The biggest oil painting producers in China (Putian, Xiamen)

In Putian, Fujian province, it's difficult for an outsider to detect clues of its connection to Western culture from its appearance as a gradually urbanized small city.

But a decorative painting hanging in a popular restaurant in New York may have been produced in a house in Putian.

The city is one of the biggest producers of commercial oil paintings, or decorative paintings, in China, together with Xiamen in the same province, and Shenzhen, in Guangdong province.

About 70 percent of the commercial oil paintings in the United States and Europe came from China in 2005, according to industry estimates.

Norwegian art dealer Kjell Pettersen comes to China twice a year, and goes home every time with 150 to 200 oil paintings he has bought in Xiamen oil painting village, an area where commercial paintings are made and traded in Xiamen. During his last visit in June, he spent 2,700 yuan ($423.9) at a gallery in the village.

"You can find good decorations, and also very good paintings inside," he said, pointing to stacks of completed canvasses in the gallery.

There are a lot of people who paint in Europe, "but in my country, if you are an art student, you get a salary from the government, so you don't have to sell, and that's why the prices are so high," he said. The canvas alone for a 65 yuan painting in Dafen would cost 300 krone ($51) in Norway, he added.

"Business is business," he said. "You have to know about prices when you are a dealer."

Foreign dealers like him have shored up China's commercial painting exports over the past 20 years. It is similar to any other manufacturing sector in China, with its low costs and sufficient labor pool.