A diesel explosion in 1993 changed Cui Xianren’s life forever. In seconds, the blast burned Cui’s face beyond recognition and crippled both his hands. Three months of care in the hospital saved his life, but he only regained use of his index fingers and right ring finger.

After being discharged, Cui chose to leave his home in the Huiqi Manchu Ethnic Town of Wangkui, Heilongjiang province and live as a beggar rather than burden his wife. Armed with only three years of elementary education, he devoted 10 hours each day to teaching himself the art of calligraphy.

Now 49 years old, Cui’s life looks set to change again thanks to his discovery by Founder Type.


The popular Chinese typeface company announced it had licensed Cui’s unique handwriting for its new “Xianren” font last week.

According to the contract, Beijing Founder Electronics will pay Cui a 50,000 yuan advance to write 1,000 characters during the first phase of development. He will also receive royalties from the font’s sale for the next 50 years after it becomes available for purchase.

“We expect the Xianren font will find a home in advertising and packaging. Cui’s calligraphy looks antique and elegant, and it’s very distinct from the designs we see from most professionals,” said Wang Haichao, director of Founder’s marketing and sales.

Wang said the font will have both a free version for personal use and a commercial version for business clients.

“Even if only one big magazine licenses the font each year it will bring Cui about 2,000 yuan,” Wang said. “The royalties he receives during the next 50 years may ensure him a steady income.”

Cui is off the streets for the first time in seven years since signing the contract. He will be working with the company to standardize the forms of his characters using professional design tools during the next three months, Qingdao TV reported on Monday.

Each character will be adjusted and digitized by Founder’s technicians to ensure a standard width and height when used by computer software. Founder Type has not announced a release date for the new font.

The 49-year-old won attention for his art when photos of his work began circulating on popular microblogs on October 9. In the photos, Cui is seen wearing an old blue shirt, a gray cap and sunglasses to cover his burned face. Unable to hold a brush, he writes in an original two-handed style that utilizes chalk on rubber.

Netizens were quick to hail “brother chalk” as a master of calligraphy. His colorful strokes, sweeping flourishes and unique style made him a celebrity.

Founder Type tracked him down using photos from the Internet.

“There are tens of thousands of beggars on the streets, but Cui touched us with his independence and persistence,” Wang said. “He has overcome disability to master a beautiful art.”

Wang said Cui repeatedly rejected the company’s offers, stating that he was not confident about his calligraphy. He finally accepted the contract after days of persuasion.

But it’s not all charity. Getting involved with Cui is a chance for Founder Type to promote its brand.

“The company deliberately selected Cui from among many hot topics. It has redirected public attention and curiosity from Cui to itself,” said Sonia Ai, an Internet marketing specialist. “It essentially cost them nothing to boost their reputation and appear as a company that understands social responsibility.”

Editor’s Note:
Cui Xianren’s font was released in 2013 under the name Fangzheng Xianren. Interested readers can find more information and a demo at the Fangzheng website.

Chu Meng

About Chu Meng

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Chu Meng is a graduate of Communication University of China. She has worked as both a reporter and editor at CRI, Beijing Today and CCTV.

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