Tan Giok Nio who was also known as Chen Yu Niang was born in Indonesia in 1947. She started playing badminton at the age of 10 years old. When she was 13 years old, she became champion of the Junior Team Badminton Championship in Solo. In the same year, she became the Women’s Singles champion of Central Java.
In 1961, Chen and her brother, Chen Shengxing, left Indonesia for Hubei, China. Her brother, Shengxing, was a national table tennis champion in Indonesia. He was sent to Beijing to join the national team while Chen Yuniang stayed in Hubei.
Chen had a hard time adjusting to China during her first years. She had not learnt Mandarin as a child nor experienced cold winters prior to leaving Indonesia but this did not stop her from continuing her badminton training.
Her coaches in China often praised her work ethic and long training hours. Chen could often be found training long before and after the actual practice. She trained so long and hard that coaches had to curtail her training.
Chen’s first international success was at the 1963 GANEFO Games hosted in her native Indonesia. At the event, she won a gold medal with Liang Xiaonu in Women’s Doubles and bronzed in Women’s Singles.
On the national scene, Chen won about a dozen national titles from 1964-1978. In 1965, Chen competed in the Second National Games of China. More than 5000 athletes from across the nation congregated in Beijing to compete at the multisport event. Chen doubled crowned with laurels in Women’s Singles and Women’s Doubles with Lin Jianying.
Due to China’s lack of affiliation with the International Badminton Federation, the Chinese team did not compete on the international circuit. Instead, the Chinese started measuring their athletes in friendly matches against various European and Asian powerhouses.
In May 1966, the Chinese dominated the Danish with a 4 to 0 score in front of 5000 fans in Beijing. Chen was sent out to play against the 1963 Dutch Open champion, Bente Flindt. In that friendly match, Chen bageled Flindt 11-0, 11-0.
During the Cultural Revolution, China closed its borders. These friendly matches were to be resumed many years later. In 1971, Chen joined the Communist Party of China. She was reported to have said, “I was brought up and trained by the party and people. Any honour for me rightfully should go to the party and Chairman Mao.”
At the 1972 Chinese National Championships, Chen once again won Women’s Singles as well as Women’s Doubles with Liang Qiuxia. It was also the same year that she was promoted to the newly founded national team after training in the Hubei provincial team since her arrival in China.
In January 1973, Chen was part of a tour to Denmark for a friendly match. The Chinese visitors defeated the Copenhagen-based team 10 matches to nothing. Chen made short work of the future world champion, Lene Køppen, 11-4, 11-2 in the Women’s Singles. In the Women’s Doubles, Chen teamed up with Chin Yufang to defeat Bente Flindt Sørensen, the same player who Chen bageled in 1966 and Imre Reitveld Nielsen 15-5, 15-5.
Later that year, China sent Chen and her teammates to England for a friendly match with its players. Gillian Gilks’ biographer, David Hunn, wrote, “the lady who proved so devastating in Britain was Miss Chen Yu-niang, then the national singles and doubles champion. She too, apparently, was Indonesian by birth, where she was Tan Giok Nio…” The Chinese reciprocated the British team’s hospitality by hosting a friendly match in China the following year.
When the IBF granted permission to the Chinese team to compete in the 1974 Asian Games, Chen was ready to represent her country. On her way to the Women’s Singles final, she swept aside Bak Yon-ok from North Korea, Commonwealth Games bronze medalist Sylvia Ng from Malaysia, and Oh Youn-an from South Korea. Of her 3 opponents, only Ng managed to score more than 5 points in a game. In the final, Chen met compatriot, Liang Qiuxia, and won 11-8, 11-7. To show the relative strength of the Chinese, the All England title holder, Hiroe Yuki of Japan, finished in third place at the 1974 Asian Games.
Chen also competed in Mixed Doubles with Tang Xianhu at the Asian Games. In the semi-final round, the Chinese pair lost 12-15, 9-15 to Christian Hadinata and Regina Masli from Indonesia. In the bronze medal match, they reversed the score to their favour 15-12, 15-9 against Pornchai Sakuntaniyom and Thongkam Kingmanee from Thailand.
Chen and her teammates – Liang Qiuxia, Liu Xiaozheng, Lin Youya, Qiu Yufang, Zheng Huiming – set out to win their first international team title but encountered very strong opposition by Indonesia. Chen won the first match of the tie with the score of 12-9, 11-1 against Theresia Widiastuty. Chen’s compatriot, Liu Hsiao-Cheng, won the second singles to secure a 2-0 lead over Indonesia. Chen and her partner, Wang Chui-Hsia, were sent out to secure the last point but they were unable to seal the deal. The Indonesians won the next 2 matches in doubles to even out the tie score 2-2. Liang Qiuxia won the third and deciding third singles to deliver the overall 3-2 win to China.
After her feats at the Asian Games, Chen was done with international competition. At the height of her career, Chen was described by Nancy Koh of the New Nation, “her lithe frame belies her speed and power. Has wide repertoire of strokes and a piercing smash.” Chen later said, “I kept a clean record. But after the Asian Games, I was not so fit and gave up playing in competitions. Instead, I decided to coach our budding players.”
After retiring from active play, Chen became a coach to the Chinese national team. She was part of the coaching team who trained badminton stars such as Tang Jiuhong and Huang Hua until 1994.
However, Chen came back the following year in September to participate at the 1975 Third National Games of China. Chen had to settle for double silver in the Women’s Singles and Doubles after losing to Liang in both events.
In 1975, Chen married Zhang Guangming, a childhood friend from Indonesia, when she was 28 years old. The couple spent several years enjoying each other’s company until the arrival of a son Zhang, who had also become a coach in 1972, later resigned to take care of their child as Chen was very busy with her responsibilities.
Aside from working with the national team, Chen also served as vice chairman of the China Badminton Association (CBA). “It involved a lot of work. Not only did I have to take charge of the national team and tournaments, I also had to promote badminton in the 20 provinces,” said Chen when asked about her responsibilities. In a 1980 New Nation article, journalist Shirley Tan wrote, “Chen Yuniang is a housewife, China’s national women’s badminton coach, vice-president of the All-China Sports Federation badminton tournament all rolled into one.”
With the support of her husband, Chen also served as the deputy to the National People's Congress for 3 consecutive terms. In her spare time, Chen plays tennis and participates in the Beijing Senior Tennis team. She was also a champion at the Beijing Seniors Open one year.
In 1986, Chen was awarded the IBF Distinguished Service Award. Almost 2 decades later, Chen was inducted into the IBF Hall of Fame in 2002.
Since 2000, Chen and her husband, Zhang, have been living in Hong Kong and keen on photography. Chen prefers to eat out because her favourite dishes are Peking duck and roasted piglet.
1986 – IBF Distinguished Service Award
2002 – IBF Hall of Fame
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
Berita Harian (March 28, 1976)
Berita Harian (March 29, 1976)
Gillian Gilks – A Life of Badminton (David Hunn)
The New Nation (August 7, 1972)
The New Nation (May 31, 1974)
The New Nation (February 24, 1980)
The Straits Times (January 21, 1973)
-- By Yves Lacroix