Beijing - A chubby-faced Shanghai gas station intern known as "Little Fatty" has vaulted to the top of Internet fame in China thanks to cheeky PhotoShop artists who are turning the plump youth into a pop icon.

It all started three years ago when Qian Zhijun, then a 16-year-old high school student, was attending a traffic safety class and someone snapped a picture of his rotund, rosy-cheeked face.

His suspicious-looking sideways glance at the camera soon made its way on to the Internet.

That picture of "Xiao Pang" ("Little Fatty"), as he was soon dubbed, has since been morphed onto other iconic visages including the Mona Lisa, Mount Rushmore in the United States, Marilyn Monroe and other well-known celebrities.

It has also spawned websites, blogs and numerous fan clubs.

"I like it when they put me on the body of heroes, such as Russell Crowe in 'Gladiator'," Qian, who weighs 100kg, told the China Daily newspaper.

"But I hate it when they place me on the shoulder of naked women or when the touchup job is terrible," he said.

Qian, who now attends vocational school and makes about $125 (about R1 000) a month in his gas station job, discovered his fame when he walked into a cybercafe and came face to face with himself, the newspaper said on Wednesday.

He is yet to make any money off his celebrity and initially considered suing somebody, but now welcomes the attention and even set up his own personal blog where his fans, many of them also overweight, write in.

"I really like the way you are," one blogger with the user name "Constantine" gushed in Chinese on Qian's blog.

"Very ordinary but very hopeful and with a fat person's cleverness."

Qian now fancies a career in entertainment.

"It would be nice to work as an entertainer, even though it'll mean I'll have to give up some of the pleasure of being a regular guy," he told the newspaper. - Sapa-AFP