Interviewee introduction: Lili Han is an environmental artist, sculptor, and illustrator. She is also a university art teacher, a firm animal protectionist, and environmental activist, committed to a sustainable and zero-cruelty lifestyle and artistic creation. Ten years ago, she became a vegetarian and started insisting on living a zero-waste life. Her cartoon character, Alatoy, also celebrated her 10th birthday this year.
Q: What was your original intention when you first created a cartoon image of Ala Rabbit? What was the attitude of life that you wanted to convey through it?
The cartoon image that I originally created was actually very simple. It is a small girl similar to myself. Later, I felt that the image is more alike to an ordinary person. Some of my friends and students suddenly told me I looked like a rabbit. Thus, I decided to turn this image into a rabbit. I named it “Alatoy” because “Ala” means “we” in the Shanghai dialect.
When I turned the image of a small girl into this rabbit, it wasn’t solely a self-expression anymore, for Ala can represent anyone. One of Ala’s most laudable qualities is goodness. At first, she feels confused about life. But after ten years, she has grown up alongside many others.
For example, initially, she realized there were a lot of disappointments in life. Many animals were hurt, and she felt very sad and powerless. Through exploration and discovery, she recognized that she could make a difference and share that with people, encouraging all to become better versions of themselves. She can convey her vision to her readers through some dialogues.
I am currently sorting out a diary to celebrate Ala’s 10th anniversary. I was just editing a picture of World Environment Day on June 5, 2010. Ala witnessed a lot of people wearing masks complain about the smog. However, complaining doesn’t solve the problem, so I dressed the bunny in a mask, or even a gas mask, to tell everyone what we can do to change the status quo and protect the environment.
For example, we can use less plastic bags, buy disposable bottled drinks, eat less meat, use handkerchiefs, and bring our own dining utensils. These are what we as individuals can do in life. There are many things in life that we ignore but can change. Ala is actually an ordinary person like everyone else. Changing the world is not necessarily a big or very difficult thing. Everyone can make a change.
Many people told me that since I have been drawing Ala for so many years, I should turn it into a very famous IP and obtain a patent so I can earn a lot of profit. In fact, this may not be my goal. I do not intend to make it commercialized. I wish every piece of art I make to be meaningful. over the past ten years, when bringing Ala to the frontlines of animal and environmental protection, I didn’t want to promote the rabbit herself. Instead, I hope people can resonate with and be inspired by Alatoy’s actions.
About vegetarianism and the vegetarian maps
Q: When and why did you become a vegetarian?
A: I’ve been vegetarian for about ten years now. The idea of vegetarianism suddenly germinated in my mind because of a single incident.
I used to be a foodie who couldn’t live without meat. Braised beef and sweet and sour pork ribs have also been my specialties in cooking. At that time, I was saddened by the white mice we were about to dissect in my biology class. When my beloved duckling passed away, I also cried for many days, but I never hesitated about eating the meat in my bowl.
During a random dinner, when the friend sitting opposite me spit out a piece of bone from his mouth, I was deeply struck by such a scene. I was shocked, thinking, why is it that while some lives are still talking to you, other lives have been turned into dishes, being eaten as meat.
I suddenly realized that eating meat is a matter of choice. We can choose, but we still let tragedies happen. When he placed the small white bone on the table and stacked it on top of the pile of small bones, I decided to not let such a tragedy happen again.
From then on, I stopped eating meat. In fact, I didn’t understand the concept of vegetarianism at first, because the Internet was not as convenient as it is nowadays. I talked with several friends who were vegetarian at the same time. About ten years ago, we didn’t even know the term “vegetarian.” I have never thought about it so much. I just started from the perspective of caring for animals. I just couldn’t stand the concept of sacrificing the lives of other animals for the enjoyment of eating meat.
(🐘sidenote: After learning of the tragic fates of farm animals, especially cows, hens, and chickens, Teacher Lili became a vegan. In her words, “I can’t hesitate and can’t turn back.” She waved goodbye to all animal products — meat, eggs, milk, and honey, as well as leather products, hair products, down products, etc.)
In short, I feel that vegetarianism is not forcing myself. Today, to be a vegetarian 100% may be too much of a pressure. Many people have given up. Many people have asked me how I can persist for so long, but I feel that I should not use the word “persist” because the process is actually enjoyable. Because every time you choose to eat vegetarian, you can reduce your damage to the earth. This experience is very beautiful. So if people can change their mindset and begin thinking that they can eat without sacrificing animals and help the environment, many people would be willing to eat vegetarian. Some may worry that they are not consuming enough calories and nutrients. However, you can find many vegetarians who are active on social media, including athletes, mothers, and little babies.
I think eating vegetarian is full of surprises. For example, many people will say that I don’t look my actual age (haha). In fact, our family generally lacks good health. My father died when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. His brothers’ and sisters’ physical statuses are also not very robust, and many have already passed away. When I was a child, I had a weak physique as well, and the doctor gave me some inauspicious forewarning.
At that time, I did not choose to invest all my energy and time in my body. Instead, I wished to use the rest of my time to wholeheartedly serve other lives. However, after being a vegetarian, things seem to have changed, and I have become much healthier than before. Originally, I became vegetarian not for the health of my body, so I felt very lucky to be rewarded with good health.
A lot of people asked me to teach them how to eat vegetarian to help them improve their health, but I think this depends on the physical condition of the individual. Because I am not an expert in this area, I am unable to bestow nutritional advice. A plethora of scientific data and diet methods are readily available, so if you are interested, check those out.
Q: Can you introduce your vegetarian maps?
A: After becoming a vegetarian, I discovered a lot of vegetarian restaurants in addition to temples. I think it’s great. Then, I can bring my friends to dine at these vegetarian restaurants. My friends would come ask me whenever they want to find a vegetarian restaurant, so I thought of creating a vegetarian map.
This hand-drawn map lacks the convenience of some mobile apps, so I have once thought about changing the platform. But quite a few people told me that this hand-drawn map has helped them. They also found it more meaningful, because they can feel the author sharing her feelings of great joy. Thus, they like to collect this hand-painted map. Some of her friends even became vegetarians because of this map. This was what excited me a lot.
The hand-painted maps are updated at a very slow rate. The vegetarian maps in Shanghai have not been updated for a long time since last year, and the changes that had occurred are huge. Thanks to everyone’s kindness and encouragement, I have continued updating the map.
I recognized drawing these restaurants as the only way for me to support them, which motivated me to use my artistic skills to draw them. I would always paint these restaurants with seriousness. I would not only update the information found on the Internet, but also visit each restaurant to discover the unique subtleties of each. Many readers told me that they can feel the enthusiasm I poured into the map, and I felt very touched.
Shanghai is where I grew up in from a young age, so I drew its vegetarian map with a pencil. It felt very intimate, fresh, and lively. I based the vegetarian map of Lhasa on Tibetan style, using digital painting to simulate the effects of pencil pastels, but the colors will be stronger, and the lines will also be different.
I have divided Hong Kong up into different blocks, for there are indeed many vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong. Placing all of these restaurants into one map is not easy to achieve. I am now updating the vegetarian map of Chengdu and will release some new maps this year.
I hope that more people will know the existence of so many lovely restaurants around them. Maybe by looking at the map, you’ll find a vegetarian restaurant right by where you live. If you try it, maybe you will like it. By being exposed to vegetarian culture, you might start caring more about protecting the environment and animals, as well as slowly changing your eating habits. This is what I am doing in my other works: to achieve heart-to-heart exchange with you as a friend without forcefully preaching to you.