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A hundred flowers bloom

/ 08:48 AM August 04, 2013

Last weekend found me coming back to Nanning City in Guangxi, China for the fourth time as I joined artists from China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the first China-ASEAN Expo Art Exchange Program.

The CAEXPO is a yearly summit hosted by China in Nanning City for the member nations of the ASEAN. It started in 2006 in Nanning City, which is strategically located along the South China Sea, close to Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, and the rest of Southeast Asia.


Nanning used to be China’s military outpost in this Southwestern border, but recently it has been reversed into a venue for yearly talks on peace and cooperation with its guests in the ASEAN. The city itself has grown into a major economic center for Southwestern China, with skyscrapers sprouting everywhere and construction of its first subway loop hopefully to be finished this year.

The CAEXPO is mainly a business and political summit aimed to promote “win-win cooperation” between China and her neighbors in the Southeast Asian region. Dignitaries, technocrats, and executives from ASEAN come to meet with their Chinese partners to talk about the usual issues: border disputes, trade, environment, etc.


But it also has a cultural exchange component. Participating countries send dance troupes and performers for the various cultural presentations. And since it started in 2006, I have been part of the jury for the China-ASEAN Youth Artwork and Creativity Contest held yearly in Nanning. In fact, some Filipino artists have won awards in this international contest; one of them, a Cebuano artist, was able to buy a car with his prize money.

This year, the organizing committee has added the first art exchange as part of the cultural programs. They invited an artist representing every ASEAN country to collaborate for a commemorative ink painting of national flowers. The resulting work would then be photographed, framed and presented to the foreign dignitaries in the CAEXPO as a gift.

Participating artists are Professor Zheng Junjian of China, Osman Mohammad of Brunei, Ke Vicheth of Cambodia, Teguh Ostenrik of Indonesia, Kanha Sikounnavong of Laos, Cheah Thien Soong of Malaysia, Min Wae Aung of Myanmar, Goh Being Kwan of Singapore, Lin Guangfeng of Thailand, Pham Quoc Sung of Vietnam, and me.

So I went there last weekend to represent the Philippines in this gathering of artists from China and Southeast Asia and together we painted our national flowers using inks and Chinese brushes on one huge roll of rice paper.

It was agreed during a discussion the night before that the artists need not paint in the traditional style of ink painting as some of us were not really trained in that way. At the same time, it was acknowledged that ink painting is unique to Asia and is thus something that artists in this region can own or rediscover.

Thus, in the morning of Saturday, July 27, as if to heed Mao Zedong’s call to “let a hundred flowers bloom and a thousand thoughts contend”, we began painting national flowers in our own style, side by side on one big rice paper. I painted our exotic orchid called waling-waling in a rather loose modern style next to the opaque rendition of the artist from Myanmar and an abstract expressionist painting of a flower by the Singaporean artist.

In front of the cameras of Chinese media, we collaborated on this historic painting which was completed with a line of poetry written in calligraphy by one Chinese artist. It was, indeed, the fulfillment of Mao’s famous quotation on the importance of tolerance and diversity.


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This year’s China-ASEAN Youth Artwork and Creativity Contest is open for submissions in the following categories: oil painting, photography, and water color/calligraphy/ ink painting. All artists and photographers below 50 years old may join. Photos of work should be submitted before August 15, 2013. For more details and to download entry forms, please log on to

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