China's new First Lady is poised to impress--and burnish China's image overseas.
Peng Liyuan, 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.
Wearing a belted overcoat, accented by a stand-up collar and a light-blue scarf, she stood next to Xi when they arrived in Moscow, the first stop of Xi's three-nation trip.
Smiling radiantly, she shook hands with the Russian hosts, a step or two behind her husband.
"We've always looked forward to having an elegant First Lady that's presentable to the outside world," a Chinese official told me. "Now we have one."
Many Chinese are similarly enthused.: "The U.S. has Michelle (Obama), we have Peng Liyuan," wrote micro-blogger @mlxftmilixiaofantuan.
Peng, 51, hardly needs help when it comes to public relations.
She is a popular soprano, widely known in China for her soaring, glass-breaking voice and patriotic folk songs.
Her top hits include "People from Our Village" and "On the Plains of Hope."
Will she be as good a First Lady as she is a soprano?
"Of course," the Chinese official replied. "She looks elegant, she is a successful professional and she comes from a modest background."
Peng was born to a family of artists in Shandong Province. Her mother was a member of a local art troupe; her father was a curator of local museum.
In a TV talk-show interview a few years ago, Peng recalled the time when as a child she first saw a camera brought home by her father, who refused to take her picture because the camera was "state-owned," not a family property.
Later, her uncle secretly took her picture that became her only childhood portrait.
At age 14, Peng enrolled at a local university of art and design. Four years later, she joined the arts troupe of the People's Liberation Army as a soprano.
She holds a master's degree in traditional ethnic music and now serves as the dean of the Art Academy of the People's Liberation Army. She holds the rank of a major general.
Peng became a superstar in 1983, when she sang in the first Lunar New Year's TV extravaganza, broadcast nationwide by state-owned China Central Television (CCTV).
The gala show was big hit and has since become the most watched and lucratively sponsored TV show in China, comparable to the annual Superbowl in the United States.
Peng had performed in the annual TV gala show almost every year until 2007, when Xi was promoted into the top-tier of the Communist Party, making him the presumptive paramount leader of China.
Peng quietly faded from public view.
She has taken up charity-related positions with limited exposure. In those roles, political analysts say, Peng has helped soften Xi Jinping's public image.
She became an ambassador for tobacco control in 2009. Last year, she was appointed as the ambassador for the fight against tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS for the World Health Organization, an initiative aided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Chinese analysts think Peng can similarly help burnish China's image overseas by projecting a softer touch.
"I believe Peng has the prerequisites and the ability to contribute to China's diplomacy," said Liu Guchang, a former ambassador to Russia.
Still, the idea of a high-profile Chinese First Lady conjures the ghost of Jiang Qing, Chairman Mao's fourth wife.