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The village barber, Cuizhen, is a native of Zhangzi, a poor county in the western province of Shanxi, far from China's booming coastal regions. Her father passed away when she was 3 years old. When her mother remarried the following year, she brought Cuizhen and her two elder brothers to live with their stepfather, a respected party cadre in a district of Changzhi City. However, during the Cultural Revolution, her stepfather was found to have an "undesirable" family history, denounced as a class enemy, and forced out of the party. Afterwards, the family lived in constant fear, never certain if they would survive to see the following day.
When she was 19, Cuizhen found herself a poor migrant in Hongtong County, where she married another migrant, a man physically unfit for labor, and insufficiently motivated to better their lot in life. In a traditional Chinese society where filial piety is of paramount importance, and grown children are expected to support their parents and extended families, Cuizhen and her husband were castigated for their uselessness to the family. Furthermore, as migrants, Cuizhen and her family were shunned by the local citizens of Hongtong. Cuizhen struggled for acceptance by making new clothes and providing haircuts for her new neighbors, all free of charge. Over the last three decades, as she honed her skills and acquired a name for herself as both seamstress and barber, she has also forged lasting friendships. Though vastly improved from her days of uncertain survival, her life remained stubbornly ordinary.
In 2003, however, Cuizhen's life took an unforeseen and dramatic turn when she was allegedly possessed by Chairman Mao Zedong's departed spirit. When his spirit first possessed her, he had her don a military cap, tidy up her clothes, and march valiantly, spiritedly. From that moment on, she and Mao were united as one, living one life. She was reborn as his oracle, and bit by bit his possession of her buttressed her very being. Cuizhen attributes her current sense of security and life quality, both a far departure from her past, entirely to Chairman Mao's spirit in her.
However, Mao was not the only "new god" to have resurfaced in this village. Oracles possessed by the spirits of Mao Anying (the son of Mao Zedong), Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, and other heroes and legends from both home and abroad (including from Buddhist, Christian, and Catholic canon) all vied with Cuizhen in a growing turf battle for power and authority.
The turf battle reached a climax during her attempts to organize a deceptively simple memorial ceremony for Mao. How well she handled the trials and tribulations of this event could determine how well she and Mao ultimately secured the hearts of the people, amidst the cacophony of the other "new gods" clamoring to be heard.