Rural woman captures harvest, happiness on canvas

Xinhua, September 05, 2023
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Guo Lihua picks vegetables at her vegetable garden in Binxian County of Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, on June 27, 2023. (Xinhua/Hou Ming)

During the day, Guo Lihua is a farmer in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, toiling in the fields to produce crops. When night falls, however, she picks up her brush, transforming into a painter in front of a canvas.

In her paintings, the sky was blue, the corn golden, and the farmers joyful in colorful attire.

"I am a farmer and I have lived in the countryside all my life," said the 54-year-old. "I would like to show people the real rural life with my paintings."

Growing up in Binxian County of Heilongjiang, Guo dropped out of school as a third grader to help her parents in the farmlands. "I liked drawing as a child, but we could not afford brushes and paper then," she recalled.

In her spare time, she would find a twig to use as a pen and sketch on the ground. At that time, it had never occurred to her, even in her wildest dreams, that one day she would become a painter.

The turning point came in 2012, when her son wanted to learn painting and asked her to buy him a brush and paint. He soon gave up painting, but his mother's painting dream was revived.

Her paintings, contrary to her expectations, impressed her neighbors and resulted in them taking home some of her works.

Guo hence frequented the stationery shop to buy more paint. The shop owner was curious. "You are only a farmer. What paintings can you create?" he asked. However, he was surprised to see the quality of Guo's paintings and decided to introduce her to a local art teacher.

"At first I knew next to nothing about painting. I just pictured whatever was on my mind, using the brush like painting a wall," she said. After learning from the teacher, she quickly mastered painting techniques.

Guo never saw painting as difficult. She could instinctively paint the sky, the trees, and the cotton-padded jackets worn by people like herself in northeast China.

During the farming season, she would do farm work in the day and paint at night. Sometimes she painted until the crack of dawn.

Her paintings have drawn praise from professionals impressed with the bright colors and strong personal style. Guo has also won numerous awards and some of her works have been exhibited overseas.

In her village, people used to call Guo "the technician," because she liked using her brain. Fellow villagers always asked her when they should start growing vegetables and which seeds to choose.

Now her nickname has changed to "the painter." Guo also likes using her brain in improving her skills. "She never feels tired," said her husband, who added that sometimes she even forgets to eat and sleep.

Guo is frequently asked why the people in her paintings are all smiling, seemingly happy.

"Of course we are happy," she would reply. "In spring, we sow the seeds of hope in the field, watching the crops grow like our children. In autumn, we harvest with unspeakable happiness. I paint whatever I see."

From her paintings, one can detect the changes in her village, such as new technology and the increasing number of homestays in the rural areas, which mirror the rural revitalization now taking place across China.

"Our life in the countryside is constantly improving," she said. "I will keep painting as long as I can, so as to let people see our real life and feel our happiness." 

This photo taken on June 27, 2023 shows a creation by Guo Lihua pictured in Binxian County of Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. (Xinhua/Hou Ming)

Guo Lihua drafts a painting at her residence in Binxian County of Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, on June 27, 2023. (Xinhua/Liu Haodong)