Ever since Peng Liyuan dazzled the public on her first official appearance as China’s first lady a year ago, the former military singer's every movement, speech and choice of apparel has been closely watched by fans as well as analysts.
And the latest social media craze about Peng among China’s online community is, “what cellphone is she using?”
On Saturday, a picture of Peng snapping photos with a white mobile phone emerged on the internet, prompting curious internet users to speculate over exactly what brand the first lady favoured.
A smiling Peng was seen sitting between her husband Xi Jiping and Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn, raising a white smart phone to take pictures of a friendly match between German and Chinese youth soccer teams in Berlin, during the couple's state visit to Germany.
Although only the back of the smartphone and no logo was visible in the photo, gadget-savvy web users soon discovered that Peng's phone was a Nubia Z5 mini, a one-year-old model made by Chinese firm ZTE, the world’s seventh-biggest smartphone maker.
The budget smartphone retails between 1,499 yuan and 1,888 yuan (US$241-304), but is no longer available on Nubia’s official website as it has been replaced by newer versions.
Peng’s new handset choice, a far cry from the iPhone 5 she was pictured using on her US trip last June, drew applause from many Chinese netizens who saw it as a demonstration of the first lady's support for domestically manufactured products. Many Nubia fans wrote on social media that they were delighted to discover the first lady shared the same taste with them.
In addition, the companies concerned have been quick to bank on the revelation as a marketing windfall. The official Weibo social media account of the brand Nubia on Saturday night reposted the photo of Peng holding the phone, and added the comment: “the Chinese dream starts from Chinese-made,” a reference to Peng’s husband President Xi Jinping’s iconic political slogan.
It also added a tag referring to the handset as the “cellphone [used by] the mother of the nation,” playing on a popular nickname for the first lady.
And the microblog of JD.com, China’s second largest e-commerce website and Nubia’s exclusive distributor, commented: “Recording the Chinese dream, using a JD phone … the flagship cellphone is Only Available on JD.com.”
But a number of online users did not find the 'patriotic' narrative quite so plausible.
“Isn’t the [cellphone’s] operating system still Google’s Android?” one blogger observed in a comment echoed by a number of others. Some others questioned the appropriateness of the brand name, which sounds very much like “niubi” – a somewhat vulgar slang term meaning “badass” or “kickass”.
Peng earlier won praise from mainland internet users and fashion experts when she sported outfits designed by the Chinese fashion icon Wuyong, as many fashion critics called the brand choice “elegant,” “dignified,” and “falling in line with her identity”.
The latest online frenzy surrounding Peng has also prompted a number of businessmen to try to promote copies of everything Peng wore from coats to handbags on Taobao, a major online shopping website in the mainland.
The 51-year-old Peng is among China’s most famous folksong singers working for the People's Liberation Armyand, and used to hold a non-combat rank equivalent to that of a major general. Her successful singing career made her a household name in the 1980s, years before her husband emerged as a rising political star.