murdoch, reportedly rolling her eyes at him in public and disagreeing vehemently with him in the company of friends. (Their home, according to a former nanny who came clean to Gawker, was at the time like “a war zone.”)
It’s been suggested Deng bullied Murdoch extensively during this time and may have physically assaulted him, but her most triumphantly loving moment came in the form of a widely reported stunt: During a British Parliamentary Subcommittee hearing on NewsCorp’s phone hacking scandal, a blogger hurled a pie at her husband’s face. Deng, in a show of deft reflex, bounded out of her seat and boomeranged that pie right back.
The way these things tend to go, rumors circulated during these years that Deng was engaged in a torrid affair with some wealthy dude or another, most notably Eric Schmidt and Chris DeWolfe, both men with which she had business relationships. But shortly after her divorce from Murdoch in 2013, a bizarre love note, ostensibly written by Deng herself, was published.
“Oh, shit, oh, shit,” it read, “whatever why I’m so so missing Tony. Because he is so so charming and his clothes are so good. He has such good body and he has really really good legs Butt . . . And he is slim tall and good skin. Pierce blue eyes which I love.” The Tony in question was Tony Blair; of course, all parties involved vehemently denied the veracity of the note, though the crush on the former British PM has been widely credited with breaking up the marriage.
Unloosed from Murdoch’s grasp and endowed with both business sense and a much-lauded talent for matchmaking Deng has been doing Just Fine since the split; now an investor at Uber, Snapchat, and Warby Parker, she is firmly entrenched in the business of having money to make money. And vacationing with the daughter of the American Republican candidate in Croatia—one might assume, if the rumors are true, with the blessing of her alleged boyfriend, one of the world’s most notorious autocrats. No one knows, exactly, how they would have met, though he does seem like her type.