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Chinese Disabled Artist Xi Fu

Photographer: Hwee Young How


Xi Fu's story is one that tells of how strong determination and hard work overcame the difficulties of surviving in a society scant in infrastructure and support for the disabled and where they often face discrimination.


Surrounded by cloth, paper, brushes and ink, the 34-year-old whose name meant 'Seeking Happiness' is a common sight in the underground passes of the bustling shopping district of Xidan or tourist walkways of Houhai in Beijing. With spry dexterity, he uses his feet to mix the paint, lay out his brushes and spread the rice paper he is going to write on. Clasping the brush between his toes, Xi Fu proceeds to mesmerize a rapidly gathering crowd for the next hour with a skillful display of calligraphic art using only his feet.


The Chinese characters he writes are often simple but inspirational proverbs like 'zhi zhu chang le' (knowing contentment is happiness) or 'fen jin' (to advance bravely), bring on smiles of appreciation among his audience as he finishes each work.


Since there are no platforms for disabled artists like him to showcase his art, Xi Fu took to the streets, roaming pedestrian underpasses and high traffic tourists sites performing as a street busker in various parts of Beijing. On good days, he could make about 100 RMB (12.44 euros) a day. It is not easy though as he is often hassled by officers from the urban affairs office, otherwise known as Chengguan, whose job include patrolling and removing unlicensed peddlers and beggars from the streets. His condition also limits him to work for a maximum of three hours a day; otherwise it becomes too painful for his body to withstand.


His face lights up with his usual cheerful grin however when asked about his dream. 'Being a street busker has allowed me to make many friends and made me very happy. I want to have my own exhibition next and be able to keep doing what I do!'