HuangYao Web-site

circa 1930
Huang Yao was born in 1917 in Shanghai to a literati family. His father, Huang Hanzhong, was a scholar, calligrapher and painter. It was under his tutelage that the young Huang Yao received his formative education in Chinese calligraphy, painting and classical literati studies, including history, literature, etymology and philosophy. In the history of Chinese writing, it was particularly in Jiagu wen and Zhongding wen that his training was focused on, and it was from these roots that Huang Yao would later demonstrate his skills in a range of calligraphic styles, from Zhongding wen to Kai shu and Cao Shu, and his own clumsy ancient style of writing. From the holds of his family's art collection, Huang Yao also become familiar with paintings by important artists such as Mi Dian and Bada Shanren, with whose styles he was especially enamored. On the strength of his extensive knowledge of Chinese history, literature, philosophy and art, Huang Yao was appointed art editor-and-journalist of the Shanghai News Publishing firm even before he turned twenty.

It was in 1933 that Huang Yao's Niu Bi Zi cartoon character was created, and the comic strips centering on the exploits of the round-headed character first appeared in Shanghai News in 1934. This was followed by publications that culminated to 5 volumes by 1937; such was the popularity of his comic strips in China. Based on short narratives around mundane situational contexts, the strips addressed deplorable contemporary realities while extolling the goodness in human nature. By the end of the 1930s,  many others started to imitate the cartoonist's style. Meanwhile, Huang Yao's book on how to draw Niu Bi Zi was used as educational resource, especially for schools in China.

During the Sino-Japanese war, Huang Yao also produced cartoons that were anti-Japanese in content and sentiment, and these were widely used as anti-Japanese propaganda material throughout China. He had already begun to gain recognition as a talented young cartoonist when he began his travels to other parts of China between 1937 and 1945. His travels took him to provinces such as Sichuan, Hunan, Guangxi, Guizhou and Yunan.

Huang Yao first traveled to Southeast Asia after World War II in 1945. He was in Vietnam between 1945 and 1946. The series "Scenes of Vietnam" reflected Huang Yao's acute sense of observation: his attention to the details of the dress, the mannerisms and sitting positions of the local people, and even the types of musical instruments. Collectively, these reflected the local lifestyles and customs of the Vietnamese executed in Chinese ink and brush technique. The later series, "Scenes of Thailand", was done when he was a resident in Thailand between 1951 and 1956. Like "Scenes of Vietnam", these were painted in traditional ink and brush techniques, as he sought to capture the elements of local customs, dress, and scenes of daily-life.

Huang Yao moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, in 1956 after he accepted a position with the Ministry of Education. It was here that he and his family finally settled down after having traveled for many years in the region. In 1967, Huang Yao published Ma Xing Huaren Zhi (The History of the Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore), a research project that took him 10 years to complete. The publication took a historical and sociological perspective in documenting and studying the migrant Chinese in the Nanyang region. It also included studies on the indigenous people and their way of life, customs and traditions. While continuing his artistic practice, Huang Yao achieved new ground in his practice of the unique and innovative Chuyun Shu (Upside Down Writing). A style he created in 1934 in his imitation of children's writing to capture the childlike innocence inherent in human nature. This technique involves calligraphic writing upside down, a skill that brought Huang Yao a degree of fame and admiration. He was able to use Chuyun shu to write any of the Chinese script.

Huang Yao retired from being a headmaster in 1973 and moved to Penang where he lived from 1974 to 1978. During this period, Huang Yao devoted more of his time to his artistic practice and development. Among the various stylistic experimentations, his unique Wenzi Hua (Calligraphic Painting) i.e. the innovative fusion of Chinese characters and its transformation into seemingly abstract forms was particularly noteworthy. Huang Yao also devoted much effort to the research on the etymology of Chinese characters and his innovative fusion of Chinese literature, philosophy, calligraphy and art. He also did extensive research on Chinese etymological studies and experimented with the use of different forms of Chinese calligraphy such as Jiagu Wen, Zhongding Wen, and Zhuan Shu, and the transformation of Tuhua Wenzi to Wenzi Hua. Much of his work drew from cultural and literati sources e.g. Tang and Song poems and Chinese idioms. Amongst them were poems such as the renowned Zen poem by Huineng. This was apparently one of Huang Yao's favorite poems. Due to his innovative usage of Chinese characters and their transformation into an abstract visual work, this creative expressions of the Chinese literary classic remains one of his most distinctive creations that has set him apart from other artists. Huang Yao continued his experimentation with Wenzi Hua and extended it to produce his Ziyou hua later.

He returned to Kuala Lumpur in 1978 where he also produced a large number of Minsu Hua (Paintings of Folk Tales and Mythology). This included the popular mythological characters such as Shou Xing (God of Longevity) and BaXian (The Eight Immortals). At the core of his Minsu hua was the emphasis on Renzhe Zhi Shou (Longevity of Benevolent Man) and Chizi Zhi Xin (Innocence of a Child). Folk tales, legendary characters in mythology, and historical figures were principle subject matters in his minsu hua. Apart form Minsu hua, Huang Yao also produced many works on Erxi Tu (Paintings of Children at Play). Filled with the humor and charm of children, the series reflects Huang Yao's playfulness and longing for child-like innocence.
Huang Yao continued with art making even though he was not well during the last years of his life. In 1987, Huang Yao passed away in Kuala Lumpur after a battle with illness. He left an extensive collection of works that were produced over his colorful life as a scholar, educator and artist.
Singapore Art Museum Catalogue, Huang Yao Retrospective; July 2001
Learn more about Huang Yao :-
>> About Niu Bi Zi and his Art Xie Bing Ying (in Chinese)
>> Several Skill of Niu Bi Zi Huang Yao Cheng Rong Ning (in Chinese)
>> Memory of Huang Yao Chen Ji Ying (in Chinese)
>> A Family Legacy Parvathi Nayar
>> A Master's Stroke Denise Wee & Ivan Ke