Village of painted tigers
Rural Chinese farmers find huge success by turning to art
When he learned to paint as a teenager, Xiao Yanqing, 52, a farmer in Central China’s Henan Province, could never have imagined it would lift him out of poverty.
The residents of Xiao’s home village of Wanggongzhuang used to draw and sell Chinese New Year paintings, a business that dates back in the village to the early 20th century, when a retired Imperial Palace craftsman brought the craft there.
In the 1980s, Xiao learned to draw these New Year paintings. In his spare time after working on the farm, he would paint and travel to cities to sell his work, which sold so cheaply that he could barely make ends meet.
However, 1998, the Year of the Tiger, proved a turning point in his life. A client ordered a tiger painting.
“I used to draw flowers and birds, but not once had I drawn a tiger,” Xiao said.
With no real tigers around, he borrowed a tiger painting from a neighbor to copy. His painting sold at a good price, and he realized he was on to something that could benefit his whole village.
“Chinese people love tigers and are willing to hang tiger paintings in their homes as they believe the powerful tigers can scare away evil spirits,” he said.
So he began to travel, not to sell paintings, but to zoos in Northeast China to observe tigers and learn how to paint them.
It was a great success. In 1999, he was the first in the village to buy a color TV and a year later a computer.
Using the Internet, Xiao managed to sell his paintings abroad, first to Singapore, then to Japan, Europe and the US.
He surprised the clerks of the local bank when he brought in US dollars to change for yuan.
“I guess they thought I was a criminal,” he said smiling.
Impressed by Xiao’s success, some of his friends followed suit, and more of the villagers joined later.
Tiger painting has become a trademark of the village and over 60 percent of the 1,366 villagers are now engaged in the business.
The village now sells thousands of tiger paintings every year, 40 percent of them to overseas markets, including Japan and Bangladesh.
Currently, the village can make nearly 100 million yuan ($15 million) a year by selling paintings.
Wang Jiansheng, a man in his 30s, has worked a lot of jobs, from construction worker to butcher, but none of them earned him enough to buy a house. But now tiger painting earns him 300,000 yuan a year, and has allowed him to open his own workshop. He plans to buy a big apartment in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province, and open a gallery there.
An artist in Wanggongzhuang village in Henan Province paints a tiger.