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November 26, 2022

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Teen illustrator turns outlier status into career choice

“I might be an outlier among the infamous Haidian jiwa,” high-school student Liu Tianyun, who just celebrated her 16-year-old birthday, began her first published book with this line.

Haidian District in Beijing is home to the country’s top universities and tech companies, and equally famed for its “tiger moms” and “eagle dads.”

That way of education is often referred to as “chicken-blood” parenting, so excited and self-sacrificing like they were injected with chicken blood about giving children the best education. Their children are called jiwa, literally translated “chicken babies.”

The book, “Illustration for Famous Classics — My Booklist and Graffiti,” started as a “daydream,” according to Liu.

“I wasn’t planning to publish a book at the very beginning,” she said. “It was just a spontaneous idea, a vague concept that I want to draw illustration for some of the books I really like, especially because the illustrations in the editions I read did not match my imagination.”

She spent months making the choices from a few hundred books she had read, and re-read them to be ready to write her review and draw illustrations.

The selected 25 books are recommended for different ages — grade one to three, grade four to six and grade seven to nine.

“That’s when I read a lot of books that my dad selected and bought for me, when most of my peers were busy attending extra classes,” she recalled.

“I tried to go for diversity — different genres, countries and themes, and I also tried to go for diversity in the styles of the illustrations.”

The selected 25 works include both best-selling classics for many generations across the world such as “Little Women” and “Sophie’s World,” and more niche or recent books like “A Mango-Shaped Space” and “The Westing Game.” Some were published in Chinese only a few years ago.

Liu, who moved from Beijing to Shanghai last year, is proud to be the outlier who hasn’t attended any extra classes but has developed many hobbies, including illustration and animation, and is now preparing for a career in animation.

“Neither dad nor mom is in art, but they both love museums and have been taking me to many museums around the world since I was little, including Studio Ghibli, which was such a fantastic experience,” she recalled.

The 16-year-old seriously weighed between illustration and animation for a career, and is well aware that both are highly competitive fields now and will be more so by the time she starts working in a few years.

“But I’d work for something I truly love,” she stated.


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