Unesco named first lady Peng Liyuan as a special envoy to promote education for girls and women, as President Xi Jinping visited the organisation's Paris headquarters last night.
The appointment will raise her profile on the international stage and renew focus on an issue the country has grappled with.
Xi, accompanied by Peng and a Chinese delegation, visited the organisation - of which China is a founding member in 1946 - on the last day of his three-day tour in France. It was the first visit by a Chinese president to the Unesco building.
"If all civilisations can uphold inclusiveness, the so-called 'clash of civilisations' will be out of the question, and the harmony of civilisations will become a reality," he said.
Peng joins five other Unesco envoys, including royals and academics, for issues ranging from water to literacy.
While the gap in access to education has been narrowing, a 2010 study by the All-China Women's Federation found that rural women attended school 2.2 years less than their urban peers, and that more girls (36.8 per cent) than boys (27.9 per cent) nationwide were forced by parents to cut their education short.
Peng, who is already a World Health Organisation ambassador focusing on tackling HIV/Aids and tuberculosis, visited a children's hospital in Paris on the second day of the tour, and presented toy pandas to tuberculosis patients.
French authorities have bent over backwards to woo Xi, giving him and his wife VIP treatment as they visit France on the 50th anniversary of full diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Road blocks slowed traffic in parts of the French capital and transport authorities closed many subway stations at rush hour Thursday to avoid security slips or unwelcome protests.
Xi was scheduled to make a major speech highlighting historical bonds between the two nations, such as the experiences of late Communist Party luminaries Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, who studied in France.
The question of human rights in China was also due to come to the fore yesterday with Tibetan exiles planning a big rally in Paris.
Since 2009 about 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protests against the authorities, denouncing what they say is discrimination an erosion of their religious freedoms by Beijing.
Already in the morning, activists from media watchdog Reporters Without Borders unfurled a huge portrait of Xi making an obscene gesture, in a photomontage that carried the slogan: "Without freedom of information, no force of opposition."
As Xi wrapped up his state visit, he and Peng were invited to a private dinner with just French President Francois Hollande, after attending a concert at the Royal Opera at Versailles.
The menu will remain secret, but the Associated Press reported that famed chef Alain Ducasse has concocted a sumptuous meal for the Chinese president.
France is the second country on Xi's 10-day, four-nation European tour. He first visited the Netherlands and will head to Germany and Belgium next.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press