‘Art should be bright in order to awaken people’s kind side … as kindness can change people’s thoughts.’
Embracing the unique color, texture, and shape of every log of wood, a Taiwanese sculptor has created hundreds of wood carvings that all have a story to tell.
For the last 30 years, Tsai Mingfeng, 49, has been crafting outstanding wood sculptures, chiseling and hammering conscientiously to express the righteous principles of truth, compassion, and tolerance in each of his artworks.
Tsai believes that art can make a profound effect on people, and to achieve this desired purpose, it must express itself and connect to people in a righteous way. Referring to the many modern artforms prevalent today, Tsai says that art has lost the traditional touch and seems to be “infected by demonic, negative messages” instead.
“Art is by no means incomprehensible, and it doesn’t need to be explained,” Tsai told The Epoch Times. “Coming across good art is like meeting an ‘acquaintance,’ and everyone from children to the elderly will understand it and be moved or happy when they see it.”
Tsai, who has won several accolades in his arena, says it’s his faith that has guided him in each of his creations.
Faith Inspires Creativity
Tsai was headstrong and had his own opinions about everything while growing up. As he wanted to be different from those around him, he was quite a loner. At the age of 15, he left his home in Sanchong to study woodcarving in a factory in Hsinchu city where the teen attended classes at night in a local art school. However, after about a year, he dropped out of school, as he didn’t get to learn many carving techniques.
Almost two years later, Tsai met Huang Hongyan, one of the renowned local woodcarving artists, and rose to become one of his favorite students. Tsai says each piece of artwork is like a new creation, and as he doesn’t intend to create the same old things, it isn’t that easy to create unique woodcarvings every time.
Sharing his secret to inspiration, Tsai says that many of his carving skills and new ideas come from the self-cultivation discipline of Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa, which consists of five gentle exercises along with moral teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
“I thought of many new ideas while meditating,” he told The Epoch Times.
During the rainy season of 2004, Tsai, who was then in his 30s, came across an advertisement on television about mind-body health. Learning that the system was practiced by millions in more than 100 countries worldwide, he embarked on a journey to learn Falun Gong. Tsai says that, after reading the teachings, he felt that this is what he was looking for in his life.
“After cultivating my inner self and living by the moral principles of Falun Dafa, my view of things has completely changed,” he said. “I no longer feel angry and have stopped being greedy, competitive, or calculative; the good changes in me also led everyone around me to feel good.”
The most noticeable improvement in Tsai’s personality was his calm and composed demeanor; in the past, due to his irritable nature, he often found himself quarreling with others. Apart from developing a heart of compassion, he also found himself caring less about his own self-interest and becoming humble. With this, he says, he stopped chasing unrealistic goals in life.
“The heaviness I used to experience has now disappeared, and I feel an uplifting sense of calm, both mentally and physically,” he added.
Virtuous Talent Rooted in Morality
With the transformation in his temperament came the breakthrough in his woodcarving career.
In 2013, Tsai set up a factory in New Taipei city. With having his own business, he found more time to work on his art.
Tsai not only works on pieces of wood but also carves on roots. Carving on roots gave him a deeper understanding of life, he says. Roots form the foundation of plants, healthy roots help the plant grow better. Similarly, one should never forget their roots, while working hard is the inevitable part of succeeding in life.
Apart from making a breakthrough in his career, Tsai credits Falun Dafa for helping him open up his wisdom, which in turn led to him making inroads in his woodcarving skills. He believes that how artists behave in daily life affects their artwork. “In fact, when my temperament improved, the woodcarving skills improved too,” he said.
Narrating an example, Tsai said that when he outlined General Guan Yu’s posture, he stuck at the idea of how to carve his eyes embodying his righteousness and majesty. Similarly, when he worked on the piece of three pigs, he faced the challenge of carving their adorable faces. He says he got the inspiration on how to carve the sculptures while he was meditating.
‘Use Wisdom to Create Righteous Influence’
The talented artist especially excels in carving animals. He said that the Taiwanese people like woodcarvings of pigs, as they denote auspiciousness and symbolize that everything will go well.
Tsai says that, as an artist, he has a responsibility to contribute to society positively and understands that the works of art must influence people in the right way. He believes that he must not be impatient while working on his sculptures, as an artist’s unhealthy emotions can “cause the opposite effect and destroy the harmonious energy,” narrowing down the influence an art piece can have on people.
“I must use wisdom to create righteous influence,” he said.
“When people’s thoughts are more focused on gaining fame and fortune, the more warped is the expression of art. It also means that the morality in this depraved era is deteriorating further ever so fast, and the artworks are getting darker. Art should be bright in order to awaken people’s kind side. I hope my art can express kindness, as kindness can change people’s thoughts.”
True to his work ethic, in 2021, Tsai and his teacher Huang Hongyan participated in a teacher-student joint exhibition held by the Taoyuan City Cultural Department.
“I personally think that it is very meaningful for teachers and students to exhibit together,” he said. “It not only represents inheritance, but also a kind of respect for teachers by students. The greatest achievement of a person is not fame and fortune, but the ability to appreciate and cherish.”
Evil Cannot Prevail
Over the course of his career, Tsai has also produced many pieces representing various themes, such as “evil does not prevail,” “freedom,” and “longing,” which depict the persecution that Falun Gong adherents face in China.
Falun Gong was first introduced in China in 1992, and by the late ‘90s, around 70 million to 100 million Chinese people were practicing it, according to official estimates. However, in July 1999, then-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Jiang Zemin launched nationwide persecutory propaganda to suppress the spiritual practice. In the last nearly 23 years of persecution, countless Falun Gong adherents have been detained, imprisoned, tortured, and even killed for their organs.
Tsai says witnessing such a crime against humanity, his heart is pained.
“Chinese people suffer the most directly from the CCP’s persecution of faith and its abuse of human rights,” he said. “These kindhearted people who can’t defend themselves are persecuted to death, and this deeply pains my heart.”
Tsai says people should remember that evil cannot win over righteousness and that it is important to stand with goodness and justice.
The talented artist concludes that he wants to further sharpen his skills with the wisdom gained from following the principles of truth, compassion, and tolerance. “If life is a work of art, the most important element is self-cultivation,” he said. “Cultivation is like hammering wood before it can be given the final desired shape. Without cultivation, our lives would just be like a dream, never achieving our true purpose.”
Jocelyn Neo and Arshdeep Sarao contributed to this report.
Daksha Devnani writes stories about life, traditions, and people with uncompromising courage that inspire hope and goodness among humanity.