Yang is attentively creating Chinese paper cutting art (Note: The white paper over red paper is for protection. A piece of elastic is wrapped around his face to help his debilitated hands moving the graver).
--- “The red thin paper has always been bearing my dreams.”
Talking about Chinese paper art, you might first think of Chinese paper cutting. What you might not know is that Chinese paper cutting art is the first type of cutting paper art in the world, sometimes also referred to as “chuang hua”, meaning window flower, though the paper cutting patterns of the Chinese paper cuts are definitely not limited to flowers(an outstanding example being dragon paper cut and paper cutting fish).
* Chinese Paper Cutting Fish (Note: fish symbolizes affluence in Chinese culture.)
With the amazingly exquisite Chinese paper cut art you see, you could easily imagine the dexterous hands of one skillfully maneuvering the scissors to create the Chinese paper cuts, presenting a real piece of Chinese paper cutting art. But the case is not exactly true about talented disabled Chinese artist Hongbing, Yang with Chilture Studio of Disabled Artists.
Walking into disabled Chinese paper cutting artist Hongbing Yang’s home, your eyes will be filled with Chinese paper cuts on the walls and stacking on his bed, with Yang moving his body with great difficulty to welcome his guests.
Yang was born into a poor peasant family, the youngest of four children. At the age of 10 he was diagnosed with ALS disease, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, totally paralyzing him at 16. This disease took his father and an elder brother, who passed away at 23. What is ALS? It's a progressive, fatal disease of the motor neurons that control the skeletal muscles of the body. It results in total paralysis and respiratory failure, and there is no cure.
“Even moving my hand from under the table to above, I need my mom’s help.” It’s just with this pair of hands he created well over two thousand pieces of Chinese paper cutting artwork since 2004. “I saw someone on TV one day demonstrating wonderful Chinese paper cut art and I thought I could do it myself too,” Yang told Chilture, uttering each word with great effort. “Then I asked my sister and brother to buy me books and the most basic tools and started teaching myself Chinese paper cutting.”
“The mobility of my hands is deteriorating every day. For more exquisite and vivid paper cutting patterns, I often choose an engraver in addition to scissors but I have to push the graver with the help of my cheeks.” Yang added. As time passed, it has left his cheeks with dimples. “I sketch first on the red paper and then cut out the patterns with an engraver and scissors. A simple Chinese paper cut takes me about one or two days while a complicate one could even take me a month. I do more paper cutting in summer but less in winter as my fingers are less flexible then,” Yang continues.
From flowers, birds, fish, to mountains and trees; from everyday scenes of life to well-renown figures from ancient Chinese legends and historical stories, and much more, Yang’s collection of Chinese paper cutting incorporates them all in his own meticulous style and with his own perspective of life. Among his more than 2,000 pieces of paper art cutting, three selections stand out when Chilture’s team first visited Yang. They are: “China Four Beauties,” or “The Four Beauties” or “Chinese Four Beauties”; “The Four Heavenly Kings”; “Wu Niu Tu,” or “Five bulls Picture”; “Dragon Paper Cut”; “Chinese Paper Cutting Fish”
* Yang and his Chinese paper cutting art work -“China Four Beauties” Wang Zhaojun married to the border area for the imperial court; Diao Chan enjoying moon light.
* Chinese Folk Art - Tiger Paper Cut Art
* Chinese Paper Cut Art - “Wu Niu Tu: The Five Oxs Picture”
* Chinese Paper Cuts Figure - Jackie Chan
* Chinese Cut Paper Art - Mandarin Duck, Lotus Flowers and Inverted Chinese Character “福,” meaning blessing, happiness(Note: the word ”inverted” translated into Chinese is “倒” and sounds like the character “到,”which means “coming.” So an inverted “福”sounds like “happiness is coming.”)
* Chinese Paper Cuts - “The Four Heavenly Kings”(left to right): 持國天王 / 持国天王Chí Guó Tiānwáng- he who upholds the realm; 廣目天王 / 广目天王Guăng Mù Tiānwáng- he who sees all; 多聞天王 / 多闻天王Duō Wén Tiānwáng- he who hears everything; 增長天王 / 增长天王Zēng Zhǎng Tiānwáng- he who causes to grow.
Yang’s life couldn’t go without his mother. They take turns to sleep every day. He stays up to 3 to 4 in the morning until his mother gets up to help him to go to bed and turn body while sleeping. With the help of his family, Yang started a shop online in August 2011 but there have been few transactions due to poor managing and the severe lack of market of Chinese folk art in China.
* Yang’s mother is tailoring shoe vamps
The financial support for disabled is very limited in rural China. The family lives on a monthly 200 yuan (about $32) subsidy and the earnings of the mother from tailoring shoe vamps for people. “Since the first day I decided to devote my life to Chinese paper cutting, I’m determined not to stop. The red thin paper has always been bearing my dreams. My hope now is opening up an outlet for my Chinese paper cutting art and reducing my mom’s heavy burdens. Then I hope to set up training sessions to help more disabled people to learn this skill.”
Yang’s Chinese paper cutting art was published in the form of postcard by the local Handan post office in 2008. This is the only chief recognition and encouragement from the community Yang has received until today.
In June 2007, Yang submitted an application to the local Handan Red Cross for cornea donation. “Living means hope. If I’m leaving, I would like to leave this world in the course of helping people,” Yang stated in his application.
For more inspiring works of this artist, please visit this webpage.