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Naked truth challenges values
Publication Date : 19-10-2012
Children of nude model upset by dad's unusual part-time job
Wang Xuzhong, 84, never thought his children would disown him because of his part-time job as a nude model at universities.
Wang, along with many other senior residents without stable incomes, has found that nude modelling can be a good job but also a secret that can never be shared with family.
Wang's wife died 15 years ago and his youngest son passed away in 2007. Gray-haired but in good health, he lives alone and relies on his monthly pension of 800 yuan (US$130) in Chengdu in Southwest China's Sichuan province. His oldest son visits him once a week, bringing clean clothes and some food. His two daughters see him once in month. "We are not close," he said.
Feeling lonely at home, he began work in April as a model at universities after being introduced by a friend. His new job requires him to hold a pose, naked, for 45 minutes in front of students, for which he is paid 60 to 100 yuan an hour. He earns about 1,400 yuan a month.
Wang worked as a tailor until 2002 when he closed his shop because he found the work too tiring.
"Now I am modelling for art, and it brings more happiness than ever. It's a career deserving respect," he said, adding that the extra income allows him to buy more shrimps, his favourite food.
During breaks, he dresses and strolls around the classroom watching the students draw him. "I'm quite satisfied and happy to see excellent work, which makes me feel valuable, a feeling I did not have before taking this job."
But this sentiment is not shared by his son who changed the lock at his house to keep his father out and who rejected visits by his father on learning about his new job.
The clean clothes and food continue to be sent but only when his father is not at home.
"He felt ashamed to have his father working naked," Wang said. "But I'm still proud of my artistic work. Even though I have been disowned by my son, I will continue with my naked modelling."
People who are not covered by social security, such as scavengers or senior citizens, have joined the growing army of naked models at art school in recent years to earn extra money.
Art school students, who can barely afford to pay the high cost of employing a professional nude model, are willing to make do with the cheaper amateur alternatives.
The use of nude models in drawing, photography and sculpture has always been a controversial topic and one associated with ingrained prejudice since being introduced to China about 100 years ago. For many Chinese, like Wang's son, displaying a naked body to an audience is unacceptable and contrary to the traditional concept of showing politeness and decency to others.
Wang Zhigang, 42, a middleman who introduces models to universities or individuals in Beijing, said many men who are over 60 and who come from other cities want to be models.
"The threshold for modelling is quite low, so long as you are healthy," he said. "In addition, it's quite easy to hold a pose for about four hours [with breaks]."
"They can earn 100 to 120 yuan for half a day," he added.
In Beijing, at least 45 universities and colleges have majors in arts involving models. "Almost all of them recruit naked models, and more studios use them, too," the middleman said.
Many of the models are elderly men, while others are women who are about 35 years old. "They won't tell their families about the job," the middleman said.
Li Meiling, a teacher at the Attached Secondary Art School of the Luxun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning province, said: "Even when I met them [models] on the street, they seldom greet me, but pretend to be strangers."
One 52-year-old woman has been a naked model for three years. She said she likes the job and feels natural when posing nude, for which she can earn at least 2,000 yuan a month.
But she told her husband and daughter that she was posing fully clothed.
"They will be angry with me and feel ashamed if they know the truth," she said.
Liu Sihua, a sophomore at the Luxun academy, who has drawn pictures of the nude models, said: "I respect these old people, who show great courage to be naked in front of others.
"If my relatives did the same job, I will respect them because they are earning money fairly."
Fan Ming, director of the Institute of Market Economy at Henan University of Economics and Law, said prejudice surrounding nude modelling is unfair, and families and other people should respect the ones who take up the job.
"I think more and more old people are willing to be nude models, not only because they want to make extra money, but because they are alone, and want company and care from others."
He said society needs to support retired people or the jobless to take up such work at a time when China has more old people without work.
"Families and organisations need to pay more attention to caring for such people and should give them their support and respect. Then they can have more happiness," he said.
US$1 = 6.25 Chinese yuan