Fortune Smiles on Artist

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Fortune Smiles on Artist


Bookstore opens new world to autistic painter

Customers at Beijing FLTRP Bookstore get a free bookmark when they buy a coffee there, but few are aware of the challenges that the bookmark artist has overcome.

Kang Rui, 23, has worked at the bookstore since 2018, hand-painting posters, postcards and bookmarks. Kang is autistic and his unusual behaviour and impaired conversation unsettles some people, but his art can enchant them and it’s a major attraction for the bookshop.

Autism in China has an incidence of 0.7 per cent, and more than 2 million children under the age of 12 are autistic. The figure is rising by about 200,000 each year. In the run-up to World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, Kang’s story has come under the spotlight as he is one of the lucky few to find a job they like and can support themselves.

Kang can paint landscapes, still life, cartoon figures and self-portraits. His work is on display in neighbouring schools as well as the bookstore. He created a set of winter sport-themed paintings for the Beijing Winter Olympics and they were on show in the organizing committee building.

The bookstore job brings him joy and a sense of achievement. Many see him as a genius, but do not see the sacrifices behind the scenes. Like most Chinese parents, Kang’s mom and dad were determined that their son would receive the best education.


After Kang was diagnosed with autism at 5, his mom quit her job to care for him and his father bore sole responsibility to earn money. The couple did not have a second child so they could focus on Kang.

Autistic children have difficulties communicating, as they often don’t recognise or understand others’ emotions or feelings. Kang’s parents tried to send him to a regular kindergarten, but he struggled to interact with the other children and his eccentric behaviour drew taunts.

Kang had no formal schooling. He took up painting at 12 in classes at the Beijing Golden Wings Art Rehabilitation Service Center for Disabled Children, where he discovered his gift.

Now his work has won wide acclaim and been exhibited at galleries worldwide.

Fu Shuai, manager of the bookstore, saw Kang’s work at a national children’s artwork competition and thought the bright colors and vivid figures could add warmth to his store. However, when Fu first offered the job to Kang, his mom refused, fearing her son would not cope.

Fu persisted and convinced the family that Kang would get care and support. The bookstore offered Kang a special room as a studio and Kang was allowed to work at home or be accompanied by his mother in the store.


Fu said he never feared the behaviour of the special staff member would hurt the business and he thought his customers would understand.

He says the job gives Kang contact with society and allows society to have contact with him and to understand autism. “A bookstore is a window on civilisation. A civilised society should provide opportunities for the disadvantaged,” Fu said.


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