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Across China: Chinese peasant woman paints peach blossoms and dreams

FUZHOU, July 4 (Xinhua) -- It has only been a year and a half since Wang Zhenfeng started painting, but now the peasant woman is about to host her own painting exhibition in a famous Beijing art district.

A post comparing her work to that of Zhou Chunya, one of the most renowned living Chinese painters, brought her talents into the public eye. If it hadn't been for the online attention, it is hard to imagine the villager from eastern China's Shandong Province would be showing her work in the capital city.

In March, online art watchers stumbled upon her oil paintings of peach blossoms by accident. Many commented that her work approached the quality of Zhou's paintings.

One key difference: Wang's paintings sell for 200 yuan (30 U.S. dollars) each, while one by Zhou fetched a staggering five million yuan in 2013.

"There are too many people coming to buy my paintings these days," Wang told the Fujian Daily News in an interview last week. "It's too much pressure, and I cannot even concentrate on painting right now."

Before she became an online celebrity, Wang was just an ordinary peasant in Maerqiu Village, Pingdu City. She toiled over a field of more than 20 mu (1.3 hectares) while also working in a small shoe factory.

In early 2015, Wang's daughter, a teacher at an oil painting center, returned to the village and launched a campaign called "Everyone is an artist." She encouraged her mother to pick up the paintbrush.

But the idea sounded like castles in the sky to Wang.

"How do you expect a farmer to become a painter?" she said, laughing.

Wang's curiosity was piqued, however, so she agreed to complete several weeks of training. Shortly thereafter, she finished her first ever painting of a bucket in her house. The piece eventually sold for 200 yuan online to an artist from Hebei Province.

"I never thought paintings could help me make money!" Wang said.

In addition to the income, Wang has also found happiness in her new hobby. "In the past, I thought a person's life was all about getting married, having babies and raising children, which was quite tedious," she said. "Painting enlightened me."

While painting gave Wang an outlet for expression, it also brought her taunts from her fellow villagers. Her coworkers at the shoe factory once mocked her, saying, "You must be daydreaming!" and "Why does a farmer paint anyway?"

"If you are a painter, why are you still in the factory?" they said.

But Wang did not let it bother her. Her life revolved around painting. She would even get up in the middle of the night if inspiration struck.

Her work centers around subjects that evoke the countryside: endless fields, playful dogs running in a village and even farm machinery.

"There are so many lively subjects in rural China, and I have painted only a few," she said.

In March, she began painting the village's peach blossoms. She tried different angles and compositions. Some villagers eventually posted her work online, which drew massive attention and the comparison to Zhou Chunya.

Wang said she does not know Zhou, nor has she followed the online discussions. But one thing is for sure: her life has changed for the better.

Her art has attracted many fans, with admirers from Shanghai and Beijing coming to purchase her depictions of rural life.

In mid-April, Wang traveled to an ancient town in southeast China's Fujian Province with the help of an official at her daughter's painting center. She can concentrate on painting there, with the hope of becoming a professional artist.

The narrow alleyways, fish ponds, fields, mountains, streams and old houses in the town have given her new inspiration.

To her delight, Wang's paintings have been praised by professionals in the art industry. She has already established a small studio of her own in Fujian. Many social media accounts promoted her work free of charge, while local galleries have offered to display her art. All of this encouragement has made her more determined than ever to pursue her painting dream.

"Compared to my life in the past, I feel like I am living a newer and more meaningful life with painting," Wang said. "I will hold fast to my dream."

Wang has created about 100 paintings so far. She hopes to concentrate more on doing work she is satisfied with, rather than just making money from her paintings.

"I am hosting my own art exhibition at Beijing's 798 Art District in September, and I hope I can turn out the best work possible," she said.

Wang hopes more people from rural China can discover their dreams like she did, "no matter how late the day may come."

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