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July 19, 2013

Disabled street artist Xi Fu

Xi Fu's story is one that tells of how strong determination and hard work overcame the difficulties of surviving in a society scant in infrastructure and support for the disabled and where they often face discrimination. Surrounded by cloth, paper, brushes and ink, the 34-year-old whose name means 'Seeking Happiness' is a common sight in the underground passes of the bustling shopping district of Xidan or tourist walkways of Houhai in Beijing. With spry dexterity, he uses his feet to mix the paint, lay out his brushes and spread the rice paper he is going to write on. Clasping the brush between his toes, Xi Fu proceeds to mesmerize a rapidly gathering crowd for the next hour with a skillful display of calligraphic art using only his feet. The Chinese characters he writes are often simple but inspirational proverbs like 'zhi zhu chang le' (knowing contentment is happiness) or 'fen jin' (to advance bravely), bringing on smiles of appreciation among his audience as he finishes each work. Since there are no platforms for disabled artists like him to showcase his art, Xi Fu took to the streets, roaming pedestrian underpasses and high traffic tourists sites performing as a street busker in various parts of Beijing. On good days, he could make about 100 RMB (12.44 euros) a day. It is not easy though as he is often hassled by officers from the urban affairs office, otherwise known as Chengguan, whose job include patrolling and removing unlicensed peddlers and beggars from the streets. His condition also limits him to work for a maximum of three hours a day; otherwise it becomes too painful for his body to withstand. His face lights up with his usual cheerful grin however when asked about his dream. 'Being a street busker has allowed me to make many friends and made me very happy. I want to have my own exhibition next and be able to keep doing what I do". (images by How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) -- Lloyd Young ( 18 photos total)

Chinese disabled artist Xi Fu walks into an underground pass in the shopping district of Xidan in Beijing, China, on June 15. There were no open platforms for disabled artists like Xi Fu to showcase his art in China. He took to the streets, roaming pedestrian underpasses and high traffic tourists sites performing as a street busker in various parts of Beijing. On good days, he could make about 12.44 euros a day. Xi Fu's story is one that tells of how strong determination and hard work overcame the difficulties of surviving in a society scant with infrastructure and support for the disabled and where they often face discrimination. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency)

Chinese disabled artist Xi Fu spreads out rice paper as he prepares to display his artworks in an underground pass in the shopping district of Xidan. The calligraphy street artist was dropped by a nurse at the hospital as an infant which caused his disability. He lost the use of his upper body limbs and suffers from acute muscle pain in his shoulders and back. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu signs his name on his Chinese calligraphy work with his feet in an underground pass in the shopping district of Xidan in Beijing, China. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu pours ink with his feet as he prepares to perform in an underground pass. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

XI Fu writes the characters 'fen jing' or 'to advance bravely' as a crowd watches. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu counts the day's earnings of mostly one yuan dollar notes with his feet in an underground pass in the shopping district of Xidan in Beijing. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu shows his ink-smeared feet in an underground pass where he sells his works. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu winces with pain from a muscle ache on his bed while his father Yu Dejing puts on his shoes in their home in Daxing on the outskirts of Beijing, China, on June 18. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu arranges his name cards with his feet in his home in Daxing on the outskirts of Beijing, China, on June 18. Few people can master the art of Chinese calligraphy with good functioning hands, much less with their feet. Chinese disabled artist Xi Fu however, made it look like a piece of cake. The 34-year-old whose name meant 'Treasure Happiness' is a common sight in the underground passes of the bustling shopping district of Xidan or tourist walkways of Houhai. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu and his mother Dong Xifeng have lunch in their home in Daxing on the outskirts of Beijing. The calligraphy street artist lives with his retired parents but does everything for himself with his feet, including personal chores and eating. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu shaves his own head with his feet in his home in Daxing on the outskirts of Beijing. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu listens to music in his home in Daxing on the outskirts of Beijing, China, on June 18. Listening to music and browsing his friends microblogs are some of the favorite pastimes of the disabled calligraph street artist. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Dong Xifeng, left, mother of disabled calligrapher, Xi Fu looks on as he rests in their home in Beijing. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu walks out from a doorway curtain at his home in Daxing. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu steers his motorized tricycle with his feet as he set outs to work while his mother Dong Xifeng looks on from his home in Daxing on the outskirts of Beijing. The calligraphy street artist often travels long distances from his small village home in Daxing on the outskirts of Beijing to the city center where he performs to curious crowds. During winter when it was too cold in Beijing, the intrepid young man travelled to warmer southern provinces like Yunnan and Guangzhou to continue his street performances. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu observes his calligraphy teacher Liu Shenwei during a practice session in Daxing Arts Center on the outskirts of Beijing. At the age of 18, he joined a children's art class at an art center and began to learn painting from his art teacher Ren Zhijun, who taught him for free. Another two teachers noticed his talent and started teaching him calligraphy. Xi Fu practiced for hours everyday, even though to remain in his writing position for long periods of time was painful for him. It was however only three years later in 2003, that his teachers proclaim him good enough to make a living from his art. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu sits by calligraphy and art pieces during a practice session with teacher Liu Shenwei in Daxing. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #

Xi Fu is silhouetted as he walks out of an underground pass in the shopping district of Xidan in Beijing, China, on June 15. In recent years, Xi Fu's condition has taken a turn for the worse. Muscle aches in his shoulders and back are more frequent and painful, making it difficult for him to move about freely. He used to be able to walk upright with shoulders straight but now the pain has caused him to walk with a hunched back, his arms twisted awkwardly closed to his chest. His brother made arrangements to bring him to the hospital but Xi Fu is worried about the high medical costs. He does not have any form of insurance or receive government aid for the disabled. (How Hwee Young/European Pressphoto Agency) #
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