Chinese charity raises US$2.27 million selling art by people with autism

Campaign took off on social media, with 5.8 million people snapping up the paintings in digital format for a minimum donation of 15 US cents

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 August, 2017, 9:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 August, 2017, 10:32pm

A Chinese charity selling art created by people with autism to help improve their lives has raised 15 million yuan (US$2.27 million) after the campaign took off on social media.

The 36 colourful paintings made by autistic members of the World of Art Brut Culture (WABC) went on sale in digital format on the public welfare platform of the QQ network in the middle of August – for a minimum donation of 1 yuan.

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But it wasn’t until Monday evening, when WeChat users began circulating the fundraiser, that it started gaining traction – reaching the 15 million yuan target by the afternoon of the next day, when the donation channel was closed.

Some 5.8 million people bought the paintings.

One of them was Feng Li, a customer service officer with a state-owned bank in Shanghai.

“The paintings by these autistic kids and adults are beautiful – the style is similar to that of the Dutch artist van Gogh. I’m really impressed by their talent,” Feng said.

She paid 1 yuan for her painting, and said she did not know anyone with autism but believed people with the condition needed support.

“I feel sorry for them and I would like to make a contribution to them,” Feng said.

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Miao Shiming, founder of the Shanghai-based charity behind the sale, WABC, said the funds would be used to improve the lives of people with autism, cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome and to help them integrate into society.

WABC offers free art classes for children and adults with disabilities at its 10 branches in China.

There are more than 10 million people with autism on mainland China, according to a China Disabled People’s Rehabilitation Association study released last year, Xinhua reported.

The disorder ranges in its severity and affects social skills, behaviour and speech, but people with the condition are often ignored on the mainland.

Miao said art was one way for people with autism to express themselves. “They often don’t do well at expressing themselves through language,” he said. “They have a strong desire to express themselves through other means – and sometimes they’re quite capable in other ways.”

But a special education teacher in Hangzhou was not impressed with the art fundraiser and warned against people buying into the stereotype of the autistic genius.

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“It gives people a romanticised notion that kids with autism are all geniuses when it comes to painting,” Li Laoxi told news portal 163.com. “They then tend to ignore the bad aspects of this condition, including the fact that people with autism sometimes can’t take care of themselves, or can’t express themselves verbally or go to normal schools,” said Li, who has worked with autistic children for many years.

A digital exhibition of the paintings will go on show from Friday at the East Nanjing Road subway station in Shanghai.