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Deaf students hone art skills at studio

Couple hope classes can lead to college, careers for disabled youth

By Qin Feng in Xi'an and Chen Meiling | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-30 10:38
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Sun Xiaocang teaches by writing on the whiteboard at the Cangxiao Studio he and his wife, Xu Weixiao, founded in Xi'an, Shaanxi province. CHINA DAILY

Inside the 90-square-meter Cangxiao Studio in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, about 20 young students sit silently shoulder-to-shoulder as they paint.

Xu Weixiao, 39, and her husband Sun Xiaocang, 46, opened the studio for deaf children in 2015 in her father's home. The couple, both deaf, have helped 103 students enroll in college, giving them the chance to gain more opportunities for employment.

"I hope more friends like me can make their dreams come true and find a good job, so their parents won't need to worry about their life," Xu said, writing on paper.

Xu lost her hearing when she was about a year old because of a disease. Due to communication barriers, she was isolated at school. Most of the time, she preferred to be alone, immersed in drawing and doodling.

Her father, Xu Xiaoying, noted her artistic talent and sent her to learn how to paint at the Second Deaf School of Xi'an. After several years of effort, the young woman gained admission to the Special Education Arts School of the Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts, becoming a member of its first class.

At a gathering for disabled youth in 2006, Xu met Sun, who graduated from Changchun University in Jilin province and majored in art. They soon fell in love and got married.

In 2015, Xu encountered several deaf students who wanted to study art but couldn't find a suitable studio. Because most studios don't have sign language interpreters, their courses can be very difficult for deaf students to understand.

"I remembered a boy who had a great talent for painting, but because there were no suitable learning places and the fees to attend an ordinary art studio were too high for the family, he reluctantly returned to his hometown to work, with tears in his eyes. This image has stayed with me to this day," Xu Xiaoying said.

"Later, Weixiao told me that she wanted to open a studio so that children like her could learn to paint and fulfill their dreams of going to college. So, I cleared out a room in my own house and turned it into a studio."

To ease financial concerns, the studio only charges 3,000 yuan ($417) for 180 hours of study, or 17 yuan per hour, and art supplies are offered for free. Students spend six hours a day at the studio.

The couple also bought beds for students dealing with extreme financial difficulties so they can sleep in the studio and waived their fees.

"Compared with other studios, ours can be called a non-profit one," Xu Xiaoying said.

The studio became more popular after its first class of six students all got accepted by colleges, and more students began signing up. It now accepts about 20 students a year.

Xu Xiaoying added that the studio offers both basic and advanced classes to students. Subjects include color, sketch and quick sketch.

Xu Weixiao and her husband communicate with their students by using sign language and writing on the whiteboard.

"With the combination of sign language and written text, the teaching process progresses very smoothly," Xu Xiaoying said. "The students also have happy social life. They often 'chat' with each other after class."

The couple were named "excellent entrepreneurs" for deaf people in Xi'an last year.

Communicating on paper, a student who goes by the name Xiao Xuan wrote that at first, he knew nothing about painting, but now he is more confident in it and more optimistic toward life.

Another student nicknamed Fei Fei wrote: "The teachers tailor their teaching methods according to the characteristics of each student. Both teachers are dedicated and compassionate, and they are the best mentors and friends I have encountered in my life."

Last year, 18 students were admitted by colleges. Some told the couple they wanted to be teachers, too, and some came back to help younger students paint.

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