Recently ABILITY’s Chet Cooper traveled to Beijing to build a relationship with China Press for People with Disabilities. In the coming months, the partnership will result in an exchange of articles, art and ideas between the two countries. Our magazine will include stories from their organization, while their publications will feature stories produced by our team.
During one of the meetings held to cement the deal, Cooper connected with Zhang Heyong to talk about his work as an artist, journalist and advocate for persons with disabilities.
Zhang learned painting and calligraphy at an early age, and majored in art in college. Later, he became a journalist and served as a photographer and editorial director at Shandong Pictorial Publisher House; he is currently deputy editor-in-chief for China Press for People with Disabilities. As a photographer, he has returned to people with disabilities as a subject matter again and again. Exhibitions of his art have been held in Singapore, Japan, Germany and Korea.
Zhang is also a gifted curator with many exhibits to his credit over the past decade, including “National Photography Competition for Persons with Disabilities,” “New China 60 Anniversary Calligraphy and Painting Competition for the Disabled,” and “Love and Truth: Photography Exhibition About the Disabled.”
Both Zhang, who presided over the Beijing 2008 Paralympic torch relay, and his wife, Wang Jin, help people with disabilities. She is one of the founders of China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe and took the group to the US and more than 60 other countries to perform the program “My Dream.” She was in charge of art production for Chinese programs in the closing ceremony of Athens’s 2004 Paralympic Games and director of programs in the opening and closing ceremonies of Beijing’s 2008 Paralympic Games. The couple has made substantial donations in China’s poor areas, so far helping more than 200 children with hearing impairments.
Chet Cooper: You met your wife at the same time that you decided to focus on people with disabilities?
Zhang Heyong: In the 1990s, there was a sports event for athletes with disabilities. At the time, I knew little about disabilities; I was simply a professional photographer sent to take pictures of athletes. The competition was held in a city near the sea. That first time I was worried about the safety of the athletes: What if a blind runner ran into something, or a person with a missing limb fell and got injured? But I went to see the competition, anyway. After that, I got in touch with these athletes.
There were several deaf athletes who had run a half-marathon and were sitting on the grass. When I saw that their toes were peeping out of the end of their socks, which were sticky with blood and sweat, I felt that my blood was running cold. That night I made a decision to take all the money I brought with me and buy shoes and socks for 100 athletes. When I carried these socks and shoes into the hotel where the athletes were staying, they stood on the porch inside the building, waving and applauding.
Cooper: How did you deal with the fact that you didn’t know what sizes they wore?
Zhang: I got some data on the athletes.
Cooper: But it was a surprise when you donated them?
Zhang: Word got around that I had inquired. They smiled. Their smiles made me cry.
Cooper: So smiling makes you cry?
Zhang: One of the people there was a woman who was a co-host of the artistic performance for the opening ceremony of the sports meet. She gave me a flower, we got to know each other, and I ended up marrying her.
Cooper: So going to that competition really changed your life, not only in terms of making disabilities a major focus, but also because it led to you meeting your wife.
Zhang: That’s right.
Cooper: Initially, who was it that asked you to take the pictures?
Zhang: A magazine in Shandong; it’s comparable to your Life magazine in America.
Cooper: So you have them to thank for your good fortune. Now you also have a background as a fine artist. Can you tell me about that?
Zhang: In elementary school, I didn’t do well in my studies, and I didn’t have much faith in myself. But I did show artistic talent when it came to drawing, painting and traditional writing with a special Chinese pen. It was on this path that I found myself.
From that point on, I began to immerse myself in art. When I was 18, I went to the university and studied Chinese paintings for four years. I also learned about Western-style painting. Several of my Western-style paintings are in this center; I’ll show them to you. ...To read the full article, login or become a member --- it's free!
by Chet Cooper