Peng Liyuan, China's glamorous new First Lady, returns to center stage, as 'Liyuan style' becomes new fashion trend


Chinese People  Updated:Thu, Mar 28, 2013 09:49 AM   By Bernd Chang


Having spent the previous five years in the shadows of her husband, Chinese new President Xi Jinping, folk-singer-turned-first-lady Peng Liyuan has returned to centerstage as something of a global style icon on her first official state visit.

China's new First Lady is poised to burnish China's global image in a charm offensive diplomacy.

Peng Liyuan, a popular folk singer, and wife of China's new president Xi Jinping, made her debut as China's First Lady this week accompanying Xi in his first overseas trip as China's new state president.

In sharp contrast to her predecessors, Peng's first official state visit was covered extensively by almost all state-owned and private Chinese media. China Central Television broadcasted all of her itinerary and every step. She received a full-page spread in the Beijing News. The Southern Metropolis Daily ran a photograph of a beaming Peng being gifted with a bouquet from Russian president Vladimir Putin over the weekend. The Internet portal of the official Xinhua News Agency, meanwhile, also featured the first lady, a few steps behind her husband and the Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete, as the couple arrived in Dar Es Salaam.

The apparently official promotion campaign of the new First Lady of China has also set Chinese social media sites abuzz with her glamorous demeanor. Photos of her appearing next to her husband Xi Jinping in Moscow and Dar es Salaam in a series of fashionable outfits, greeting her hosts with a radiant smile, have evoked comparisons with U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and Soong May-ling, First Lady of the Republic of China (ROC), the wife of Generalissimo and President Chiang Kai-shek.

"We've always looked forward to having an elegant First Lady that's presentable to the outside world. Now we have one." said a Chinese official to CNN.

Many Chinese are similarly enthused. "The U.S. has Michelle (Obama), we have Peng Liyuan," wrote Weibo user @mlxftmilixiaofantuan.

"Liyuan Style" becomes instant fashion trend

The eye-catcher, however, lies most in the business section. As Chinese social media was abuzz with Peng’s appearance -- with “Peng Liyuan Style” becoming at once a trending phrase and a selling point for online clothing retailers boasting items similar to the coat the first lady was wearing when she stepped off the plane with Xi in Moscow. Copies of her coat instantly appearing on Taobao, an online shopping site, are sold for 499 yuan (£53) - and advertised as "in the same style as the first lady's".

First lady Peng Liyuan's choice of home-grown designer brands on her maiden overseas trip with President Xi Jinping has been hailed as a boon for China's fashion industry.

After eagle-eyed bloggers identified Peng's bag, coat and scarf as products from the Guangzhou-based outlet Exception, the company's website crashed on Friday from an overload of traffic. On Monday the site was still loading only intermittently.

The "first lady effect" drove up the share price of other domestic clothing brands Friday. High-end labels such as women's wear firm Lancy Company and suits brand Trands both rose 10 per cent in Shenzhen and Shanghai trading respectively, while leather goods maker Kaiser (China) Holdings increased more than 3 per cent in Shenzhen, according to South China Morning Post.

Peng Liyuan returns to center stage after a five-year-long break

Peng’s return to centerstage has followed years of a forced hide in the shadow of his husband. Before 2007, she was a much more well known figure in China than her husband Xi Jinping. A folk song singer and soprano who had made appearances on almost every nationally broadcast Lunar New Year's CCTV gala, Peng was a super star when Xi was still working his way up the ranks in provincial postings in Fujian (where he served as governor from 1999 to 2002) and Zhejiang (governor and party chief, 2002 to 2007). Thus went one of the jokes circulating among the Chinese people during the early 2000s: “Who’s Xi Jinping? Oh, he’s Peng Liyuan’s husband.”

As Xi’s status as heir apparent to Hu Jintao was confirmed, Peng suddenly receded into the background so as not to outshine the future Chinese leader -- a forced absence now put to an end with a big bang, as Beijing repositions her to burnish China’s global image by projecting a softer touch.

Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said the Communist Party would be wise to use Peng as a "soft weapon" at home and abroad.

"If people see that Xi has such a beautiful wife, it would make the (communist) party seem more human and less robotic," she told the New York Times.

The excitement over Mrs Peng comes after 30 years of China's first ladies keeping a very discreet profile.

Deng Xiaoping's wife, Zhuo Lin, stayed in the background even when she accompanied Deng during his travels in and outside China. Liu Yongqing, the wife of the former president Hu Jintao, rarely appeared in public. Wang Yeping, the wife of Mr Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, also usually stayed behind the scenes.

Profile of Peng Liyuan

Peng Liyuan(Chinese: 彭丽媛), born in 1962 in Yuncheng County, Heze city, Shandong province in east China, is one of the most famous soprano and folk song singer of China. Peng joined the People's Liberation Army in 1980 at the age 18 and now hold a civilian rank comparable to that of a major general. Peng first performed nationally and rose to fame during the earliest rendition of the CCTV New Year's Gala in 1983, when she sang the folk song On the Plains of Hope.

She graduated from the China Conservatory of Music in Beijing, holds both bachelor degree & master degree in traditional ethnic music from the institute.

Peng has obtained many honors in singing competitions nationwide. Her most famous works include People from our Village (父老乡亲), Mount Chomolungma (珠穆朗玛) and On the Plains of Hope (在希望的田野上).

Peng Liyuan was married to Xi Jinping (习近平) in 1987 and they have a daughter named Xi Mingze (习明泽) born in 1992 and who now studies in Havard University.
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