Art lighting up rural China
A villager and foreigners make a local handicraft at Gejia village of Ninghai county, East China's Zhejiang Province, July 26, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]
Cong Zhiqiang, an associate professor of the arts at Renmin University of China, was mistaken as a fraud by locals when he first came to Gejia Village in Ninghai County, east China's Zhejiang Province in 2019.
"The villagers thought we were Ponzi schemers when they learned we planned to renovate the village with art," Cong said. The 1,200-year-old village has now become a popular tourist attraction that can receive more than 30,000 tourists each year thanks to the work of Cong's team.
"There was nothing special about our village before Cong came," said Ge Haifeng, Party secretary of Gejia Village. "Our villagers always felt something was missing in their daily lives, although we earned enough money to make a living."
As an experienced "village designer," Cong has visited countless villages across the country and undertaken many rural design projects. Being aware that relying solely on artists is not enough to complete such a renovation project, he persuaded local officials to motivate villagers to join in.
Cong and his team started by collecting ideas from local villagers, and instructed them to redesign their own homes.
Under Cong's guidance, Ge Wanyong, a bricklayer in the village, designed a gardening area with an osmanthus tree in his courtyard. "The more I look at the scenery, the more I love it," Ge Wanyong said. "I never thought I could be a designer because I only followed construction drawings before."
The transformation has also brought some unexpected changes to the village. "Some neighbors who used to quarrel over homestead issues now have stopped arguing and jointly decorated a public space," said Ge Haifeng. "Villagers also started to clean up and even plant flowers in some previously neglected public areas."