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Is there anything out there, in your life, that have helped you endure and overcome the pains and miseries of an unpredictable fate?
For a man called Wang Xuedong in Shandong Province, there surely is something. And that something has made all the difference.
It all started 50 years ago.
The summer of the year 1966 was a scorching one. Days were long and dull in the small village called Gaoshang of Pingdu city, Shandong Province, southeastern China.
Wang Xuedong was ten.
On an overcast afternoon, he was heading his way home when he saw a group of people he has never seen before crowded at the village exhibition center.Approaching, he heard them arguing over a picture of a horse about where the defect of the painting is. Two men looked as if they were about to start a quarrel.
Staring at the drawing, Wang Xuedong couldn’t help but interrupted. “Here, I think the eyes seem too dull for a horse.”
Meanwhile, an old man who seemed to be the head of the group raised his eyebrows.“You have sharp instinct, son. How about coming back tomorrow to watch us working if you wish?” The old man offered.
And Wang Xuedong did.But what he didn’t realize back then until later was that the crowd were a group of artists from the Pingdu city, they were invited by the village to do some painting work for the exhibition center on the topic of
“Bitter Sweet Memory”.
The old man, the head of the group, was the famous local painter Zang Baolun.
“He thought I was gifted.” Wang Xuedong recalled.
So, in the year which the Cultural Revolution started, Wang Xuedong spent most of the days watching and playing with a group of painters. Acting as a little assistant to them, he was there for them as a little helping hand.
The exhibition was a great success.
Since then, Wang Xuedong lost himself in drawing.
“I was determined to be a painter.” Wang Xuedong said with a smile.
But he didn’t.Followed by his father’s wish and career, Wang Xuedong became a policeman in Pingdu city right after he finished high school.
The 19-year-old joined a group of experienced criminal policemen and was quite an ordinary one of them. He’s average-heighted, good- looking, but silent and serious most of the time. Cigarettes seemed to be his only companion.
No one knows about his hobby. And he was often too busy to spare much time for it. But something was always there, calling him.
In the year 1984, he was rewarded the Third Class Merits for his bravery in catching a gun thief in a long-unsettled case.
And he did it with his bare hands.
But what meant more for him that year was earning the chance to study criminal photography at Shandong University.
“I met the person that changed my life there.” said Wang Xuedong. The person he met with was Zhang Heyun, an art professor at Shandong University. He is a famous scholar and also a world-class painter.
“I was majoring in photography, but audited most of his class.” Wang Xuedong explained.
Photo of the Yinfu Reservoir taken on a foggy morning by Wang Xuedong.
It was a mind-opening process for him. The complexity of art techniques like the texturing method impressed him a lot. But it was the skills of drawing fishes he learnt from Zhang Heyun that he really benefited from.
He cherished the valuable three years’ college life, and spent most of the time learning and drawing with Professor Zhang and other art students.
It was the best of his time.
But life is always full of surprises and jokes.
In the year 1989, at the age of 33, Wang Xuedong quit his job to work at a Sino-US joint venture electronic instrument factory.
“The reason was rather complicated.” he said with a pause. “It was a good job back then.”
It was, especially when freedom was the best part of it.
He had a room of his own, which he changed into to a drawing one.Whenever he’s free, he draws.But gradually, the factory couldn’t afford paying salaries anymore.
Finally, in the coming of the New Year, at the time when people were waving the past goodbye and got ready to welcome the new century, the factory went bankrupt.
Wang Xuedong became a laid-off worker.
It was the beginning of the dark epoch of his life.His feelings ranged from abandonment to despair, fear and overwhelming anger in those days and nights. He divorced in the following year, which he refused to amplify any details.
He had to find a way out.An idea gradually came to him.
Overcoming many difficulties, he and his friends finally managed to raise money to contract the Yinfu Reservoir1, a reservoir that’s the second-largest in Qingdao district.He was supported by his peers to be the manager.
Being the second largest reservoir in Qingdao, it’s one of the main suppliers of water for the city. When the weather was fine, the reservoir itself was an ink and wash painting.
Every day, Wang Xuedong gets up at 6 am. Walking along the Reservoir alone, breathing the air and watching the sunrise, it gave him some quality time alone. Then he would go back to his office and arrange the works for the day, and get ready to face whatever it was coming for him.
There were peaceful times though, particularly when he rides a motorbike in the reservoir.He could often witness scenes of fishes for hundreds and thousands of them swimming from the same direction to him.Then, he’d stop and watch them swimming, appreciating and sometimes taking out his camera to take pictures for them.
Photo taken by Wang Xuedong.
As time passed, he’s so familiar with fishes that he could tell when they are excited and when they are dull. He knows how fishes act differently in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. Also, how they’d look differently when the weather was sunny, smoggy or rainy.
The more he knows about fish, the more he draws them.
“I used to draw exactly the way Professor Zhang had taught me at Shandong University, but then the more time I spent with the fish, the more sensitive I became with what they really like.” He must have, for he spent eight years in the reservoir.
People remember him not speaking much during the days. He’s just drawing, drawing, drawing all day long.
“It has become my way of reliving pains and sorrow.” He said with no expression.
Through years of ups and downs, joys and pains, drawing fishes is no longer just a hobby or a way for fun and relaxation. It has become a part of him.
Photo taken at Wang Xuedong’s workshop.
He left the reservoir, and started his own workroom in a rural street nearing downtown, selling his paintings.
“It wasn’t too bad either; I finally got time to take my hobby seriously.” he said in a rather cheerful voice.
After years of ups and downs, he now lives on his hobby.Many people like his paintings, and names were granted for him as “the King of the Fish”.
But Wang Xuedong said he doesn’t take the names seriously. He is no longer easily to be flattered or sadden.
For him, what used to be only a hobby and companion is now something he survives on, and is fair enough to allow him a decent and respectable life.
He enjoys his days living on his hobby, and for him, that’s enough.
Wang Xuedong’s painting.
I toured around his workplace, the fishes he depicts including mandarin fish, carp and so on.However different of types they are, all fishes give a sense of spirituality and flexibility.
To me, they also look real, powerful, and have a sense of tenacious vitality, just like the painter himself.
Bridget WANG, Bridget is now a first-year MA student at BFSU. She had been majoring in finance during her undergraduate years but now she majors in journalism. Being a bibliophile, she always has a passion to discover the untold stories. And as a debate competition champion, she would not hesitate to voice her own opinions.