First ladies rock the socks off countries. Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama go down in history not for silent poise but for their relentless voice. As China welcomes a new president to lead the country through problems of poverty, pollution, and corruption, you may struggle to conjure up the face of the man who now governs almost 1.6 billion people, not to mention his wife’s. Ironically, most people first knew of President Xi Jinping as “the husband of that famous singer”, Peng Liyuan. China’s first lady just happens to be one of the most respected folk singers of her time, and undoubtedly one of the most well-known vocalists in Chinese history.
Peng first gained recognition from her performances on CCTV’s New Year’s Gala, where she almost always sang the finale, ending the show on a high note. She joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) vocal troop in 1980 when she was only 18— a prestigious position for any talented artist looking for a secure opportunity to develop a long-term career in the arts. Peng is often categorized as a “folk” singer to the extent that she sings about ethnic or rural Chinese themes, tuning in to the sentiments of rural citizens. She is highly respected by the Chinese populace, and is currently president of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Institute of the Arts, one of the country’s top art universities.
This year, Peng chose to step out of the limelight as first lady and opted not to perform at the annual New Year’s Gala. As her husband trudges onto the diplomatic battlefield, Peng appears to be carving a political road for herself as well, recently joining the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Still, it is Peng’s grand presence on stage that has won the hearts of families nationwide and forged a bond with citizens that may potentially shield the couple from political criticism later on.