Artistic talent in rural China boosts common
prosperity push Villages become a canvas for art
Web Editor:International Daily
It's hard to imagine rural Chinese villages' daily lives surrounded by creative art galleries, hand-made miniascape decorated with seashells, and various handcrafts made of wood.When asked what is art in your eyes, "who knows what art was at the beginning?" giggled Ge Wanyong, Party secretary of Gejia village in Ninghai county of Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province. The village, with a history stretching back over 1,000 years and now home to 1,600 villagers, is about 26 kilometers away from the nearest urban center.It was suffering from a lack of distinctive agricultural products or businesses to support the local economy. Most young people left the village in search of employment, leaving elderly residents behind to run things.In April 2019, when Cong Zhiqiang, associate professor at the School of Art from Renmin University of China first came to this unremarkable village hidden in a mountain valley, nobody trusted him and even called him a "liar." Only just over 20 villagers came to listen to Cong's class on the first day, only six remained when the class ended."When villagers heard about art at the beginning, they couldn't see the connection to their daily life," Cong told the Global Times on Saturday, noting that he didn't give up despite the rough start.In order to attract more villages to participate in the transformation, his team, together with locals, built a chair using bamboo and stones and decorated it colorfully, using all cheap materials, and built a public space for children entertainment.Local residents quickly realized the change would improve their lives. A series of artistic installations changed villagers' mindset. "This is art? Is it so easy? I can do it too," and villagers started to give it a try by themselves.Art transforms rural lifeChanges quickly began. In the first round of transformation, the whole village spent over 50,000 yuan ($7,738) to buy materials and hire labor. In order to reduce costs, a common water tank was split in two to form the base of the installation, an abandoned door panel was repainted and attached to the design, and a unique table was thus made. The first piece sparked the creation of several more items, and most of the decorations were made from discardable materials.What surprised villagers the most is that through cleaning up their village and creating interesting pieces of art brought them a higher income.Yuan Xiaoxian, a 55-year-old resident of the village, discovered that she had a talent for color. Encouraged by professor Cong, Yuan was able to make cloth toys, such as 12 Chinese zodiac animals, which are now sold online priced from 30 yuan ($4.7) to over 200 yuan, after learning for about one week."I didn't expect that these toys could be sold," Yuan told the Global Times, noting that her handcrafts will also be sold in the county courier station, which often hosts tourists passing through the region.Cong first taught her to decorate her house with bamboo. "I agreed because bamboo doesn't cost too much," Yuan said. However, she was astonished after seeing the decorated house. More visitors came and her homestay business became popular.Ploughing time and energy into her new craft, Yuan's income in 2020 reached 150,000 yuan, higher than 100,000 yuan in 2019. Yuan's annual income was only 40,000 yuan in 2018.In February 2021, the State Council released guidelines to advance the process of cultivating rural talent including handicraftsmen and traditional artists to support rural residents starting up their own business.Incentivized by obtaining a higher income, more villagers joined in. Even some young people started to go back to the village to start their own businesses.Ge Pin'gao, a man born after 1980, is another example. He opened a small bar in August 2019 by decorating his grandma's old house and transforming it into a real bar, which attracted visitors to enjoy drink, barbeque and chat. In 2020, the bar's revenue reached 150,000 yuan, and it is expected to reach 200,000 yuan this year.Zhang Youli, a 29-year-old local villager, came back from the city this year. "The transformation in the village impressed me and I hope to spend more time with my family," Zhang told the Global Times, noting that she used to have a job in a beauty salon. But now she is free to sell her own handcrafts made of wood.