Nguyen Hai Chi (Choé) Biography

Nguyen Hai Chi (Choé)





Despite numerous restrictions on the press, political cartoons flourished in southern Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s. One of the most well-known cartoonists of this period was Nguyen Hai Chi, popularly known as Choé, whose cartoons appeared in Newsweek and the New York Times.

Born on November 11, 1943, in An Giang, Vietnam, Choe became famous for his grotesque depictions of American and south Vietnamese political leaders, and his scathing pictorial commentary on the savage war that was destroying so many lives. His first cartoon, for a weekly newspaper in 1969, showed a tiny man—representing the people of Vietnam, a neutralist third force — standing between two giant legs, one of the Communists and one of the West. Another demonstration of Choe’s talent was a simple cartoon that in many ways exposed the true nature of US–Vietnamese relations at that time. Uncle Sam was depicted as a young hippie, complete with long hair and bell-bottoms, running away and leaving behind a heavily pregnant woman surrounded by her hungry brood – a poignant symbol for South Vietnam – while still doing up his pants.

Because of his critical stance against the Saigon government and US policy in Vietnam, the Thieu government arrested the cartoonist as a ‘Communist agent’ in 1975 and then the Communist government considered him a ‘reactionary’ and kept him in a re-education camp in 1976, where he remained until 1987. After his release he became a freelance cartoonist for major newspapers in Vietnam including Labour. With the renovation of the print media in the late 1980s, cartoons and comic strips appeared regularly in many daily newspapers and magazines.

The first paintings that the painter did were about his relatives and most of his works focused on wives, children and Vietnamese women. These subjects could be seen in his photo set, “Women of My Country” which consisted of ten paintings created for the Asian Cartoon Exhibition held in Japan in 1995. These paintings were created on poonah paper with iron pen and watercolour. Choé cared deeply about the fates and hardships of Vietanmese women from the past and hoped to express their dreams, perhaps the reason why Choé depicted them in a very carefree and peaceful nuance and settings.

Nguyen Hai Chi "Choé" died in Virginia in the United States on March 12, 2003.