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Migrant's art shines light on workers' lives

(Shanghai Daily)

09:29, November 13, 2012

AS a child, Wang Gaojie spent long hours imitating the black-and-white illustrations in his schoolbooks.

He drew landscapes, animals and portraits of great people like Napoleon and Mao Zedong.

Despite his love of fine arts, Wang never went beyond high school. At 18, he left his countryside home in central China's Henan Province and followed a fellow villager to Ningbo, an industrial city in the rich coastal province of Zhejiang.

Now at 26, Wang still enjoys drawing. The only difference is he draws mainly migrants like himself.

A collection of his works, published online, described his first impressions of the city and the simple, often tedious life of migrants. Wang, a plump young man with tangled hair, also was in the collection, pictured as he arrived in Ningbo.

"It was in 2005, shortly after the Chinese New Year," Wang wrote. The man in the picture was carrying a bag and a bundle of clothing.

"Almost eight years have passed. Ningbo has changed a lot and so have I," reads the text of another caricature that showed a naive-looking Wang in 2005 and a heavy-built, bearded man smoking a cigarette. "That's me in 2012."

Another caricature showed a younger Wang grimacing at work. "I've taken different factory jobs such as assembly worker, product examiner and warehouse keeper," he wrote.

"Deep in my heart I dream of being a cartoonist," he wrote next to a picture with him drawing excitedly under the watchful, yet disdainful, eyes of an elderly man.

"As I grow older, I found the harder I tried, the farther my dream seemed. But I will never have regrets, as long as I have tried," he wrote in a caricature he drew last week.

Wang said he drew only for fun, and never expected the drawings to become a hit online. But netizens said they found his works inspiring, offering a unique angle in observing the life and struggles of China's colossal migrant population.

"I found your drawings interesting and encouraging," said a web user "sztdmr," who claimed to be a migrant in Ningbo, too. "They remind me of my own tears and laughter here in the city."

Wang said his main concern "is not how to survive in the city or how to earn more money, but how I can spend my life doing something meaningful." He was hoping his works could help urban people understand the dreams of migrants and eliminate prejudice.

Official statistics show China has more than 250 million farmers-turned-workers laboring in cities.

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