In 1962, Cao Yong was born into hardship in China. During the Cultural Revolution, his family was singled out for harsh treatment by the authorities because of their previously distinguished background. While other young children his age started kindergarten, little Cao Yong began working; at age five, he found himself ferrying heavy baskets of gravel at a construction site. One day a rock pit caved in, nearly crushing the tiny boy to death under the rubble. Luckily, he survived.
It was through drawing that Cao Yong found peace and consolation in those difficult years. At age eleven, he began studying with a noted artist from Beijing. In order to buy art supplies, he often pawned his clothes and skipped meals. Yet it wasn’t just poverty that Cao Yong had to contend against; discrimination from his community dogged the young artist daily.
But Cao Yong continued to paint with remarkable persistence. At age sixteen, he took the highly competitive National Entrance Exam of Art Universities, scoring the highest marks in five provinces. Still, all the universities rejected him because of his family background. A year later, he took the exam again and was finally admitted to Henan University. Always an outcast in the ideology-dominated environment, Cao Yong had to face constant persecution even as a university student; nonetheless, he excelled in his art classes and received his BFA in 1983.
After graduation, Cao Yong became the youngest art professor at Tibet University. During his seven years in Tibet, he immersed himself in the spare beauty and distinctive culture of the isolated highlands. To study the prehistoric cave paintings of Tibet, Cao Yong–accompanied only by a horse, a dog, and a gun for hunting–lived alone in deserted mountain caves for nearly a year.
Cao Yong’s now-legendary experience in Tibet resulted in a remarkable series of paintings, which was exhibited at his first one-man show in Beijing in early 1989. The exhibit was an instant success, and the event was covered by major international news agencies from Asia, Europe, and North America. However, this celebrated art show alarmed the Chinese authorities. Beijing police confiscated and burned seven of Cao Yong’s paintings, and then arrested him. But Cao Yong managed to escape. With his fiancée Aya Goda, a Japanese art student, he set off on a perilous eight-month journey as a fugitive. Finally, with the help of the Japanese Embassy, the couple escaped to Japan.
This journey was described by Aya Goda in her book Escape. Published in Japan in 1995 by Bungeishunjuu Publishing, Escape was awarded the Grand Prize for Non-Fiction from Kodansha Book Publishers, Japan’s most prestigious book award.
Cao Yong began his life in Japan by working as a gravedigger and taking small painting commissions. But soon his talents attracted much larger commissions, in the form of several enormous murals. Within a few years, Cao Yong was recognized as the nation’s most honored muralist; his murals adorned stylish commercial buildings, high-class department stores, and even ceremonial sites throughout Japan. Meanwhile, Cao Yong continued to work passionately on his Tibet paintings, creating a body of his finest work then to date. Exhibited in Tokyo’s prominent museums and art galleries, Cao Yong’s art electrified the nation’s art world, and he was extolled by the Japanese press as “an artistic genius of our time.”
In 1994, searching for tougher challenges and a bigger stage, Cao Yong immigrated to the United States. Inspired by the free-spirited American people and the diverse and energetic society, the artist began what was soon to become his most prolific outpouring of work, vividly reflecting his newest experiences and emotions. Collectors zealously welcomed, and continue to welcome, Cao Yong’s new art. In 1999, he established his art publishing company Cao Yong Editions, Inc. In a little over two years, Cao Yong has become one of the most collected living artists in America. Nearly two hundred galleries nationwide have joined Cao Yong’s dealership, and his distribution network is now expanding into the Japanese, Canadian, and European markets.
Although audiences around the world respond with standing ovations to Cao Yong’s remarkable work, the artist remains raptly focused upon perfecting his art. To Cao Yong, there is no greater reward than being able to share with others his innermost feelings through his work.