Chinese VP's Wife Shows Off Vocal Pipes, Stripes | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Chinese VP's Wife Shows Off Vocal Pipes, Stripes

Play associated audio

There has been a lot of talk about China in the news this week in light of Vice President Xi Jinping's visit to the U.S. But there's one voice you probably haven't heard: the voice of Peng Liyuan, singing phrases like "The sweet aroma of grains drifts over the earth of China."

Peng is the wife of Vice President Xi and expected to be China's next first lady. She's also one of the most famous singers in China — so famous that it's been reported she stayed home while her husband met with President Obama and had an Iowa state dinner to avoid the possibility of upstaging her husband.

"Peng Liyuan has been touted now as sort of the Carla Bruni of China," says Ken Smith, a Hong Kong-based music critic for the Financial Times. He says that unlike France's pop-star-turned-first-lady, Peng met her husband before he hit the national stage, and her music isn't exactly topping today's pop charts in China.

"Her main claim to fame is that her work is very much rooted in a very nationalist style, just tailor-made for, you know, China's Central Television," Smith says.

Peng is a perennial performer on China's most-watched television event, CCTV's annual Spring Festival Gala, when she shows off her pipes and often her military stripes. Peng is also a major general in China's People's Liberation Army.

You can also find her on YouTube in puffy ball gowns and traditional costumes of China's ethnic minorities.

But her music "sounds simple but it's carefully calculated. It's meant to serve a national cause," Smith says. "It has all of the traditional elements that you think of as Chinese music. You have a big melody, a real stress on the high register of sound — nothing in the low to speak of. And when you think about it, these are all elements the listeners already know there, because that's what Peking opera is all about."

But her songs aren't all about the glory of China. They're also about good, old-fashioned love.

And this isn't the first time a modern Chinese leader has had a superstar wife: "Probably the first superstar wife in modern China was Madam Mao, who was an actress in Shanghai who had a film and stage career," Smith says.

In politics, Jiang Qing, Mao Zedong's wife, helped orchestrate the Cultural Revolution, but the only thing Xi Jinping's wife orchestrates is onstage.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

No Small Feat: The NBA's Shortest Player Never Gave Up

At 5 foot 3, Muggsy Bogues holds the record as shortest player in NBA history. Criticism of his height started on the basketball courts of the Baltimore projects, and continued well into his career.
NPR

Tracing A Gin-Soaked Trail In London

Around the world, new gin distilleries are popping up like mushrooms after a rain. NPR traces the boom to its historic roots in London, which once had 250 distilleries within the city limits alone.
NPR

Ranting And Throwing Papers: An Angry Candidate Runs For Congress

State Rep. Mike Bost's rants on the Illinois House floor are the stuff viral dreams are made of. Bost says he has good reason to be upset, and wants voters to share his anger.
NPR

Israel's Solar-Powered 'Trees': For Smartphones And Community

The man-made trees are designed to create a public space where people can gather and re-charge a battery — their own and their smartphone's.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.