Chen Jen Hao



Chen Jen Hao (b. 1908, Fuzhou, Fujian, China–d. 28 October 1976, Singapore)1 was a pioneer artist and art educator.2 Best known for his Chinese calligraphy, Chen was also one of the early art teachers at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), and helped to lay a strong foundation for art education and training in Singapore.3

Education and employment

Chen was born in 1908 in Fuzhou, China. Since young, he exhibited great potential in the area of Chinese calligraphy, and showed a keen interest in Chinese literature.Chen was a student of the First Government Middle School, and later studied at the Pootung High School in Shanghai.5

Upon completing his secondary education in 1924, Chen took up art at the Shanghai Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts.6 During the late 1920s, Shanghai was considered the art capital of China, and the academy was a prestigious institution with leading educators such as Xu Beihong, Lin Fengmian, Wu Changshuo and Huang Binhong. The Xinhua Academy also had several Paris-trained impressionists from China such as Chan Hong and Wang Yuanbo. At the academy, Chen met and became close friends with fellow art pioneer Liu Kang, who later married Chen’s sister, Jen-ping in 1937.7

Both Liu and Chen chose France to further their art education.8 Chen studied at the highly distinguished Ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-arts between 1928 and 1932.9 During this period, his works were selected for the Paris Autumn Salon and various other art exhibitions. Upon graduation, he returned to China and took up a professorship at the Shanghai Art Academy from 1933 to 1937. However, the Japanese invasion of China forced him to flee to Malaysia in 1937, where he became a teacher at Chung Hwa Secondary School in Muar, and subsequently its principal after World War II.10

In 1956, Chen moved to Singapore to take on the role of Principal of Kallang West Government Chinese Middle School, and from 1959 to 1969, he served as the Principal of Dunman Government Chinese Middle School (now called Dunman High School).11 The school crest that he and Liu designed for Dunman is still in use today.12 After he retired, the Singapore government awarded him the Public Administration Medal (Silver) as part of the 1970 National Day Awards in recognition of his service to the country.13 To honour his contributions, Dunman High School held an exhibition of 20 of his Chinese paintings at the NAFA art gallery in 1994 – 18 years after his death.14

Contributions to the art scene in Singapore
Both an artist and an art educator, besides teaching art, Chen also participated in several art exhibitions. In addition, he also served as a judge at art competitions and exhibitions, and was an honorary adviser to the Lee Kong Chian Museum of Asian Art at the Nanyang University (now National University of Singapore).15 In 1984, then Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Mr Ho Kah Leong praised the late Chen for being an outstanding calligrapher and painter.16


Chen also played a key role in promoting the local art scene through his role as a participating member of the Society of Chinese Artists (originally called the Salon Art Society). Founded in 1935 at a time when local art was at its infancy, the society helped to promote Chinese art in Singapore by holding regular exhibitions. Its founding members included artists from both Singapore and Malaysia. Chen later on went to become its president in 1970.17

Chen also taught Chinese art at NAFA, Singapore’s first art school. Established in 1938, the academy was modelled after Chinese art academies in Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and other cities in China, but with a balance of Western and Chinese art traditions in its curriculum.18 The academy taught Chinese painting as a subject, together with oil painting, drawing, pattern design, language and literature. The academy’s offerings attracted a large student enrolment, and enabled Chinese paintings to develop at the same pace as Western paintings in Singapore. As pioneer artists and educators, Chen and the others both enriched the visual arts scene in Singapore and groomed future generation of local artists.19

Chen’s involvements were not only limited to the art scene. He participated actively in both the Malaysia and Singapore educational societies by serving in the following posts:20
In Malaysia:
- President of Muar Chinese Teachers’ Union.
- Committee member of the State of Johore Chinese School Managers and Teachers’ Association.
- Committee member of the Malaya Chinese Teachers’ Union.
- Examination committee member of Standard Curriculum and Chinese Text Book of the Ministry of Education, Malaya.

In Singapore:
- Chairman of the Singapore Chinese Middle School Teacher’s Union.
- Chairman of Singapore Sports Council (Katong District).
- Examination committee member for student grant of the Singapore Polytechnic.
- Examination committee member for Standard of Art lesson of the Ministry of Education, Singapore.
- Vice-Chairman cum judge for the working committee of the National Day Art Exhibition.


