MIANYANG, China - Chen Yan waves at a crowd of onlookers bemused at seeing China's late helmsman, Mao Zedong, brought back to life by a middle-aged woman.
Chen, 51, from Mianyang, in China's southwestern province of Sichuan, has been dressing up as Mao since she was discovered on a local TV show in 2005 impersonating another actor who had played Mao in movies.
"I was impersonating (the actor) when the beautician saw some similarities between me and Mao," Chen said, as make-up artists fussed over her in a Mianyang hair salon.
The beautician saw a dollar to be made in Chen's prominent cheekbones and imperious demeanour, and invited her for a make-over, she said.
Suited up in a grey, button-up waistcoat, Chen looks similar to the man who ruled China with an iron grip for decades, and is happy to ham it up for the cameras.
According to South China Morning Post, the 57-year-old Sichuan native makes a living out of 40 minute-long silent performances, in which she switches between waving to the crowds like the Great Helmsman did at Tiananmen Square, smoking like the nicotine-addicted founder of the People's Republic and staring solemnly into the distance, as if contemplating a bright future.
But the effortless poses belie fastidious preparations behind the scenes.
Chen spends up to 800 yuan on make-up and styling to create Mao's famous receding hairline.
"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 said.
The financial hardships had forced her to call the media for a public photo shoot to "gain support and understanding from the public."
"My family are against me doing this," Chen said. "They don't think it's a good thing for a woman to impersonate a man."
Chen, however, is determined to make a living from impersonating Mao, even to the point where she is cagey about revealing details about her former occupations.
"I'm not telling anyone anything until I become famous," she said.