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How the 96 year old “Rainbow Grandpa” saved a Taiwanese village one brushstroke at a time

What comes to mind when you hear “Rainbow Grandpa”? Perhaps a fictional character? Or an all-powerful superhero? For all you know it could be a old man with a colourful sense of style… Despite what you may think, this person is not any of these, but in fact a 94 year old self-taught artist in Taichung, Taiwan named Huang Yung-Fu that has rescued his village from demolition by turning it into a work of art.

Huang Yung-Fu was born in China near the northwestern city of Guangzhou on January 16th, 1924. Before his artistic journey attracted 1 million visitors per year, he was involved in fighting the Sino-Japanese war and the Chinese Civil war, but he fled to Taiwan soon after the defeat of the Chinese Nationalist party. As a result of large refugee influx, the only available housing possibility was to be placed in temporary military settlements until they could return to China. Undeterred by the years of waiting, the short-term accommodation eventually became permanent and it would soon be Yung-Fu’s future canvas for his illustrations.

As a result of Yung-Fu’s military background, the undiscovered artist was enlisted to fight in the Taiwan Straits Crisis where he eventually retired in 1978 having been shot twice and gaining a gold medal for “defending Taiwan” — but his years of battling against an enemy were far from over. Due to residents abandoning the area, he was finally left as the sole inhabitant. The Taiwanese government soon sent a letter threatening to destroy the 1,200 households to make way for new firms and renovated buildings. Yung-Fu’s first instinct was to conjure up ideas on how to save the village; he decided that the best solution was to use what his father taught him to do at 3 years old: draw. Gradually, the muralist reported for duty early each day, with 3 am painting sessions, saturating the walls with colour and images, from Yuang-Fu and his brother playing as children to his favourite teachers, and hundreds of other captivating illustrations.

Creativity. Motivation. Enthusiasm. Resilience. These are just a few aspects of Yung-Fu’s character that caught the attention of a Ling Tung University student and prompted him to start a fundraising campaign to safeguard the 30 homes that were still standing through bringing awareness and selling souvenirs such as postcards with featured artwork. Furthermore, a fraction of the money generated would go towards necessary supplies for the project, and what was left had been invested into charity for the elderly. Through gruelling years of protest, “It soon became a national issue” according to Andrea Yi-Shan Yang, Chief Secretary of Taichung’s Cultural Affairs Bureau. Additionally, the mayor received an estimate of 80,000 emails demanding the settlement be protected, to which he finally conceded in 2010. “It touches people’s hearts looking at this man’s work and hearing his story. It wasn’t a violent protest. He wasn’t asking for any help. He just loved his home,” adds Yang when announcing prospective expansion plans for an establishment of an art school for children and transforming Yuang-Fu’s bungalow into a museum to inspire young creators to pursue their passions.

“Ten years ago, the government threatened to knock this village down, but I didn’t want to move. This is the only real home I’ve ever known in Taiwan, so I started painting.” recalls Yung-Fu as his “Rainbow Village” hosts floods of admiring tourists each year. Between the cameras flashing and the variety of languages carried through the air, you can search for a house featuring a soldier holding a paintbrush — Huang Yung Fu’s 37 year-old place of residence where he can be seen painting the images of his experiences, but this time with words. Most importantly, Huang Yung-Fu believes that “you’re never to old to stop painting,” but there is no denying the fact that this applies to all dreams, which must be chased with perseverance as well as zealousness!

Camila G, Year 12

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