We know Tintin's faithful companion is Snowy, a white fox-terrier who follows his master Tintin throughout his 24 adventures. Another important friend to Tintin is Chang, who is honoured in this focus article. Both a fictional character and a real person, Chang became fast friends with Tintin and with his creator, Hergé.
In 1932 Hergé began the story of “Tintin in the East” by showing readers of Le Petit Vingtième a map of Asia. Little did he know then of the new friendship that awaited him, and he also had no detailed idea of what Tintin would be doing.
Meeting that ignited a friendship
Chang, a young Chinese student, arrived in Brussels, Belgium, in October 1931. He had enrolled on courses in sculpture and painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels; he already excelled in these disciplines. In 1934 Chang met Hergé. Chang was born in the same year as Hergé, he spoke French and he also came from a Catholic background. The young Chinese student had a rich knowledge of his ancestral culture, and he would teach an attentive Hergé about Chinese culture.
A considerate chaplain
The meeting between Hergé and Chang Chong-chen came about thanks to Abbé Gosset, who worked as a Chaplain for Chinese students in Belgium. Abbé Gosset warned the young protégé of Abbé Wallez (the director of the newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle) to take care over how he depicted the Chinese in his upcoming Tintin adventure.
Hergé also made contact with Father Edouard Neut and Father Dom Lou from Saint-André Abbey in Bruges, and received books – Ma mère and Tableau de la vie quotidienne en Chine from Father Neut; Aux origines du conflit mandchou, Chine-Japon, Paix de Versailles from Father Lou – and advice in return.
The Blue Lotus, comic strip treasure
The Blue Lotus first appeared as a book in 1936, in a black and white version published by Casterman. This adventure bears witness to current affairs of the time and shows the qualitative evolution of Hergé’s style. The Chinese ideograms were drawn meticulously by Chang, some of the inscriptions only discernable to experts in Chinese. The Blue Lotus has an exciting story line where mystery dominates the spellbinding depiction of Asia in the thirties. With his story Hergé stoked the desire for travel among young European readers.
Geography and suspense à la carte
When Tintin arrives in Shanghai he is unaware that he is already being watched by a stranger, even before setting foot on Chinese soil! Ignoring barriers and prejudices, the hero lets his heart speak by saving Chang from drowning. The two new friends then follow the “right way" – the way of the heart. They face traffickers and other unscrupulous people who want to get rid of them. Despite many obstacles and by showing courage and perseverance, Tintin and Chang triumph in the end!
Tintin and Snowy discover China – both real and imaginary
In real life a lot of water flowed from the mountains, crossing the plains and the countryside to reach the sea, before Chang Chong-chen and Georges Remi, aka Hergé, would be reunited again. In the meantime, in 1960 another adventure bringing together the two fictional characters was first published in the pages of Tintin magazine: Tintin in Tibet. It is easy to understand why this book was Hergé's favourite.
1981 – a long-awaited reunion
When Chang left Europe in 1935, little did he realise how long he would have to wait before seeing his friend Hergé again. It was sad for the two young friends to say goodbye. A little less than fifty years later, the two men were finally reunited! On March 18, 1981, Chang went to Brussels to be reunited with the creator of The Blue Lotus, his trip organised and promoted by the Belgian journalist Gérard Valet.
An extraordinary landscape
Several years after the death of Hergé, his second wife Fanny paid tribute to him in the most beautiful way by creating the Hergé Museum. Built among hundred-year-old oaks, in the heart of a wood, the first stone was laid in 2007. This amazing achievement by architect Christian de Portzamparc opened its doors to visitors from around the world in 2009. The same year, a temporary exhibition was dedicated to Hergé’s friend, the artist Chang Chong-chen. Since then, every time a Chinese visitor enters the Hergé Museum, it is as if China comes to greet the two artists...