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October 21, 2009

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Mimic retains long tradition

IS it a bird? Is it a plane? Or is it a train? No, it's Chinese mimic Cheng Jiaqiang who can imitate about 100 sounds from birds singing and horses galloping to planes taking off and trains trundling along.

No sound is a challenge for the professional mimic who has been performing for more than 30 years and is now deputy head of the Beijing Art Ensemble of Golden Larks, a group of acrobats, singers and dancers that gives ensemble performances.

"I have very good qualities. My lips, teeth, throat, tongue and nose are all good," Cheng told Reuters.

"My tongue is not thick and I can move it freely in whichever way I want to. I can imitate over 100 noises but around 30 is enough in one performance."

Cheng comes from a long line of performers who were famous in China's acrobatic world and performed for Chinese leaders and even Hollywood star Charlie Chaplin and his wife.

The skill has been passed down in his family from generation to generation for more than 100 years and Cheng learnt the secrets of mimicry from his father.

But he has no sons and says his daughters do not have the strength required to learn mimicry. He is passing on his family's guarded skills to an art school graduate who wants to become a mimic.

Today, along with other traditional Chinese artists, Cheng gives regular performances at Beijing's Laoshe Teahouse and his shows are almost always packed.

However, his profession has its drawbacks: he avoids alcohol, cigarettes and only drinks very weak tea. Also, there are times when his tongue cramps, which causes his whole body to contract with pain.


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