China's future first lady attacks vulgar pop

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The Independent Online

China's first lady-in-waiting Peng Liyuan, the folk superstar who is married to the recently anointed communist politician Xi Jinping, has won a high-profile nod from her fellow songwriters after they denounced unhealthy, sexual pop and rallied around her brand of wholesome fare.

Peng is one of the country's most glamorous singers – imagine Vera Lynn, Maria Callas and Posh Spice rolled into one – and a household name. Dressed in an army uniform, the 45-year-old tours the nation performing for troops as part of the song and dance unit attached to the general political department of the People's Liberation Army.

She is by far more famous than her husband, who is eight years older, and recent rumours about marital discord – it is Xi's second marriage – were quickly and efficiently quashed in a media campaign which involved gushing tales of connubial bliss, combined with a tales of the couple's overriding sense of duty to the Communist Party.

A group of 40 composers, some of who have written songs for Peng, have signed a petition calling for a boycott of "unhealthy" online music. "Music workers should firmly observe the socialist honours and disgraces," said a transcript on the People's Daily website. The petition urges pop stars to resist unseemly content and vulgarity in favour of outstanding online warbling which, the authors believe, young Chinese want to hear.

Most Chinese pop fans, however, prefer to listen to tracks by Taiwanese favourites such as Jay Chou. The songwriters were particularly irked by songs such as Xie Jun's "That One Night" – a tale about a drunken one-night stand. Now they hope Peng can reverse the tide.

She holds the rank of major- general in the PLA and is often seen wearing army fatigues as she belts out nationalist anthems, or sporting Tibetan costume as she sings the songs of the restive mountain province with a patriotic Chinese flavour. KT Tunstall she is definitely not.

In China, a folk singer is someone who sings patriotic songs which reflect the dominant Han Chinese culture, with frequent, friendly nods to the ethnic minority groups in Tibet, Sichuan or Yunnan provinces. Peng's biggest hits include "We Are The Yellow River", "We Are Mount Taishan", "On The Land Of Hope", "Elder Fellow Villagers" and "Daughter Of The Party" – all of which paint a picture of a harmonious Chinese society in tune with the social ideals espoused by President Hu Jintao.

Peng combines her folk singer credentials with a powerful presence in Chinese and Western opera. She is also a significant international face for China, as the country's Aids ambassador.

Peng recently performed at the ceremony to announce the one-year countdown to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. She is a mainstay at the world's most-watched TV programme – the Chinese New Year special on CCTV, on which she has appeared a record 19 times. She has a masters degree in folk music and has starred in many Chinese operas, as well as playing the warrior Mulan in the opera of the same name with the Brandenburg Symphony Orchestra.

Peng's communist credentials are second to none. Her husband, the Shanghai party chief Xi Jinping, is one of China's communist "princelings" – the son of a guerrilla fighter who fell foul of Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution and spent 16 years in jail, but who was later reinstated to authority. At the 17th Communist Party congress this week, the president anointed Xi as his possible successor.

Other politburo members have singing credentials. Yu Zhengsheng is the son of a former party boss in Tianjin whose ex-wife went on to marry Chairman Mao.