The mystery of China’s ‘first lady’: soldier, singer and Xi’s second wife

“Icon” according to ‘Time’ magazine


Her husband, Xi Jingping, will revalidate his third term as the top Chinese leader and she has always known how to rise to the occasion. Or even a little more, according to international fashion analysts. She had to be more discreet and now the soprano is dedicated to showing her face for more supportive causes.

Above, during the visit that the Chinese presidential couple made to Panama.AP

In China, during the 1980s, in the midst of the country’s opening process with the reformist Deng Xiaoping in power, all performing art was welcomed within the army because it was used as an effective propaganda tool. was recruited to singers and dancers to perform in front of emissaries French, English, Russian and American. Chinese leaders, eager to open the doors to foreign investment, used these shows to entertain their guests.

That was how the soprano Peng Liyuan managed to rise to the rank of major general in the arts troupe of the People’s Liberation Army. She was a famous folk singer, the star in the mother of all the galas that are made in the Asian giant: the Lunar New Year, broadcast by the state network CCTV, where Peng came to dazzle for 24 uninterrupted years, decked out in the traditional and colorful costumes of the minorities tunics, red dresses with the banners of the Chinese flag and, of course, with the military uniform.

Their songs didn’t top the pop charts at the time, but they did pack a dose of patriotism into every verse. Y that was what the government wanted attract an audience distracted with the new Western trends, especially from the United States, which were entering China in a big way for the first time.

Peng grew up in a Buddhist cradle within a public housing complex in Yuncheng, a very rural county in Shandong province on China’s east coast. Upon reaching the age of majority, began to delight the Chinese troops with his torrent of voice who were fighting the Vietnamese in one of the many border conflicts they had in the 1980s.

As a private, he went on several tours to boost the morale of his fellow men on the front lines. Later made the leap to performances in front of foreign emissaries, the CCTV gala and many other government-sponsored events, which are always the biggest and most extravagant to be held in the Asian country. It was then that he met an up-and-coming and unknown politician named Xi Jinping, son of revolutionary Xi Zhongxuncompanion of wanderings and weapons of Mao Zedong.


Peng (59 years old) and Xi (69 years old) shared friendships in high places in Beijing. She, because of her fame, rubbed shoulders with the jet set capital. He, a second-generation red prince, as the sons of high-ranking officials who had founded the Communist Party (CCP) were known, had direct access to the political elite despite the fact that at that time he was a simple deputy mayor of the northern city of Xiamen.

The couple married in 1987. It was the second wedding for Xi, who had already been married in 1979 to Ke Lingling, daughter of the then influential Chinese ambassador to the UK. That marriage barely lasted three years. But the relationship between Peng and Xi was going from strength to strength – in 1992 they had a daughter, Xi Mingze – at the same time that the singer was still consolidated at the top and the politician was gradually ascending in her career.

It was in 2007 that Xi rose from anonymity to become one of the political figures of the moment as party secretary in Shanghai and a new member of the nine leaders ofl Politburo Standing Committee, the highest government body in China. But for the next five years, Peng continued to outshine her husband in both fame and visibility. Everything changed in 2012, when Xi was appointed general secretary of the CCP, the position of who really holds the wand of command in China. A year later, his appointment as president was also confirmed.

Peng Liyuan’s husband has been at the helm of the second world power for a decade. And there is still Xi for a while because this week the twentieth congress of the party was held, where the leader will revalidate an unprecedented third term since the Mao era. The Chinese regime will become even more personalistic than it was before. And Peng continue as first lady -“for life”like Xi, analysts predict- next to one of the most powerful men in the world.

Peng looks in surprise at the fondue they were served on a trip to Switzerland.
Peng looks in surprise at the fondue they were served on a trip to Switzerland.AP

When Xi came to power, Peng went into the background in the media. The soprano retired from the stage. Her name disappeared from the pink pages of the Chinese press. But as first lady, characterized by a simple and very elegant appearance, began to appear in other types of spaces, especially abroad. In 2013, Vanity Fair included her in his list of the best dressed of that year. Fashion editors praised her wardrobe and made her dressmaker Ma Ke famous. The same compared Peng to Carla Brunior more recently with Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton.

Forbes included the singer in its list of the most powerful women in the world. Y Magazine Time I called her “cone” in another list of the 100 most influential people. “The glow of the first lady delights the world and increases soft power”read the headline of the Chinese newspaper Global Times after Peng’s first trip abroad (to Moscow) as first lady.

All of that praise boils down pretty much to Xi’s first five-year term. Later, Peng publicly kept a lower profile. In Spain some remember her walk through Madrid in 2018, when she accompanied her husband on a state visit. Peng and Xi dined with the King and Queen at the Palacio de la Zarzuela. Then he went with the Queen Letizia to the Royal Theater to see Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot.

In recent years, the Chinese first lady has excelled in more sober roles as a goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organization (WHO) for tuberculosis and HIV, or appearing alongside Bill Gates to promote an anti-smoking campaign.

To the northwest of Beijing, in the Haidian district, is the Jade Spring Hill Palace, the residence of former presidents such as Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. That is where Xi and Peng are currently believed to reside. Nobody knows for sure.

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The mystery of China’s ‘first lady’: soldier, singer and Xi’s second wife