China’s new first lady: A star in her own right

BEIJING (tip): She sports Tibetan costume or military uniform and regales Chinese audiences with folk and patriotic songs. Until recently,Peng Liyuan, a star singer, was a lot more popular than her politician husband, Xi Jinping, slated to become China’s next President.

Peng, 49, who began as an ordinary soldier and occupies a civilian position as major-general, sings folk and Chinese adaptations of western pop. In a country where wives of politicians are rarely seen in public functions, she is a rarity. She easily gets hundreds of military men waving and dancing during her performances of revolutionary and patriotic songs.

Last year, Peng burst into the international volunteering scenario as the WHO declared her the goodwill ambassador for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. She joined Microsoft founder in May to launch a major anti-smoking campaign in China.
Peng is expected to play an important public role after Xi’s elevation as China’s president is formally approved by the National People’s Congress, the Chinese parliament, in March 2012. China observers think she might use her musical talent to propagate Beijing’s case with Tibetans, and raise people’s sentiments against Japan’s “occupation” of Diaoyu Islands, which is claimed by China.

An important question is whether China’s next first lady would play the kind of public role that wives of American presidents enact. China has no history of “first wives” playing major roles – with the exception of Mao Zedong’s infamous wife Jiang Qing, who played a key role in the Cultural Revolution.

Peng is expected to be more active in public life but might initially keep a low profile to avoid unnecessary controversies for her husband, observers said. She did not appear in the China Central Television’s gala event after Xi’s promotion in 2008.

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Adored as a soprano, Peng is also a member of China People’s Political Consultative Conference, one of the two houses of parliament. Their daughter, Xi Mingze, who studies at Harvard, made headlines when she volunteered for relief work after the earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 at age 16.

Her following in the Chinese military is almost unrivaled by any woman in history. Peng’s famous performances like ‘We Are The Yellow River’ and ‘We Are Mount Taishan’ draw a picture of a harmonious Chinese society.

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