Chinese disabled artist supports Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games through comics
Be your better self
Published: Mar 14, 2022 07:46 PM
Ding Jiao Photo: Courtesy of Ding Jiao

Ding Jiao Photo: Courtesy of Ding Jiao

At midnight on March 2, Chinese artist Ding Jiao received a letter from International Paralympic Committee (IPC) inviting her to create a series of comics about the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. 

Before the invitation, Ding, a 31-year-old woman who has difficulty walking after overcoming paraplegia through therapy paraplegia from East China's Shandong Province, had drawn a total of 97 comics about the Chinese para-athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Summer Games. The works were warmly welcomed online, earning more than 300 million views.

"I noticed that topics about the Tokyo Olympic Games trend a lot on Chinese social media, but people seldom pay attention to the Paralympics, which made me decide to draw something for us," Ding told the Global Times.

'Medical miracle'

Ding lost her legs when she was 2 years old due to a tumor of her spine. 

"At the time, doctors said I only had a 30 percent chance of survival if I did not undergo surgery. But even if the surgery was successful, I was at a high risk of paraplegia."

Through these difficult times, Ding's parents supported her by giving her the hope and love she needed. After years of arduous physical therapy, she created a "medical miracle" by walking independently at about 7 years old.

"I only knew my real situation, including the doctors' diagnosis after I could walk independently."

After finishing high school, Ding went to an academy to major in comics.

"I have enjoyed drawing since I was a little kid as it gives me a release from life's pressure and allows me to record my life," she said.

After graduation, Ding worked as an illustrator in an anime group based in Shandong Province.

Trying to keep pace 

Ding said she was very excited and honored after receiving the letter from the IPC. But actually, she had already decided to draw comics about the Paralympic Winter Games held in her motherland before the invitation arrived. 

"The employee from IPC later told me that many of her colleagues from different countries who have seen my comics think they are positive and warm," she said. 

Paralympic mascot Shuey Rhon Rhon drew by Ding Jiao Photo: Courtesy of Ding Jiao

Paralympic mascot Shuey Rhon Rhon drawn by Ding Jiao Photo: Courtesy of Ding Jiao

Currently, Ding has drawn a group of memes about Paralympic mascot Shuey Rhon Rhon, and more than 10 cartoon portraits of the Chinese champions at the Games.

"Chinese para-athletes have been winning gold medals so fast that I can barely keep pace with drawing them. But I am trying my best," Ding said with a sense of pride.

She recalled she experienced something similar during the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Summer Games as Chinese para-athletes won five gold medals on the first day. In order to keep pace, Ding stayed up for days drawing comics, which led to her straining her wrist.

"I remembered that I had to wear a cast to continue creating, but I was very happy about my creations."

Ding explained that the comic style she used for Beijing 2022 is different from what she used for Tokyo 2020.

"For Tokyo 2020, I mainly painted busts of para-athletes, focusing on their expressions during the game. While during Beijing 2022 Winter Games, most athletes have needed to wear masks to protect their faces, so I decided to draw their entire body to create a poster of what impressed me the most during their competition," she said. 

Before drawing, Ding watches videos of each athlete's competition and searches for related photos online that depict some of their important moments, especially some difficult actions such as jumping or sliding.

"I just overcame the difficulty of walking, and now can walk independently and ride an electric bike to work. But they need to conquer much more difficulties than me as they need to train harder to qualify for the Games." 

The new style for the Winter Games takes far more time to complete a work, going from two to three hours during Toyko 2020 to five to six hours for Beijing 2022.

A comic drew by Ding Jiao Photo: Courtesy of Ding Jiao

A comic drawn by Ding Jiao Photo: Courtesy of Ding Jiao

Ding said it is natural for her to feel tired after drawing too much, but messages left by her fans and readers always make her feel very energetic. Many athletes or their family members have left messages supporting Ding. Besides drawing the comics about the Paralympics, Ding also takes on commercial projects and free creations. She has opened a Twitter account and plans to post some of her works for readers overseas.

She also opened a studio to provide free drawing classes to disabled people. "I am a lucky person who grew up with love. I want to tell those like me: No matter what you have suffered in your life, you should paddle your own canoe and be your better self."