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Updated: March 30, 2013 18:41 IST

Liyuan style

ANANTH KRISHNAN
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 Chinese President Xi Jinping's wife Peng Liyuan arrives at the government airport Vnukovo II, outside Moscow, Russia, on Friday, March 22, 2013.
AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping's wife Peng Liyuan arrives at the government airport Vnukovo II, outside Moscow, Russia, on Friday, March 22, 2013.

China’s “first First Lady” steals the limelight.

China’s online community has been in a bit of a frenzy recently over the surprising debut of the country’s new “first lady”. Popular folksinger Peng Liyuan has been a household name in China for more than a decade, a familiar sight on annual new year television galas where she would belt out “Red” anthems donning her People’s Liberation Army uniform.

In recent years, the glamorous Ms. Peng has stayed away from the public spotlight out of deference to the political career of her husband, Xi Jinping, who took over as President on March 17.

Unlike in the United States or France, the wives of Chinese leaders have in the recent past not been public figures. For instance, Hu Jintao’s wife, the professorial Liu Yongqing, rarely made public appearances, although she did accompany her husband on overseas trips. In a break from the past, however, Ms. Peng has been accorded the unofficial status of China’s “first lady”, having her own separate public schedule during Mr. Xi’s recent trip to Moscow and Africa — Ms. Peng even sang a song, albeit to a select behind-closed-doors audience, in Russia.

The move, seen as an attempt to present a softer side of China’s leadership, has become a source of much excitement for Chinese “netizens”, who have carefully followed her every move. Ms. Peng’s sophisticated manner and simple but elegant appearance has won much praise.

In a country where the luxurious lifestyles of officials has become a source of much criticism — “netizens” have taken much glee in posting photos of local officials wearing expensive watches and Hermes belts — Ms. Peng was praised for wearing simple coats and handbags made by local companies. Within hours of her debut, replica handbags were selling on online retailer Taobao for only 499 Yuan (around Rs.4,500). One local brand, Exception, which some bloggers identified as the makers of her coat, has seen a huge spike in demand for its goods.

The shares of another local brand, Dayang, which makes suits for State leaders, rose 10 per cent, the China Daily reported, prompting some bloggers to declare Ms. Peng had heralded a new “Liyuan style” for the country’s new leadership.

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