Death
Chen was 68 when he died on 28 October 1976 after undergoing an appendicitis operation at the Singapore General Hospital two days earlier. Dr Lo Chiung Min, a Taiwanese surgeon under contract with the government, had mistakenly removed a piece of fat from Chen instead of his perforated appendix.21 Following a successful application for an extension of the inquiry into his death by Chen’s bereaved family, it was found that the cause of death was due to septic poisoning. The pathologist Dr Wee Keng Poh believed that septic poisoning might not have occurred if the perforated appendix had been removed in time.22 Although the coroner, Mr Khoo Oon Soo ruled that Dr Lo had indeed not taken the measures expected of him, the Attorney-General did not prosecute the Taiwanese surgeon as he had since resigned and returned to Taiwan by then.23



Author

Adlina Maulod



References
1. 陈人浩. (2006). 陈人浩书画. 新加坡: 啸涛篆刻书画会, p. vii. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 745.619951 CJH)
2. Singapore Art Museum. (1994). Pont des Arts: Nanyang artists in Paris, 1925–1970. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, p. 16. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SIN)
3. Schoon, J. (1975, October 25). Artists with similar styles and ideas. New Nation, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Kwok, K. C. (1996). Channels & confluences: a history of Singapore art. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 KWO)
4. Singapore Art Museum. (1994). Pont des Arts: Nanyang artists in Paris, 1925–1970. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, p. 16. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SIN)
5. People in S'pore make news. (1948, October 15). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. 陈人浩. (2006). 陈人浩书画. 新加坡: 啸涛篆刻书画会, p. vii. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 745.619951 CJH)
7. Ooi, K. C. (2004, June 28). Last Nanyang art pioneer dies. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
8. Singapore Art Museum. (1994). Pont des Arts: Nanyang artists in Paris, 1925–1970. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, p. 16. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SIN)
9. 陈人浩. (2006). 陈人浩书画. 新加坡: 啸涛篆刻书画会, p. vii. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 745.619951 CJH)
10. 陈人浩. (2006). 陈人浩书画. 新加坡: 啸涛篆刻书画会, p. vii. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 745.619951 CJH)
11. 陈人浩. (2006). 陈人浩书画. 新加坡: 啸涛篆刻书画会, p. vii. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 745.619951 CJH)
12. Dunman High School. (2016). School crest & song. Retrieved 2016, October 6 from Dunman High School website: http://www.dunmanhigh.moe.edu.sg/about-dhs/school-crest-song/
13. Over 200 awarded National Day honours. (1970, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Ho, S. B. (1994, December 4). Saying goodbye in a unique way. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Singapore Art Museum. (1994). Pont des Arts: Nanyang artists in Paris, 1925–1970. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, p. 16. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SIN); 陈人浩. (2006). 陈人浩书画. 新加坡: 啸涛篆刻书画会, p. vii. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 745.619951 CJH)
16. The artist who chose to teach. (1984, March 24). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. The Society of Chinese Artists. (2016). History of SOCA. Retrieved 2016, October 6 from The Society of Chinese Artists website: http://www.soca.org.sg/about/history.html
18. Singapore Art Museum. (1994). Pont des Arts: Nanyang artists in Paris, 1925–1970. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, p. 13. (Call no.: RSING 759.95957 SIN); Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. (2016). Our history. Retrieved 2016, October 6 from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts website: http://www.nafa.edu.sg/about-nafa/corporate-information/history
19. Goh, B. C. (1993, March 9). They started art here. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. 陈人浩. (2006). 陈人浩书画. 新加坡: 啸涛篆刻书画会, p. vii. (Call no.: Chinese RSING 745.619951 CJH)
21. Doctor who mistook piece of fat for appendix. (1978, May 4). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Inquiry into man’s death extended. (1978, May 13). The Straits Times, p. 6; Surgeon was criminally negligent, says coroner. (1978, May 17). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Surgeon was criminally negligent, says coroner. (1978, May 17). The Straits Times, p. 8; Teng, J. L. (1978, May 19). Family undecided whether to sue for damages. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
陈人浩. (2006). 陈人浩书画. 新加坡: 啸涛篆刻书画会.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING 745.619951 CJH)

Dunman High School. (2008). School history. Retrieved 2010, March 31 from Dunman High School website: http://dunmanhigh.moe.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/website/about-dhs/school-history/index.html

Ooi, K. C. (2004, June 28). Last Nanyang art pioneer dies. The New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

Parwati, S. (1992, July 17). Lost to a generation. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Chen, Jen Hao, 1908-1976
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Arts>>Painting
Artists--Singapore--Biography
Arts>>Decorative arts>>Calligraphy
Painting
Arts>>Visual Arts>>Painting