SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Been a lot of news about China this week surrounding Vice President Xi Jinping's visit here to the United States. But there's one voice you probably haven't heard...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE GOOD EARTH OF CHINA")
PENG LIYUAN: (Sung in foreign language)
SIMON: That's Peng Liyuan, singing, the sweet aroma of grains drifts over the earth of China. Peng is Vice President Xi's wife. She is also one of the most famous singers in China. So it's been reported that she stayed home while her husband met with President Obama and had an Iowa state dinner to avoid the possibility of upstaging her husband.
KEN SMITH: Peng Liyuan has been touted now as sort of the Carla Bruni of China.
SIMON: Ken Smith is a music critic for The Financial Times who's based in Hong Kong. He says that while Peng is famous, she met her husband before he was deemed to be the next president of China, and her music doesn't exactly top modern China's pop charts.
SMITH: 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.
SIMON: Peng often performs on China's most-watched television event - CCTV's annual Spring Festival Gala, where she both shows off her pipes, and her military stripes. Peng is also a major general in China's People Liberation Army.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE FIELD OF GREAT PROSPECTS")
LIYUAN: (Sung in foreign language)
SMITH: I mean, the music sounds simple but it's carefully calculated. It's meant to serve a national cause. 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.
SIMON: Ken Smith points out that it's hardly the first time a modern Chinese leader has had a famous show biz wife.
SMITH: Probably the first superstar wife in modern China was Madam Mao, who was an actress in Shanghai who had a film and stage career.
SIMON: And also in politics, where she helped to orchestrate China's Cultural Revolution. The only thing Vice President Xi Jinping's wife orchestrates is onstage.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE GOOD EARTH OF CHINA")
SIMON: Workers of the world, you're listening to NPR News.