Sincere friends of true communists of China - Eugene Chen family

Jack Chen: artist, journalist and friend of the communists

Jack Chen (陈依范), Eugene’s second son, was born in 1908 from Eugene’s first wife Agatha Alphosin Ganteaume, daughter of a Frenchman and an African servant, which is the reason behind the dark complexion of Jack and his son I-wan.

Jack was an artist. He left London for Shanghai where he joined his father after his mother’s death in 1927. In Shanghai, the 19-year-old started his early drawings of revolutionary cartoons. In the same year, at his father’s arrangement, he and his brother Percy Chen, together with American leftist journalist Anna Louise Strong accompanied Soviet advisor Mikhail Borodin back to the Soviet Union.

Jack Chen examining his trusted Leica camera, 1920s. Photo: Courtesy of I-Wan Chen

In Moscow, Jack studied journalism and art at the Moscow Polygraphic Institute and worked for the Tass News Agency, The Moscow News and The Moscow Daily News from 1930 till 1934.

In 1938, during the Anti-Japanese war, Jack returned to China as a British reporter. During this time, he drew more anti-Japanese cartoons which were published by many western newspapers and magazines.

The New York Journal and American (January 18, 1938) said this of him, "... Jack Chen is known to both Chinese and Japanese as 'Bitter Brush', because he has visually portrayed the fiery anti-Japanese sentiments his father portrayed in words ..."

An anti-Japanese cartoon by Jack Chen in 1937 depicting a peasant squatting beside his dead child, looking into a future in which there is no other choice but to take up his gun and fight Japan. Life Magazine commented, "The will to fight is symbolized by Jack Chen... The emotion, pathos and dignity of the figures suggest the best cartoons of Daniel R. Fitzpatrick of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.” Photo: Courtesy of Chen I-wan

In 1938, Jack organized an exhibition of paintings from both Chinese and western artists and took this exhibition to Russia, Europe and the US. It was the first cross-cultural communication of its kind between the Chinese artists and their western counterparts and was widely reported by the western media.

When the exhibition went to Yan’an (延安), Jack interviewed Mao Zedong (毛泽东) and other leaders of the Communist Party as a reporter for Asia Magazine and Raynold’s News. After the interview, he expressed his wish to stay in China and fight for the war but was convinced that he could play a greater role for the cause as a journalist reporting the war to the west.

In summer of 1938, during his first visit to Yan’an communist base camp, Jack is drawing in front of his room in Yan’an's grand guesthouse. Photo:

Back to London, Jack continued to report on China’s anti-Japanese war and was an active member of the Aid China Campaign, about which Joseph Needham, a famous British historian and sinologist, said, "... it really did much towards making China that great ally in the Second World War ".

In the early 1940s, Jack joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and worked for the Worker’s Daily in the UK. During that time, he met and married a fellow party member, Betty Aaronson, a Jewish English journalist, who gave birth to I-wan.

In 1946, Jack went back to China as a reporter for the Worker’s Daily. He interviewed Chiang Kai Shek (蒋介石) in Nanjing, who didn’t know that Jack was the son of his nemesis Eugene Chen until after the interview. Jack also brought with him a letter from the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain Harry Pollitt to Chairman Mao.

In his second meeting with Mao, he was asked to help establish the New China News Agency London Office (now known as the Xinhua News Agency 新华社), which became the agency’s first branch in Europe. To help fund the opening of the office, Jack mortgaged his own house and during the most difficult times, I-wan’s education insurance. He worked as both the chief editor and manager, but asked for only a minimal wage.

In 1950, Jack took I-wan back to China, as was agreed between him and the Communist Party leaders upon his repeated request. Their return wasn't easy. In Hong Kong, they were followed by the Kuomingtang spies. With the help of his brother Percy Chen, they successfully got rid of their tails.

While in Beijing, Jack was invited by Premier Zhou Enlai (周恩来) to work as a senior advisor in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which Jack declined, believing that he is more suited to do what he was trained to do, writing and drawing. From the 1950s till 1966, he worked tirelessly as an editor, mostly doing language polishing work without any complaints. His only request was to have one day set aside every week for him to draw.

In 1971, Jack was invited to the United States and Canada as a guest speaker in over 20 universities, with the theme of “strengthening the understanding and friendship between the Chinese and American peoples”. He was consulted by Nixon's team before the President's historic China visit in 1972. Later he served as an advisor to the Far East Research Center at Cornell University and San Francisco's Chinese Culture Center.

Jack Chen (陈依范) Photo: Zhang Yan

While in the United States, he wrote a book titled “The Chinese of America” (《美国华人发展史》) which was published by Harper and Row. He also worked for the Song Qingling Foundation of America (美国宋庆龄基金会). Jack died in 1995. His remains are kept at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in Beijing.

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