BEIJING (AFP) - French actress Sophie Marceau was to sing "La Vie En Rose" on Chinese state broadcaster CCTV's New Year gala Thursday, a show watched by hundreds of millions of people.
The hugely popular programme ushers in the week-long holiday for the Year of the Horse, which begins on Friday, and state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said that last year's edition had 750 million viewers in China alone.
For 24 years it featured Ms Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is a soprano singer with the rank of army general. She retired from the show shortly after her husband joined the Politburo in 2007.
"This is a way to thank my Chinese fans, who are super-loyal," Marceau told AFP in Beijing ahead her appearance.
"I am a Horse," added the 47-year-old, who was born in 1966.
"The Chinese are deeply attached to tradition, to family, to romance," she said, and some of her films had a "slightly innocent romance" that touched them deeply.
She was to perform "La Vie En Rose", Edith Piaf's signature song, in a duet with Chinese pop star Liu Huan, and follows in the footsteps of Celine Dion, who appeared in last year's event.
But Chinese rocker Cui Jian, who inspired the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement and was in talks to perform on the show, will not be appearing.
The Beijing News daily quoted his manager You You saying he had refused to "change the words" of his songs.
Earlier this week France and the People's Republic marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, but China remains a Communist-ruled one-party state.
Liu Xiaobo, the co-author of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for democracy is serving an 11-year jail term, and earlier this week legal activist Xu Zhiyong was given four years for his part in anti-corruption protests, despite the ruling party repeatedly proclaiming it is cracking down on graft.
Asked about Xu and human rights, Marceau said: "There is a long way to go, that's for sure. At the same time these are extremely delicate subjects here in China and one has to be very diplomatic.
"We are dealing with a great nation with people who have a great history behind them and will not let themselves be intimidated or told what to do and how to be.
"Even in France we don't want to be ordered around by anyone. Everyone tells us we are mad with our taxes and stuff, but do you think we listen to anyone?"