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Chinese Housewife Makes a Living Portraying Mao

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Asia Life

Chinese Housewife Makes a Living Portraying Mao

Chen Yan, the first woman to impersonate the former Communist leader, faces obstacles.

Recently, a picture of an Australian man who bore an uncanny resemblance to Kim Jong-Un went viral. Now another political leader lookalike is taking the spotlight. Chen Yan resembles the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong, and makes a living by impersonating the dear leader. The 51-year-old also leads a second life as a housewife.

Chen, who was discovered by a beautician after appearing on television, is believed to be the first female to portray Mao.

“I need to wear a pair of specially designed shoes to increase my height to 1.80 meters since I am only 1.55 meters. Then I dress up in Sun Yat-sen suits which Mao also likes, and hold a cigarette without the filter,” Chen told Reuters in 2007.

Her makeover is not cheap. Chen spends over 800 yuan ($130) on make-up and styling, even going as far as to hire a hairdresser to help her achieve Mao’s receding hairline. Mocked during childhood for her resemblance to Mao, she now pays the bills appearing in public, waving to crowds, chain smoking like the former leader, and staring off into the distance without saying a word.

Her fans love her but the job comes with a price. According to The Telegraph, a Chinese magazine claimed that impersonating the founder of the People’s Republic “wrecked her marriage” and that her husband was tired of feeling as if “he is sleeping with [the] Chairman and that their sex life had been destroyed.”

Chen and her husband are attempting to save their marriage, but he is still struggling to accept her lifestyle.

“[He] never wanted her to play Mao. Thousands of years of Chinese tradition teach us that it is a violation of divine laws for a common woman to attempt to play the role of the Emperor,” said Zhang Bingjan, a filmmaker who made a documentary about Mao impersonators.

Although she is one of many Mao lookalikes touring the nation, impersonating the leader is a sensitive issue. When she decided to embrace her resemblance by appearing on a television contest, she was not allowed to portray Mao, but was permitted to impersonate Tang Guoqiang, an actor famous for playing Mao. According to the South China Morning Post, she was questioned by authorities after being interviewed by a foreign journalist.

Zhang added that impersonating Mao has also brought Chen visibility in China’s “sexist, male-dominated society” and that she was a “lovely lady” who helped deconstruct Mao’s image as “a god who never made mistakes.”