BEIJING — The Chinese have learned English from his speeches and celebrated the way he rolls up his sleeves. Now President Obama is finally coming, and he's being greeted with "Oba Mao" T-shirts and a statue of him that bursts into flames.
Today's arrival of a U.S. president admired for his charisma is already a source of profit and brief fame for some Chinese.
Strangest is the burning Obama, tucked away in a Beijing warehouse. Artist Liu Bolin hopes Obama can take time from his visit to drop by.
"He's so hot right now, so I wanted to translate that through my work," said Liu, who was inspired by the idea of the first black U.S. president.
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The bronze Obama bust is modeled on Time magazine's "Man of the Year" cover and is speckled with holes for gas that ignites every couple of minutes.
It's a positive work, Liu said.
"Yes, setting something on fire can have negative connotations, but this piece represents energy and life that Obama has given to the world," said the 38-year-old, who made a similar piece for former revolutionary leader Mao Zedong.
"We're eager to see what he can do for China and U.S. relations."
One Beijing shop owner wanted to see what Obama could do for sales. Liu Mingjie created "Oba Mao" T-shirts, with the president wearing the uniform of the Red Guards, who caused chaos during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.
He sold hundreds of the shirts, to both foreigners and Chinese, until authorities told shops selling the shirts to stop.
"They're not allowed to sell these things because there are images of Obama wearing the uniform of the Red Army," a woman answering the phone at the Dongcheng district Administration for Commerce and Industry said Thursday.
Obama will have no trouble being recognized in China. He's been the top-ranked foreigner in searches on Baidu, China's leading search engine — No. 22 as of Thursday morning.