Peng Liyuan: Folk singer who became China’s first lady
For decades, Peng Liyuan has appeared on China's state-run television programmes, singing syrupy sweet folk tunes extolling the wonders of China's rise. Now, she is about to become China's new first lady.
With dozens of dancers swaying in the background behind her, the glamorous Ms Peng last appeared on national television in January as the closing act of this year's military-themed Chinese New Year gala.
"People are who the Party cares about forever," Ms Peng, wearing a white military uniform, sang to a rapt audience which included President Hu Jintao and her husband, incoming leader Xi Jinping.
End Quote He Li China Folk Song Music Board
We don't want to comment on her too much - if you say she's the best, others will gossip - if you say she's not good, some may object”
Ms Peng is China's first high-profile political spouse at the top level since Jiang Qing, the late wife of Chairman Mao Zedong.
In contrast, the women married to previous Chinese leaders, from Deng Xiaoping to outgoing leader Hu Jintao, stayed largely behind the scenes. Overseas, Ms Peng has been compared to former French first lady Carla Bruni.'The Peony Fairy'
It is possible that Peng Liyuan's celebrity status will make the secretive Communist leadership appear more accessible.
"The image of the Communist Party used to be very dull and the leaders behaved like robots as a part of the state machine with no personal charm at all," said Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Beijing-based think-tank the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Peng Liyuan is expected to bring something different to the leadership."
However, it is more likely that the Chinese media will string virtual caution tape around Ms Peng. Even now, the simplest questions about Ms Peng's musical career elicit vague answers from those in the Chinese music industry.
"It's hard to comment on her music, given the complication of her current situation," admits He Li, director of the China Folk Song Music Board.
"We don't want to comment on her too much. If you say she's the best, others will gossip. If you say she's not good, some may object. It's hard to say anything."
The celebrity wife
- A well-known Chinese folk singer and actress, Peng Liyuan regularly appears on Chinese state TV's New Year Gala - the most watched TV programme of the year
- She was one of 23 people to receive the first Chinese Arts awards and a 1m yuan ($159,800, £100,000) prize in December 2011
- Appointed World Health Organisation Goodwill Ambassador for HIV/Aids and tuberculosis in June 2011
- She is a major-general in the People's Liberation Army
Nicknamed "The Peony Fairy", Peng Liyuan joined the Chinese People's Liberation Army early in her career and made her name as an entertainer approved by the Communist Party, appearing frequently on state television to sing propaganda songs with titles like Plains of Hope and People From Our Village.
"Probably 90% of her songs are complimenting the Communist Party, and the rest celebrates our wonderful life," explains music critic Qi Youyi, with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.'Cultural warrior'
Now Ms Peng only appears on stage occasionally, for large performance gala shows on state television. Though her name remains well-recognised, her music is mostly appreciated by people over the age of 40, says He Li.
"People who like her songs are mostly born in an era when there was little variety of art forms and broadcasting channels, only radio probably," she said.
"There was not much entertainment then. If you played it today, not as many people would like it."
Peng Liyuan did not always enjoy a rosy relationship with the Communist Party. Like Xi Jinping, her family was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution.
In an interview with Chinese television in 2004, Ms Peng said her father was categorised as a "counter-revolutionary" because some of their relatives served in the Taiwanese army.
Those hardships did not prevent her early entry at the young age of 14 to the Shandong University of Arts as a vocational training student specialising in Chinese folk songs.
Peng Liyuan then joined the People's Liberation Army in 1980 to work as a so-called "arts and cultural warrior".
The soprano's performance in the debut New Year's Gala on China Central Television (CCTV) in 1983 made her a national celebrity.
Over the years, she followed the company to perform overseas in New York, Tokyo and Vienna.Future role
When Peng Liyuan met Xi Jinping in 1986, she was already a famous singer while he was the deputy mayor of Xiamen City in southern Fujian province and a divorcee.
After just months of dating, they married in September 1987. Their daughter, Xi Mingze, was born in 1992.
Many now question what kind of role Peng Liyuan might be allowed to play in the Chinese government. She has already begun to scale back her singing career, appearing less often on state-run television.
"She only shows up on very big-scale political performances and she won't sing new songs," He Li said.
It is unclear, however, whether Ms Peng will play the traditional role of a political spouse by accompanying her husband on foreign trips.
When Xi Jinping visited the US for a high-profile meet and greet in February, Peng Liyuan was not by his side. At the time, some suggested that Ms Peng was trying to avoid overshadowing her husband.
Ms Peng might do more charity work. She already serves as a goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organisation, spreading awareness on tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. She is also an ambassador for the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control.
Of course, Ms Peng may also want to enjoy her time living in Zhongnanhai, the central Beijing compound that houses China's top leaders.
In an interview with the state-run Global People magazine in 2011, she described how she enjoyed everyday chores, such as riding a bicycle to the market and bargaining with hawkers.
While at home, she said that she and Xi Jinping treat each other as husband and wife rather than as state leader and singing superstar.