Ten years ago, the government wanted to wipe out the village to turn it into an apartment complex before this nonagenarian stepped up to save his home.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on July 30, 2021. It has since been updated.
One man has managed to single-handedly save an entire village from being turned into an apartment complex through the power of art. Now known as Rainbow Village, this small place in Taichung, Taiwan, has become a landmark that has made its way onto the itinerary of travelers. But 10 years ago, it was on the verge of being wiped out before this nonagenarian stepped up to save the place that had become his home. Huang Yung-fu has painted tens of thousands of illustrations across the village and has earned the moniker Rainbow Grandpa. But the journey has been anything but easy for him.
Huang was originally born in China. He fought in the Sino-Japanese War and World War II. He also fought for the Nationalist Party over Mao Zedong’s Communist government and when the Nationalists lost he fled to Taiwan, as did two million others, reported My Modern Met. They set up what was supposed to be a temporary makeshift village for the fleeing soldiers till the time the Nationalists could take back the mainland. But that never came to be and the temporary village became a permanent settlement and went on to become their home.
Huang then fought for Taiwan during the Taiwan Straits Crises. He finally retired from the military in 1978 and earned a gold medal for "Defending Taiwan." With the savings he had gathered, he bought and moved into a bungalow in the village where he had lived happily for nearly three decades. As years went by, the residents of the village started leaving one by one or died. He was the last man standing. “Ten years ago, the government threatened to knock this village down,” Huang told BBC in 2018. “But I didn’t want to move. This is the only real home I’ve ever known in Taiwan, so I started painting.”
It started with a simple painting of a little bird in his bungalow. Then he painted some cats, followed by people, and airplanes. Then his paintings made their way outside his house onto the facade of the village’s abandoned buildings and streets. He kept at it till his whimsical art covered the entire surface of the village that was once home to 1,200 households. As fate would have it, in 2010, a student from Ling Tung University happened to stumble upon the village. He met and spoke to Huang. He listened to his story and vowed to help. The student snapped a few photos of the village and began a campaign to protest the destruction of the village.
“People were amazed at this artist’s passion and touched by students trying to help an old man,” Andrea Yi-Shan Yang, chief secretary of Taichung’s Cultural Affairs Bureau stated. “As news of ‘Grandpa Rainbow’ spread, it soon became a national issue. He had our entire society’s attention and compassion.” Even though the government bulldozers were already at work, there was a huge influx of emails from citizens urging him to preserve the settlement. And this pressure on the local government worked. In October of 2010, Taichung’s mayor ordered the remaining 11 buildings, streets, and surrounding areas to be preserved as a public park.
“People who come here sometimes compare his art to Spanish painter Joan Miró or Japanese animator and film director Hayao Miyazaki,” Lin Young Kai, a staff member at Rainbow Village who helps Huang said. “He just paints what he feels and what he remembers.” It has now become a popular tourist spot. Rainbow Grandpa should be 99 years old but visitors can find his house by looking for the illustration of a smiling soldier holding a paintbrush.