Being Donald: China’s (not) lookalike Trump impersonator is an unlikely hit

Li Liangwei bears no resemblance to US president, cant speak his language and admits to knowing little about his life but his star is rising

Li Liangwei may look nothing like the US president but Chinas one, and perhaps only, Donald Trump impersonator does share his tendency to exaggerate crowds.

The chain-smoking 65-year-old claims 1,000 people witnessed his professional debut at a cosmetic surgery fair in Shenzhen last December, although his agent says the real number was closer to 500.

Whatever the truth, it was an event to remember. As immaculately toned models in swimsuits and bikinis hawked aesthetic fixes to Chinas nouveau riche, Li swept onto the stage, flanked by a posse of body guards wearing black suits and shades.

Lacking the English skills to impress his audience with a speech about putting nose jobs first or making eyelids great again, Li instead reached for the poetry of Mao Zedong, reciting the communist revolutionarys verses while dressed as one of the most famous capitalists on earth.

The sky is high, the clouds are light, Li gushed in Mandarin. The wild geese flying south are out of sight!

The audience, Li claims, went wild. There was such applause!

Donald Trump impersonator Li Liangwei with his posse of bodyguards Photograph: Zou Danrong
Lis bid to become
Donald Trump, or Chuanpu as they call him in China, seems even more outlandish than his subjects script-defying assault on the White House.

He admits he bears no physical resemblance to the US commander-in-chief, has read not a single page of the Art of the Deal and says his reaction, when approached about the job last year, was: Who the hell is Donald Trump?

I dont read the newspapers. I dont have a television at home. I barely knew who Donald Trump was, Li said during an interview at his agents 14-floor studio in a high-rise called Golden Triangle.

Slowly, though, he is trying to learn. Since a look-a-like entrepreneur convinced him to attempt the transformation following Trumps shock election, Li has not only started dressing like his subject but has even given up drinking in homage to the tee-total president.

Trumps rise stirred fears that US-China ties were heading for a catastrophic breakdown and Li, a retired magazine editor and Communist party member, said his friends were initially nervous about his new line of work.

But they have relaxed following Trumps recent Mar-a-Lago summit with Chinese president Xi Jinping at which the billionaire claimed he had felt great chemistry with his visitor.

Li said he had been reassured by the handshake with which Trump greeted his Chinese guest, in contrast to the notorious yank he offered Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Chinas rival Japan.

Trump would never treat Xi this way, Li said. The Americans are friendly to us, as is their president. We Chinese arent afraid of them, even though they use hi-tech military weapons to try to frighten others.

Li Liangwei poses with his presidential vehicle. Photograph: Zou Danrong

Lis career as a Trump impersonator is still in its infancy; following his debut in Shenzhen he travelled to the nearby city of Zhongshan to perform at the opening of a lighting store and recorded a commercial for a tea company in his home province of Hunan.

As a presidential impersonator, Li said some product endorsements were beneath him. Hotels, condoms, erectile dysfunction drugs and loo roll, for example, were all out. You cant compare my value to that of toilet paper!

However, Chinas Trump said he would happily attend events being held by Communist party officials or promote karaoke clubs. Everyone enjoys music. A man with zero musical knowledge … is 80% short of being a human being, he mused.

Like Trump, Li is a master of bluster and bravado although his is delivered in a thick Hunanese accent. [Im] no ordinary person now. Im a great man… Im an internet celebrity now! he boasts.

But he is strangely evasive when asked about his fees. If youre a friend of mine, Ill do it for free, he said, adding: You cant put a financial value on my worth.

Other members of Chinas booming impersonator industry which also includes Marilyn Monroes, Elvis Presleys and Luciano Pavarottis are less coy about the fruits of their work.

Ren Shihe, a impressionist from Xian who has spent three decades playing everyone from Leonid Brezhnev to Saddam Hussein, said he charged up to 30,000 yuan (3,400) per appearance.

Zou Danrong, Lis BMW-driving agent, admitted his Chinese Trump was still a work in progress. In a bid to make his black-haired apprentice more convincing he was trying to teach him to be more effeminate, like the real-life Trump, and planned to buy him some blue contact lenses.

A well-known talent agent, Zou already represents a range of world leaders including a Kim Jong-un from Hebei province; a Barack Obama from Guangdong and a Vladimir Putin from Anhui.

Later this year he is planning a scouting mission to the far western province of Xinjiang where he hopes to find a second actor to play the Russian strongman. Large noses and intense blue eyes were rare commodities in China, where about 92% of the population is ethinc Han Chinese, Zou pointed out.

Recently the agent said he had located two potential Xi Jinping impersonators who bore an uncanny resemblance to Chinas president. But for now imitating the president of one-party China was no laughing matter.

China is different from western countries. You couldnt impersonate Xi here, explained Li.

In the US people are free to protest and to hold Trumps photograph upside down. In China no one would dare to do this, he added. Thats politics.

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen

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