China Focus: Painting a brighter world for those in darkness

On Tuesday, WeChat were alive with paintings people "bought" on their accounts. These paintings were the work of 30 ordinary Chinese people who live with autism or cerebral palsy.

On Tuesday, WeChat newsfeeds were alive with paintings people had "bought" on their accounts. These paintings were not Leonardo's, van Gogh's or Zheng Fanzhi's, but were the work of 30 ordinary Chinese people who live with autism or cerebral palsy.

The campaign was masterminded by the World of Art Brut Culture (WABC) and backed by the Tencent charitable foundation. Tencent is the operator of WeChat, China's most popular messaging service. 

   Available for "purchase" were 36 paintings. Each e-painting cost at least one yuan to download and use as wallpaper or a screen saver.

   Under each painting was an introduction to the artist, whose ages ranged from early teens to late thirties. 

   The fundraiser began on Aug. 17, but only really hit its stride in the past few days. By 2:20 p.m. Tuesday, more than 5.8 million people had donated 15 million yuan, the target of the campaign, at which point the organizers ended the activity. 

   "We had no idea we would be so popular!" said Miao Shiming, founder of WABC and a graduate of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts. 

   At an exhibition in Beijing in 2009, Miao met 14 people who were believed to have learning difficulties. 

   "I began to teach some of them art and found them to be really talented." Miao said. "Our society is still subject to many misunderstandings and prejudices. These people have relatively few chances to get an education and find a job."

   He told Xinhua that in the West, art therapy helped people with difficulty in communicating. "I would like to do something similar," he said. 

   He began teaching his group soon after the 2009 exhibition. 

   "We have attracted so much attention lately because the general public now have a better understanding how creativity can be part of welfare," Miao said.

   He hopes to change people's view of cerebral palsy and autism and breed more respect for people with as much to contribute to society as anyone else. The money raised by the campaign will be used to create art therapy studios.

   "All of the paintings are beautiful," said web-user Banmabanma. "I bought one. The painter is the same age as me."

   "I bought one painted by a 19-year-old with autism," said "Icerowe." "It is now my screensaver. When you buy a painting you can hear the voice of the painter saying 'thank you.' I wish her happiness and health."

   However, some questioned whether the paintings were really by those with cerebral palsy or autism, and where the money would go. 

   "I know that at least the one by Xiaolong was painted by himself," said Xu Qingbo, mother of Xiaolong, 28, who has cerebral palsy. His painting was of a woman in a slightly Picasso style. "He told me the woman was me," she said.

   "I like painting and, if you like my painting, I will be very happy," said Xiaolong. 

   Xu and Xiaolong joined the program seven years ago. Since then, both his mother and his teacher have seen big changes in him. "He used to be very quiet. Most of the time our 'conversation' was just my monologue, as he couldn't, or wouldn't, express himself. 

   Now Xiaolong is more optimistic and cheerful. His speaking has improved a lot, as have his painting skills. "He used to have difficulty holding a pencil, but now he can make a complete painting," Xu said. 

   Zhang Jianli, mother of 16-year-old Liu Yi, a boy with autism, shares a similar experience. They have been in the program for three years.

   "When Liu Yi was young, he liked to paint," she said. "He did not begin to speak until the age of six or seven, and he could easily become over-emotional. Since we joined the program, he is more at peace with himself."

   According to the China News Service, China is home to more than 10 million people living with autism and six million with cerebral palsy.

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