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The entrepreneur who supports 'ObaMao'

By Renee Haines (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-23 11:34

The entrepreneur who supports 'ObaMao'
Liu Mingjie displays his ObaMao T-shirt yesterday in Houhai.

Combine an old political icon with a new one, and what do you get? ObaMao.

Liu Mingjie created a computer-aided design that superimposed US President Barack Obama's face over that of China's late Chairman Mao.

So it's now Obama's face sporting that famous green Communist Party cap with a red star on T-shirts, bags and coin purses sold at Liu's shop, Stefan, located in the trendy, touristy lakeside shops of Houhai in central Beijing.

"American people who come in say, 'Omigosh. That's fantastic,' Liu said, perfectly mimicking a Southern California accent.

"Chinese people see Obama's face where Mao's should be, and they laugh," said Liu, 39, a native of Beijing.

Liu, who also goes by Stefan, the English-language name he adopted for his store, has sold more than 300 T-shirts and more than 1,000 ObaMao coin purses since he introduced the design two months ago at his store at No 20 Yandai Xiejie in the neighborhood near China's famed Bell and Drum towers. The cotton T-shirts, with white or black backgrounds, come with the re-engineered image on the front and the word ObaMao on the back.

Liu learned that what many of his local and foreign customers have in common is that they think Obama is a good-looking politician, he said.

So Liu added a new item: a small sticker designed to resemble the cover of US-based Time magazine with the ObaMao figure on the cover. The Chinese words on the mock magazine cover translate to: "Chairman Mao says I'm very handsome."

US tourist Santiago Nomen of Orange County, California, and his family walked into Liu's shop one day this week after seeing an ObaMao canvas bag hanging in Liu's shop window.

"It's amazing," Nomen said, laughing as he and family members examined the T-shirts.

Liu said he's had US customers who like or dislike Obama, but both kinds buy his T-shirts. "It's a win-win," he said.

German tourist Alice Steinert, 19, of Berlin, started laughing, too, when she walked into Liu's shop with her parents.

"They're really funny," she said, choosing an ObaMao T-shirt with a white background.

Steinert said she and her fellow Germans are fans of the new US president.

"In general, they're very glad Obama is president. We were happy when he got elected," she said.

Liu is a fan, too, "He talks about his family, which is important to Chinese people. And he's very friendly with African people and Asian people," he said.

Older Chinese people know very little about Obama, "but young people - students and those in their 30s and 40s - know him. They see Obama on CCTV," Liu said.

Liu said it was an easy Eureka to design a likeness of Obama wearing Mao's uniform.

"On the streets in Beijing, they like the Mao hats and green T-shirts. The foreigner wants to show he loves Chinese culture," Liu said.

Friends recently convinced him to send a complimentary T-shirt to Obama, so Liu shipped one to an acquaintance in the United States to deliver to the White House. He hasn't heard back yet, he said.

Before engineering the ObaMao T-shirts, Liu was a design engineer for the Beijing operations of Germany's Siemens AG and US-based Cisco Systems.

Then Liu decided to become an entrepreneur, opening up his Stefan shop three years ago, he said.

His first T-shirt designs focused on Beijing cultural scenes, including Beijing Opera images, he said, and they still are popular sellers at his store.

Now that his ObaMao line is proving a hit, Liu said he's working on a new product to introduce before the Christmas shopping season - ObaMao underwear.