Business booming for opera mask craftsman

Updated: 2008-09-18 09:48


Zhang Wei said he's always happy to show people the exquisite Peking opera masks he makes, but he does not like it when they stare at his misshapen back.

The 48-year-old folk artist was born with scoliosis, which left his spine curved.

"When I was young, people called me hunchback Zhang, and they looked at me as if I was from another planet," he said.

Since childhood, the Beijing native took refuge in his favorite mask painting, distancing himself from those who saw him as different. Now he has his own workshop and his work is sold at outlets on the Wangfujing shopping street.

"It took time for people to realize that we are no different from them," he said.

"Nowadays, more people are focusing on what disabled people can do now, rather than what they can't do."

At his booth at the Paralympic Village, Zhang's products have been selling well. He and about a dozen other disabled artists were invited to work there and show off their craftsmanship.

Zhang said he has been selling about 1,000 yuan ($150) worth of products a day.

In recent years, the Chinese government has made some progress in changing the public's attitude toward disabled people.

The country was among the first signatories of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which it ratified in June.

The amended Law on Protection of the Disabled of China, which took effect on July 1, added details about financial support, medical care and rehabilitation services for the disabled, along with preferential policies on jobs and taxation.

A sporting event on the scale of the Paralympics has been known to speed up critical changes. One notable effect brought about by the Athens Paralympics was the installation of an elevator at the city's landmark Acropolis.

The Paralympics has also brought about some changes in Beijing.

The city's transport system is more accessible, and attractions like the Forbidden City and Great Wall have introduced some facilities for the disabled.

The government has said the Games has raised public awareness and that it will open doors to more possibilities and choices for disabled Chinese.

For some of the people who lost limbs in the May 12 Sichuan earthquake, it might also prove to be a source of inspiration.

Chang Li, a 12-year-old boy, had his basketball dreams dashed when the earthquake claimed his right arm.

"I probably can't play basketball any more, but I figure I can run, because nobody was faster than me in my class," he said.

"I'm going to be in the Paralympics."

The Games has also tried to nurture a culture of service and appreciation.

Deng Yaping, a spokeswoman for the Paralympic Village, said: "Be grateful and be satisfied - that has become the catchphrase among our staff.

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