International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

International Leprosy Association -
History of Leprosy

Chen Anhua

China, 1948- Profile
Anhua Chen, born in 1948 in Jiangmen, Guangdong, has been painting for over 40 years. He specializes in Xieyi (freehand style) and Gong-bi (fine-brush) in Chinese painting, having won many awards in national competitions. His work was selected in several nationally published collections of work of Chinese painters and calligraphers. He is member of Daozi Wu-the Master of Painting Art Gallery, a member of Xinhui Association of Art, and a contract painter for the China Academy for Painting and Calligraphy Collection. He also plays er-hu and qinqin (Chinese ancient musical instruments) in the art troupe of Yaxi leprosy village, where he now lives.

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Personal Experience: “Paint the Sun and the Moon of My Heart”

Sixty-four-year-old Anhua Chen has been painting for over 40 years. However, he abandoned painting during the first ten years he lived in the leprosy village. When Chen recollects his youth, he always talks about how he went to visit the painting exhibition in Hui Cheng, Jiangmen. He could stay in the gallery all day long lingering. At that time, his biggest dream was to enter Art College to learn painting in a systematic way that would flourish through his passion for painting.

Misfortune befell him in 1969. Having spent only five years in school, Chen was diagnosed with leprosy when he was just 21 and went to the leprosy village. With an allowance of less than 20 yuan a month, he lived a hard life in the village. There was no more money for painting textbooks or the art college entrance exam. His energy was almost crushed in desperation.

After the first ten years facing the challenge of leprosy, Chen got a job in the local supply and marketing cooperative, where he finally found a way to pursue his dream. Since there was no electricity at midnight, Chen decided to light a kerosene lamp in order to continue his painting. He knew that people in the village laughed at him, saying that he was just going after something that would never happen. All these words didn’t dampen his enthusiasm in painting. Chen says that painting depends on one’s mood, without which one cannot create anything that is satisfying. One has to keep practicing every day, for “if not, your hands go awkward”.

Chen can talk a lot about gong-bi painting, a traditional painting style which is rather elaborate and needs time. “First of all, make a sketch with your pencil, then color your sketch four to five times. That will really make the palette vivid. What gong-bi painters pursue is the similarity in shape or appearance, that’s why we are particular about tones and shadows.”

By practicing, Chen improved a lot. He became famous for his painting in the local community. When asked about the key to his success, Chen, the low-key painting lover, says that he did not want people to know that he could paint, for fear that they would laugh. To him, painting is more for “self-satisfaction”, which is what he writes on every painting as a signature. Apart from painting, Chen likes practicing calligraphy. He prefers the running script (xingshu) which is, as he says, is mature yet energetic.

Chen cherishes every piece of his work and wants to preserve them in the best way. Chen had to learn by himself how to mount his work and can now mount his small-size pieces with cheap silk paper without scrolls. Once a time there were some volunteers from Xinhui helped Chen to sell some of his work, although Chen lived a poor life, he gave the income to other villagers who were in greater financial difficulties.

He likes playing musical instruments too. An er-hu made by his hand still hangs on the wall of his room. He once was a former er-hu and qinqin player in the village’s art troupe back in the old days, many years after the art troupe dissolved, when he is in a good mood, Chen takes the er-hu down and plays a solo, for self-satisfaction. In fact, Chen hides in mind some loneliness that no one understands. “After all, there are not many people in the village who can really understand my work. I have to go out to learn how other people think of my work and we can better exchange ideas. By doing this, people outside can know us better and they will not look down on us.” In a world where technology connects everyone, what Chen wants is simply respect and communication.

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Source: HANDA Rehabilitation and Welfare Association, The Beauty of the Spirit, (Guangzhou, 2014)