Village restored by influx of artists

Updated 2018-04-12 09:38:07

Three-dimensional paintings have been created on the streetfront of a village in Pingnan county, Fujian province, to attract tourists. (Zhang Bin/China News Service)

Painting, traditional opera prove key draws for rural community in Fujian province

A group of artists has been breaking established norms by deciding to uproot and relocate to a traditional Chinese village, leaving behind their jobs, homes and city lives in the process.

Longtan village, nestled deep in the mountains of Pingnan county, Fujian province, began seeing painters, designers and freelancers flock there last year.

"We couldn't believe it at first," said longtime resident Chen Ziban. "Young people used to leave here for jobs in the cities, but now it's the other way around."

Just two years ago, the village had only about 200 residents. Its school was shut down due to a lack of students and some homes were abandoned. Today, it has a population of more than 1,000.

Last year, authorities launched a project to help rejuvenate traditional villages through cultural and creative industries.

"The best way to revive the village is to bring talent in," said Lin Zhenglu, who is in charge of the project to restore Longtan's cultural traditions. Born in Fujian, Lin spent many years teaching painting in Shanghai.

"Many city folk envy those living in the countryside, especially places with a rich history and culture," Lin said. "But they also worry about rural living conditions."

Lin's plan includes renovating traditional homes and teaching villagers to paint. He said the former helps draw people in, while the latter encourages those with an appreciation for art to stay.

The old homes, once nearly forgotten, now have improved access to public utilities and many have been structurally reinforced and aesthetically refurbished.

One home has been converted into a Siping Opera museum. The operatic style is a traditional art form once considered lost but now seeing a revival in Longtan.

Other homes are rented out for fixed-terms of 15 years, with a three-story unit of 100 square meters costing around 200,000 yuan (,700). So far, more than 50 homes have been rented, mostly by Lin's artist friends and former students.

"The village stands out with lush mountains, unique architecture and gifted villagers who can paint. It's a great location for artists," he said.

Many artists have come for an alternative lifestyle where they can be close to nature, appreciate local culture and operate small businesses. Some have converted their homes into personal studios, bookstores, bistros, bars and cafes.

"The internet, e-commerce and a rapid logistics system have made life away from cities much easier," said Zeng Wei, 32, a bookstore owner and a relatively new arrival to Longtan.

Attracted by the beautiful scenery and Siping Opera, Zeng decided to move to the village. He converted the first floor of his home into a bookstore, and plans to make cultural props and accessories that can be used in operatic performances.

He also helps villagers sell farm produce online. Last year, villagers sold around 500 kilograms of persimmon, raking in more than 20,000 yuan, with his help.

As more people arrived in Longtan, Lin reopened the elementary school and invited his friends and qualified new inhabitants to teach.

Zeng's wife now teaches Chinese in the school, and Gao Rongrong, a former freelance translator in Shanghai and a student of Lin, teaches English.

"I didn't hesitate to come here when Lin called," said Gao, who is also a cartoonist. "It's so beautiful and I like the old homes. It's like walking in history."

Gao created a series of cartoons themed around a girl walking through the traditional village. In one, a smiling girl in a pink dress leans against a worn-out stone wall beside a traditional home, poking her head out as if playing hide-and-seek.

The cartoons received 500,000 views on Sina Weibo alone.

"I am happy that people have gotten to know the village and its beauty through my work," Gao said. "I'll keep creating."

Though away from the city, Gao said she finds the village "full of energy". Musicians gather regularly in the bar to perform live music.

"Many elderly villagers come to watch their performances," Chen said.

"I think they feel less lonely here than staying at home in the evening."

Chen's son, Chen Zhongye, a 24-year-old graphic designer working in the provincial capital of Fuzhou, is considering relocating to Longtan after seeing all the changes in the village.

"Sometimes I stay up late to watch videos about our village that my father shares in our group chat," he said, referring to the village's WeChat group of 404 people.

"Now, with so many artists coming, more possibilities and opportunities will come."

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