Jack Chen (1908-1995) was born in Trinidad. His father, Eugene Chen, was a Chinese solicitor and his mother was French creole. In 1911, the family moved to London soon after the Manchu Dynasty was overthrown by Sun Yat-sen who founded the Chinese Republic. Encouraged by Sun Yat-sen, Eugene returned to China to help build the new nation, leaving his family in London so his children could complete their education. In 1927, after his mother died, Jack Chen moved to Wuhan, China where he briefly worked as his father’s secretary at the Foreign Affairs Ministry and as a cartoonist for Wuhan’s People’s Tribune. After the fall of the Wuhan government, the Chen family left for Moscow where Jack started his art education at Moscow’s Polygraphic Institute in 1928. In 1937-38, Chen took his and the work of other young Chinese artists on a world tour, organizing the first exhibition of Chinese cartoons and woodcuts in Moscow, London, New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris, Amsterdam and other cities, introducing modern Chinese art for the first time to the Western world.
From 1950 on, Chen worked in China as a journalist, editor and artist, contributing regularly to People’s China, Peking Review, and Cartoon. Under Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution started in 1966, after a kangaroo court of Red Guards sentenced him to hard labor Chen worked with peasant farmers in the countryside, an experience he recounted in his book A Year In Upper Felicity: Life in a Chinese Village During the Cultural Revolution.
In 1971 he came to the United States and lectured widely about Chinese affairs, including at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and UC Berkeley. He wrote for several publications including The New York Times and Esquire. In 1972-73, Chen worked as a consultant to the New York State Department of Education, helping develop study programs on modern China. In 1973-77, he worked at Cornell University, lecturing, researching, and writing. In 1978-82, he worked at the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco and organized the exhibition Chinese of America, the research for which became the basis for his book The Chinese of America. Chen’s other books are The Chinese Theatre, Folk Arts of New China, New Earth and Inside the Cultural Revolution.
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