It’s been almost ten years since Huang Yung-fu faced a dilemma. He was 86 at the time. The Taiwanese Government had decided to demolish his village because he was the very last inhabitant still living there. This would create space for a modern apartment complex. He was offered money to pack up his belongings and move elsewhere, but he just couldn’t bear to leave his home. He didn’t like the thought of living in a place other than his own familiar village, so he started painting.
Huang, now affectionately called the ‘Rainbow Grandpa’, was born in China. He served as a soldier for the army of the Communist Nationalist People’s Party under Mao Zedong in the Sino-Japanese War, and later in World War II. When the nationalists lost, 2 million people sought refuge in Taiwan, including Huang. He ended up there, in a quickly established village, where refugees and military families were homed. What was once intended to be temporary shelter, remained his home for the rest of his life.
When, after forty years, it was supposed to be demolished, it hit him like a ton of bricks. “In the beginning, when I came to the village, it was home to 1200 families, but it was like we were all one big family,” Huang told the BBC. “But when everyone started moving, it gradually got lonely. When I had nowhere left to go, I resorted to art to relieve my suffering.”
He first painted a little bird on his own house. Then a few cats, birds and people on other empty buildings. When in 2010 a local university student walked through the village and heard Huang’s story, he decided to call for help. He took some pictures and started a fundraiser to prevent the demolition.
The news about the ‘Rainbow Grandpa’ soon went viral. It was close to people’s hearts and the village became a tourist attraction with more than a million visitors each year. But the most important thing that came from this, is that grandpa Huang has been able to stay in his village. “The government has now finally decided that they will spare my house and the village,” he said. “When I heard that, I was truly happy and grateful.”