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Painter Li Yansheng calls for more finance for ICH inheritors


03-16-2017 08:38 BJT

Full coverage: 2017 NPC & CPPCC Sessions

(Source: CGTN)

Acclaimed painter Li Yansheng has been using his art to promote Chinese intangible cultural heritage, and is now calling for the government to increase the wages of professionals in the field of preservation. His beautiful portraits capture the spirit of people actively preserving Chinese intangible customs, and help to bring attention to China's many cultural traditions.

Portrait painter Li Yansheng has drawn hundreds of portraits of people who keep Chinese intangible cultural heritage alive. Li's TANGIBLE works have hung inside the State Council's Purple Light Pavilion, the National Art Museum of China, and the Palace Museum. Today, he is working to promote China's INTANGIBLE culture.

During last year's Two Sessions, Li successfully urged the government to increase the wages of people preserving China's intangible heritage from 10-thousand yuan to 20-thousand yuan. During this year's Two sessions, he called for even more.

"As a nation with 1.3 billion of population, we have less than two thousand people officially preserving the nation's intangible cultural heritage. They are our national treasures. So I call for a raise of another ten thousand, making it thirty thousand yuan per year," Li said.

Before the Two sessions, Li visited the Northern Kunqu Opera Theater, to paint portraits of two master performers. One of them is Kunqu opera performer, Yang Fengyi, who is also the director of the institution. After listening to Yang's stories and watching her rehearsals, he set out to capture her spirit on paper, with simple yet seasoned ink-brush strokes.

"Through his portrait of me, I think Li wants to pass on the message that one minute on stage takes ten years of practice. Only after you take efforts to hone your art, can you achieve something in art. I really admire what he has captured on paper," Yang said.

Being able to finish a portrait like this within half an hour, also takes years and years of practice.

Li began to paint portraits of people preserving cultural heritage in 2009 after a law was passed that focussed on protecting intangible cultural heritage. The law inspired Li to do something himself. His first portrait was of Peking Opera performer Mei Baoju, the son of master Mei Lanfang.

"I drew his portrait right at the hotel we lived at during that year's two sessions. Mei wrote a poem on one side of the painting, which means his family's art should be passed on forever," Li said.

350 Chinese people who carry on intangible tradition have died since Li painted his portrait of Mei. With less than two thousand people preserving China's ancient customs left, Li feel's like he is racing against time.

He believes China should do more to protect it's culture.

"When it comes to financing people who preserve culture, South Korea provides ten thousand US dollars to each person per year. Japan gives even more. China has thousand years of history, and South Korea and Japan have borrowed a lot from our cultural traditions..... So I hope more and more people get interested in passing on our intangible cultural heritage and do something to help," Li said.

In his proposals this year, Li called for including traditional folk tales like Tibet's King Gesar fable, and the Kirgiz Hero Epic: Manas, in elementary and middle school textbooks.

"Our textbooks rarely include content like this. We teach a lot of ancient poems but I think we should also inform students about the importance of our intangible cultural heritage," Li said.

Li also thinks more can be done by the government to protect endangered heritage. He has called for cultural protection zones in ethnic areas. And he would like to see more businesses selling intangible cultural heritage items.

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