Rural woman pursues calligrapher dream

TIANJIN (Xinhua) – Becoming a calligrapher has long-been the dream of Liu Zhili.

Liu, 52, from Jinghai District of north China’s Tianjin Municipality, used to be a seamer but has gained fame for her excellent calligraphy.

As a unique art-form with high artistic value, Chinese calligraphy was an essential criterion for judging a person’s educational level in ancient times and popular among the upper class and intellectuals of the time.

Being born in a rural family with a low educational background, Liu never thought she could master the elegant art.

In 1983 Liu failed to pass the college entrance examination and was forced to become a seamer in a local textile factory. “Sewing clothes on the assembly line for over 10 hours each day drove me to exhaustion,” Liu said.

To alleviate physical fatigue, Liu picked up her father’s writing brush and started to practise writing characters on wasted newspapers and found her frustration suddenly vanished.

“Practising calligraphy has significantly changed my fate,” Liu said.

Chinese rural people were pursuing adequate food and clothes in the early 1980s, so calligraphy was deemed useless by her parents. “My mum threw my writing brushes and asked me to sew the clothes of eight family members,” Liu said.

But she insisted on practising calligraphy secretly. Liu paid six-months salary to attend a calligraphy class provided by Nankai University in downtown Tianjin, over 70km from her home.

Liu rose before dawn to attend the school. “I was too exhausted to do extra sewing after class. Sometimes, I could not even feel the pain when carelessly inserting the needle into my fingers,” she said.

Under the guidance of Ning Shulun, a famous calligraphy master in Tianjin, Liu developed her own calligraphy style and became proficient in regular script.

In 1998, Liu’s work was collected in a copy of Chinese Calligraphy and Painting. “It was the first time that my calligraphy work had been published,” Liu said. “I never thought I could succeed so soon.”

But there were dark times ahead.

In 1989, Liu’s factory suddenly collapsed. She was buried in the ruins and unable to move. There was nothing in front of her eyes other than the deep blackness. Liu told here self that she could not die until she achieved progress in calligraphy.

After a narrow escape, Liu worked even harder in the following decade, making clothes during the day to support the family while practising calligraphy at night.

In 2003, a TV programme reported that Liu sold her handwritten Spring Festival couplets on the market. She gained a reputation for her good handwriting, and officially became a member of the Tianjin Calligraphers Association in 2005.

Liu’s dreams had come true, and she began to help others fulfill their dreams.

She annually donates at least one-third of her works for the public good and has taught calligraphy for more than 3,000 people at home for free.

“I always remember I’m an average person but I can live up to my own dreams,” Liu said.