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Grasping at straws: Gansu villagers paint their way out of poverty

February 11, 2019


Abstract : Ran Yifei, a straw painter in northwest China's Gansu Province, is now teaching rural women the unique technique to help them shake off poverty.

LANZHOU, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- Ran Yifei, a straw painter in northwest China's Gansu Province, is now teaching rural women the unique technique to help them shake off poverty.

In the 1980s, Ran worked for a straw-weaved product company in Tongwei County in the city of Dingxi. Although they were very popular at that time, straw-weaved products were gradually replaced by plastic and cloth ones. Profits of Ran's company declined and she was laid off.

"I accidentally watched a TV program on straw paintings in 2002, which changed my life completely," Ran said. She began to learn about and create straw paintings, becoming obsessed with it. "It was just to kill time at first. But later, it became my career."

Straw painting originated from a folk art that can be traced back more than a thousand years in China.

"It was not easy at the beginning," Ran said.

She tore the straw by hands but the fine edge injured her fingers many times. Ironing and pressing straw needs repeat practice in order to control the temperature and strength.

After three years of practice, Ran was brave enough to show her work to the local government, which became very interested. The cultural and tourism departments helped her promote and sell her straw artwork across the country.

She was awarded the title as an "intangible culture inheritor of straw painting," while her artworks were also displayed in international exhibitions outside China, with the help of the local cultural department.

From a straw painting amateur to a professional, Ran cashed in on her artwork. She can now earn more than 100,000 yuan (15,000 U.S. dollars) every year.

Ran started to teach local women straw painting in order to pass on the technique and increase their income.

The city of Dingxi is one of the driest and least developed areas of western China and declared "uninhabitable" for humans by visiting UN experts in the 1980s. People living here have long suffered poverty.

Last year, she trained more than 100 women living in rural areas. Many of them have "graduated." Creating and selling straw painting has become a major source of their family incomes.

Ran hopes to set up a school in the future so that she could teach more rural women straw painting to lift them out of poverty.


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