Chang!

Dossier ~ Monday 5th October 2009
Tintin in Tibet (1960) - Page 19]

Tintin shouting out his name in the middle of a busy restaurant, signals Chang's return to Hergé's universe. Yet what do we know about the real Chang?

See you at the Hergé Museum !

Chang  -  Hergé: Two Artists' Journeys, is the title of an inspiring exhibition which will be on display at the Hergé Museum, from 21 October 2009 until February 2010. We were also thinking about calling it, Chang  -  Hergé: a Journey of Friendship, which would have been an emotive, if slightly sentimental title considering that the scope of the exhibition incorporates so much, as it traces the entwined destinies of two artists, for whom life and art were intimately linked. Hergé always referred to the major influence Chang had been for him, not only while working on The Blue Lotus, but also on the direction of all his work on Tintin, and his other creations. Over the years, the fame of his comic strip alter ego somewhat obscured the fact that Chang Chong-chen was a remarkable artist, but the exhibition opening in a couple of weeks is a wonderful opportunity to reveal some of his astounding work. You are all welcome to Louvain-la-Neuve, for a visit to the world of refined aesthetics and friendship !

1907, at opposite ends of the world

Hergé was only too willing to acknowledge that, " I owe Chang a better understanding of friendship, a regard for poetry, respect for nature... He was an exceptional person [...] he led me to discover and appreciate Chinese poetry and Chinese calligraphy: " wind and bone ", the wind of inspiration and the bone of confident draughtsmanship. This was a revelation to me." Those who are not familiar with the world of Tintin will be surprised to discover that Chang really existed. After all, many simply know him as a comic strip character ! Chang Chong-chen and Georges Remi (Hergé) were both born in 1907. One was born on 15 September in Xujiahui, a suburb of Shanghai; the other in Etterbeek, a Brussels district, on 22 May.One of the lesser-known facts about Chang Chong-chen is that his name means " filled with humanity ". Chang was the son of a wood sculptor and an embroideress, and was born into a quiet family.

Hergé and Tchang - Sunday on Rue Knapen - Schaerbeek 1935
Tchang in his studio - Late 1940
Cover Illustration for Le Petit VIngtième - 1935
Chang Chong-jen - Shanghai Old Town - 1938 Watercolor
he led me to discover and appreciate Chinese poetry and Chinese calligraphy: " wind and bone ", the wind of inspiration and the bone of confident draughtsmanship. This was a revelation to me." Those who are not familiar with the world of Tintin will be surprised to discover that Chang really existed. After all, many simply know him as a comic strip character ! Chang Chong-chen and Georges Remi (Hergé) were both born in 1907. One was born on 15 September in Xujiahui, a suburb of Shanghai; the other in Etterbeek, a Brussels district, on 22 May.One of the lesser-known facts about Chang Chong-chen is that his name means " filled with humanity ". Chang was the son of a wood sculptor and an embroideress, and was born into a quiet family.

Hergé and Tchang - Sunday on Rue Knapen - Schaerbeek 1935
Tchang in his studio - Late 1940
Cover Illustration for Le Petit VIngtième - 1935
Chang Chong-jen - Shanghai Old Town - 1938 Watercolor

Chang before Hergé and Tintin

Throughout his life, Chang would be buffeted about by history. The twentieth century would see dramatic and profound upheavals in China, beginning in 1911 when the dwindling power of the Chinese Empire finally gave way to the Republic of China. From the middle of the nineteenth century, western countries such as England, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, had been developing colonial designs on China. This was the cause of a lot of tension and strife. Despite the instability of the wider situation, it was in the shadow of these events that Chang started to do his first drawings. He copied illustrations from a popular fourteenth-century novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. A self-taught artist, partly because he loved art and partly out of necessity, who learned how to draw by studying series of little pictures that came with cigarette packets. The young Chang also discovered how to make figurines out of clay.

Meanwhile, back in Brussels...

We are not going to go back over Hergé's biography, which you can find elsewhere on this site. Suffice to say that he was a scout and student at Saint-Boniface school (Ixelles, south Brussels), and that Georges Remi always showed an interest in drawing, even from a very young age. His first creation of real substance was a comic strip entitled The Adventures of Totor, Chief Scout of the May Bugs, which appeared in a scouting magazine, from July 1926. The author was not yet 19 years old ! A little earlier in his life, during the Easter of 1922, Georges Remi had met Father Edward Neut, who was later to organise the association of Chinese students in Belgium. This meeting would have consequences a few years later...

From 1927 to 1931

In 1927, having completed his studies (during which he mastered French), Chang Chong-chen was about to be swept away by the tide of history. This didn't stop him from doing a brief stint as a designer in Hehe cinemas, before doing some work for contemporary art magazine Tuhua Shipao. He also gave art lessons to children from wealthy families. It was through this work that he met Mrs Tan, a lady who would become his sponsor, and who would encourage him to seek funding to follow his artistic studies in Europe. On 18 September 1931, Chang set sail from Shanghai, destination Marseille and Belgium. He wouldn't have know it at the time, but Belgian children were already enjoying the newly created newspaper supplement called Le Petit Vingtième, launched on 1 November 1928.

A brilliant fine arts student

By coincidence, the day when Chang's boat left Shanghai, Japanese spies sabotaged the railway line linking Mukden to T'ien Tsin. This was the pretext for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. At the same time, Hergé (Georges Remi had decisively chosen his pseudonym) had created Tintin (first published on 10 January 1929) who had already been to the Soviet Union, The Congo and America, and who was soon to embark on a journey to the East in an adventure which, when published as a book, would bear the title Cigars of the Pharaoh. From 1931 to 1934 Chang proved himself to be a brilliant student at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels. He learned how to perfect his innate skills, and also mastered the art of sculpture. He became the secretary and spokesman for the association of Chinese students in Belgium, where he met Father Neut. Without Chang knowing it, this meeting would establish the link with Hergé. Read next week's journal to pick up the story from here !

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