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Cao Yong

Cao Yong was born in a small town in China where he began cultivating his painting skills at the young age of 11. Coming from a somewhat distinguished background, Yong and his family endured years of harsh treatment and virtual banishment under the Maoist regime's infamous Cultural Revolution, which forced "privileged" citizens to relinquish their comfortable surroundings to live as peasants in the harsh Chinese countryside. Yet young Yong persevered against all odds, being filled with an unstoppable desire to paint.

He began his studies with a noted Beijing artist, and at age 16 won the extremely competitive National Entrance Exam of Art Universities, earning the highest marks in five provinces. The institutes all rejected him because of his background, but a year later Henan University relented and ultimately allowed him to graduate as a top student in 1983, despite his branding as an outcast by the Establishment.

Yong soon became the youngest (assistant) Art professor at the University of Tibet, and spent seven years there, surrounded by the rugged beauty and fascinating culture of this isolated highlands province. During one year, Yong lived in isolation among primitive caves in an especially mountainous region, replicating the remnants of ancient Tibetan wall paintings, with only a dog, a horse and a gun for company.

Cao Yong's extraordinary existence in Tibet allowed him to establish a sincere understanding of the correlation between the natural and the human, as well as between the secular and spiritual. It is this understanding that gave birth to his breathtaking imagery, and in 1989, he took the art world by storm with an incredible one-man show in Beijing. With international coverage of the event across Asia, Europe and North America, the Chinese government reacted vehemently, arresting Yong and burning seven of his masterpieces. He made a daring escape with his Japanese fiancee Aya Goda by his side, and they fled to her country with the aid of the Japanese Embassy. (Goda later published an account of this journey titled "Escape" in 1995, which won the Grand Prize for Non-Fiction - one of Japan's most prestigious literary awards.)

Gaining national recognition as "an artistic genius of our time", Yong became a celebrated muralist in Japan, all the while continuing to develop his incredible Tibet paintings. By 1994, he was ready to explore new frontiers, and immigrated to the United States, where he embarked upon the most prolific period of his career.

With hundreds of galleries soon joining forces with Yong, he has become one of the most collected living artists in America, and he continues to expand into Japanese, Canadian and European markets. When he exhibits and meets with live audiences, Yong usually gets a standing ovation. But the always humble artist sums up his incredible life and work thusly: "With sense, emotions and spirit...everything that exists in this world inspires me to paint because the biggest [reward] I ever received is the connection with others my art has created."