Song, 49, is from Guzhang County, Hunan, about an hour’s drive from Jishou. Song belongs to the Miao minority group (also known as Hmong) and often performs wearing Miao clothing and silver bridal jewelry and headgear (see photo).
China has been developing one of the Spratly Islands, which lie in the South China Sea near the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. Jurisdiction of the islands has been a source of friction between China and its smaller neighbors, who are not very keen on China’s incursion into international waters so close to their shores.
For its part, China claims its development of the islands, which includes an airstrip and a naval dock, is for civilian use only. Beijing claims a large swatch of the South China Sea belongs to China, basing that assertion on centuries-old documents. The UN, however, recognizes the nearby countries as having jurisdiction.
Song is a non-combatant member of the PLA with the rank of rear admiral. She’s performed Chinese and Miao songs around the world, and sang a duet with Plácido Domingo at the 2008 Beijing Olympics closing ceremony.
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