Walking down the street, Yu Zhenhuan strides along with his head down to avoid the stares of passers-by. As a singer with an aspiration to become a superstar, the 29-year-old has been living a life in and out of the spotlight with his claim to fame that he is the hairiest man in China.
Hair covers 96 percent of Yu's body, making him rather conspicuous amid other people. The rampant growth of hair has brought Yu many difficulties and caused health problems that have resulted in operations on his ears, nose, gums and forehead.
But what cannot be covered by hair is the strong sense of belief he has in himself and the determination to seize control of his life and realize his dream. "Deep inside me, I am an aggressive person with a will to win. I want to become a different star, representing China on the world stage that is too full of pretty faces," Yu revealed.
Born in Xiuyan County in Liaoning Province in 1977, the little baby attracted instant attention nationwide because of his hair. While society was fascinated with him, so were scientists who carried out research concluding it is one of the features of human atavism caused by some genetic mutation.
Although quite stunned, Yu's peasant parents raised him with plenty of love and care, but they were hesitant to give a name to their son. Little Yu was called "hairy boy" (maohai) for two years until a reporter gave him his current name meaning "astonishing the world" in Chinese.
The astonishment did not last long though as people's interest declined. Apart from a movie he played in at the age of seven, Yu faded out of the public eye, and the monthly living allowance of 30 yuan (US$3.75) provided by the central government was stopped when he turned eight. The allowance, according to Yu, was "specially approved by then vice chairman Li Xiannian then, and served as the main source of income for the family."
But as public fascination dried up along with the income, Yu began to learn the harsh realities of life much sooner than his peers as he joined a performance troupe at the age of 11.
"I entered my life's low point while the country was embracing a bright future shifting from a central-planned economy to a market-oriented one. My entire adolescence was spent in dark days of self-denial and self-contempt that made me want to shut myself away from society," Yu recalled calmly. "Later, I rebelled against society; I was lost as I felt I had no career, no ideals and no social status."
Fortunately, Yu found a way out of the depression with singing, from which he not only gained a stable income but also an awakening of his self-confidence. At 17, Yu began his singer career in the bars of Shenyang, after two years of study, being cheered by people for his singing and not his hair.
"I have proved myself as a person who has thoughts in addition to a peculiar appearance. It is also the major reason why I haven't been eliminated by the market during my 10 years of performing," Yu said.
Despite some initial problems with hecklers, Yu admitted that he never felt like giving up his dream, as he grew more confident. "When I grew mature enough, I could even take off my clothes on stage to show people my body. I want people to know that I am a confident person proud of the hair I have, which represents masculinity in my eyes. In addition, I hope people can draw inspiration and courage from my life and performance," Yu said.
Once only recognized for hair that covers 96 percent of his body, Yu Zhenhuan wants to be known for his singing talents.
"It is not easy for a person like me to think that way. Life has taught me a lesson: you don't change society but yourself to suit it. You'll either die in depression or rise from it and what you should do is to embrace reality with open arms," he added.
With his self-acquired philosophy and determination, Yu made another step for change in his life by quitting his well-paid singing job in entertainment establishments in 2004, when he began preparations for his first album. The self-funded project is a gift for himself to mark another turn in his life. "I have been a bar singer singing other people's songs for years but I really want to sing my own songs," Yu said.
Nevertheless, the album could just be a warm-up for ambitious Yu, who has dreams of becoming the only super hairy singer in the history of pop music both at home and abroad. "I am a positive person. God gave me this hair; how I deal with it is down to me," he stated. "The problem for people is not appearance but the confidence inside themselves. A person will lose himself if he is easily influenced by other people."
Having firmly built that confidence, Yu is rather indifferent to his hair saying he has "a fine life now without desiring a so-called normal life like so-called ordinary individuals."
"I have further goals in my music. Some may not be realized, but it doesn't matter because I have tried," Yu said.
(China Daily June 19, 2006)