--- SEARCH ---
Chinese Women
Film in China
War on Poverty
Learning Chinese
Learn to Cook Chinese Dishes
Exchange Rates
Hotel Service
China Calendar
Telephone and
Postal Codes

Hot Links
China Development Gateway
Chinese Embassies
China Knowledge

From the Brushes of Babes

Xiong Shumin is a 12-year-old Miao ethnic boy who loves drawing but had never touched a Chinese ink brush in his life. He could never afford it.

Xiong and his friends, from the Miao and Tujia ethnic families, live in the remote mountainous area in Fenghuang County, in Hunan's Xiangxi Tujia/Miao Autonomous Prefecture, where the average per capita income is than less than 500 yuan (US$62.9) a year. A traditional ink brush is not the highest priority item on his family's shopping list.

His fortunes, however, changed earlier this month when two new teachers arrived at the Laershan Hope Primary School where he has studied. Volunteer art teachers Zhao Yanping and Chen Zhihua from the Zibo Children's Arts Centre in Shandong Province were equipped with fancy brushes, rice paper and color paints and started playing the ink game.

The class of 30 was divided into small groups and each was given a paint brush and a sheet of rice paper. "Draw or paint whatever you want in whatever way you can figure out," the teachers ordered.

The teachers offered some guidance, but mostly they let the pupils develop their own works. When students struggled for ideas, Zhao and Chen encouraged them to focus on an ethnic pattern used on a bag or handkerchief.

The results were very exciting and gratifying for both the teachers and students. "I used to draw people and animals with a pencil," said Xiong, whose ink paintings won special favor from the two teachers for his artistic talent. "I have had more fun drawing with a bamboo brush on a rice paper," Xiong said.

Each child won praise from the two teachers for every piece of the work.

"For the beginners, encouragement from the teacher is vital. Otherwise, they may lose interest," Zhao said.

The works by Xiong and his classmates also won kudos from some 120 artists, researchers, art teachers and headmasters from at least 10 provinces, regions and municipalities, who observed the week-long workshop as a part of experiment in arts and cultural heritage education.

The students grasped, to different degrees, the aesthetic concepts and basic skills in Chinese ink painting, said Hou Bin, head of Zibo Children's Arts Centre. According to Hou, the co-operation between the centre and the primary school is but the first step to explore better ways for children's art education which could combine the command of artistic knowledge, skills, cultivation of the students' imagination and creative potential, and inheritance of rich local cultures.

"The intensive course lends me another dimension to art lessons. I am looking forward to more experimental courses like this in collaboration with teachers, schools from other parts of China," said Long Junjia, the only art teacher for Laershan Hope Primary School.

The newly created ink paintings cover local villagers, landscapes, portraits, Miao and Tujia ethnic costumes and headdresses.

Rich heritages fading

The children did not only work on rice paper, they also used bark and made straw-woven characters, animals and insects. Their creations also included paper cuttings, clay figures and embroidery pieces.

While helping the children improve their artistic skills, the teachers hope that these young art prodigies will be able to use arts to help preserve and pass down the local ethnic minority cultural heritage.

Xiangxi, with local Miao and Tujia ethnic history going back thousands of years, remains mysterious and attractive.

Over centuries, the locals have developed diverse folk culture and art, featuring paper-cuts, silver ware, embroidery, brocade, batik and carvings.

However, many people believe that modern and foreign cultures and the market economy, especially the boom of tourism in the increasingly globalized world, are eroding the indigenous ethnic culture.

Wu Xiangying, a paper-cuttings folk artist, used to travel to Japan in the 1980s to show his crafts. But now, Wu is only able to make end's meet by selling shoes at a fair. "Only those craftspeople living close to tourism centres such as the city of Fenghuang proper benefited from the flow of visitors," said Liu Yuxin, a local researcher in art education for children and folk art with the prefecture's education research institute.

In Xiangxi, more ageing folk artists pass away each year. Many others, like Wu, have to give up their beloved art for economic reasons.

The younger generations of local Miao and Tujia people are more interested in making money in urban centres far away from their hometowns than continuing the time-honoured traditional folk and ethnic art and skills. Many of them have abandoned their ethnic costumes and adornments and are more willing to wear sports shoes and jeans, Liu said.

"Today, locals wear their traditional costumes and accessories only on very important occasions and for tourists photo taking sessions," Liu said. "If no effective measures are taken in time, Xiangxi's folk fine art will disappear very quickly."

To reverse the trend, local researchers and educators have introduced a series of new programs to foster in young students respect and love for their tradition and ethnic arts and help them develop skills to preserve their own ethnic traditions.

Laershan Hope Primary School has been engaged in the "Dandelion Action" from as early as in 2003, which set its goals to rescue local heritages while improving art education for kids in the isolated areas.

More important objective

With the program, the researchers and teachers also hope to go beyond the current conventional art education by creating diversified art teaching ideas and methods that suit the needs of the children from different locales and of cultural heritage preservation.

"The success of the school sets a good example for other primary schools in different parts of China," added Zhang Yao, a researcher from Tianjin.

Arts education is an important component in China's compulsory education, as stipulated in national curricula for primary schools, said Chen Weihe, an art professor with Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in Guangdong Province.

However, primary schools in rural areas, particularly in remote areas, have difficulties in implementing decent art education, as a result of the shortages in fund, trained art teachers, practical textbooks, and effective teaching modes.

"Most existing textbooks and teaching plans for fine art classes are compiled by teachers and researchers who live and teach in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai or in the provincial capitals," said Wang Dagen, a researcher from Shanghai. "They do not know what the teachers and students in villages and the mountains really need for their fine art classes."

Paradoxically, teaching materials such as mud, straw, bark and leaves that can easily be found are ignored in rural areas, whereas for urban students who need them, they are in short supply, Wang said.

In the past, the pupils in Laershan only had picture drawing lessons, with simple pencil and sheets of white paper.

"My students are unfamiliar with the teaching and learning materials listed in the textbooks, such as metal flip-tops, foamed plastics, paper containers for milk products," Long said. "So it has long been a big headache for me to follow the textbooks to teach the class.

"But now, we find better ways to conduct the art lessons and these have yielded fruits."

Some of Long's students have had their works exhibited last summer at the China Millennium Monument and won prizes from audiences and art researchers.

(China Daily August 30, 2006)

Painters, Calligraphers Donate to Inner Mongolia School
Painting, Calligraphy Exhibition Opens in Beijing
Chinese Calligraphy, Painting Master Qi Gong Passes Away
Print This Page
Email This Page
About Us SiteMap Feedback
Copyright © China Internet Information Center. All Rights Reserved
E-mail: webmaster@china.org.cn Tel: 86-10-88828000