By Xinhua writers Li Binian, Wang Linyuan
ZHENGZHOU, Nov. 13 (Xinhua) -- When he learned to paint as a teenager,Xiao Yanqing, 52, a farmer in Central China's Henan Province, could never have imagined it would lift him out of poverty.
Villagers of Xiao's home village of Wanggongzhuang used to draw and sell new year paintings, a business that dates back to the early 20th century, when a retired Imperial Palace craftsman brought the technique to the village.
In the 1980s, Xiao learned to draw new year paintings. In his spare time after farm work, he would paint and travel to cities to sell the paintings, which sold so cheaply he could barely make ends meet.
However, 1998, the year of tiger, proved a turning point in his life. A client ordered a tiger painting.
"I used to draw flowers and birds, but not once had I drawn a tiger," Xiao said.
With no real tigers around, he borrowed a tiger painting from a neighbor to copy. His painting sold at a good price, and he realized he was on to something that could benefit his whole village.
"Chinese people love tigers and are willing to hang tiger paintings in their homes as they believe the powerful tigers can scare away evil spirit," he said.
So he began a travel, not to sell paintings, but to zoos in northeastern China to observe tigers and dedicated himself to painting them.
It was a great success. In 1999, he was the first in the village to buy a color TV, and a year later a computer.
He surprised the clerks of the local bank when he brought in U.S. dollars to change for Renminbi.
"I guess they thought I was a criminal," he said smiling.
Impressed by Xiao's success, some of his friends followed suit, and more of the villagers joined later.
Tiger painting has become a trademark of the village and over 60 percent of the 1,366 villagers are now engaged in the business.
The village now sells thousands of tiger paintings every year, 40 percent of them to overseas markets, including Japan and Bangladesh.
Currently, the village can make a yearly revenue of nearly 100 million yuan (15 million U.S. dollars) by selling paintings.
Wang Jiansheng, a man in his 30s, has done a lot of jobs, from construction worker to butcher, but none of them earned him enough to buy a house. But tiger painting earns him 300,000 yuan a year, and allowed him to open his own workshop. He plans to buy a big apartment in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan, and open a gallery there.