Vil­lage of painted tigers

Ru­ral Chi­nese farm­ers find huge suc­cess by turn­ing to art

Global Times - - Front Page -

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.

Photo: IC

An artist in Wang­gongzhuang vil­lage in He­nan Prov­ince paints a tiger.

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