Chen Sophia H. received Chinese education at home. In 1914 she was sent to the U.S.A. by the Tsing Hua Educational Mission. Mrs. Chen obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Vassar College in 1910 and Master of Arts degree in the University of Chicago in 1920. She was elected to the honorary fraternity of Phi Beta Kappa while in Vassar College.
On a visit to Cornell University in 1916, she met Hu Shih, who was studying philosophy, and her future husband Ren Hongjun (H. C. Zen), who was studying chemistry. The trip to Cornell was a turning point for her. When the group of friends was drenched in a sudden downpour while rowing on Lake Cayuga, Ren composed a long poem in classical Chinese which Hu criticized for using "dead phrases of three thousand years ago" for such an everyday event. Chen Sophia H. and Hu took part in a "great pen war" over the use of classical Chinese. Ch'en's short story "One Day," based on college life at Vassar, was published in Chinese Students' Quarterly, and is known as the first short story in the new literary vernacular language, baihua.
Hu a leader in the heated debates about establishing the new Chinese literature, wrote in the forward to her 1928 "Raindrops" collection: "In July and August of 1916, I had the most heated discussions about literature with Mei Renzhu [Mei Guangdi]. She would not participate in this pen and ink warfare. But she sympathized with my ideas and gave me encouragement. She was my earliest comrade. When we were discussing the new literature, Sophia was already writing in vernacular Chinese。 “One Day” was the earliest work during those preliminary discussions about the literature revolution. "Raindrops" was also the earliest creative work during the "New Youth (Xin Qingnian)" period. After 1917, Sophia authored many vernacular poems. We should think about the conditions of that time regarding the new literature, think about when Lu Xun published his "A Madman's Diary", think about how few writers were using vernacular. We then can understand the proper place in the history of our new literature movement for these short stories by Sophia."
Returning to China in 1920, Chen Sophia H. taught western history at Peking University. After she married Ren Hongjun in 1920, she worked for a time at Commercial Press. During this time, she published essays in key New Culture journals, and the first textbook of western history. In 1932, Mrs. Chen was one of eight founders, along with Hu, of the magazine of literary and political commentary, Duli Pinglun (Independent Critic), which published articles of a western liberal orientation.
Mrs. Chen was a member of the Chinese Delegation to the Institute of Pacific Relations in Honolulu in 1927, Kyoto - 1929, Shanghai - 1931, and Banff - 1933. She held the following honorable positions: adviser to the Palace Museum, member of the Board of Trustees of the Association for the Advancement of Education, member of the Board of Directors of Yi Fang Girls' School, Changsha, Hunan, member of the Board of Directors of the Peking Institute of Fine Arts and finally chairman of the Chicago University Alumni Club, Peking.
When her husband was made president of Sichuan University in 1935, she taught there briefly. But her critical essays in Duli Pinglun on Sichuan made her unwelcome, and she returned to Peking, only to flee at the onset of the war in 1937 to Shanghai, then Hong Kong, Kunming, and eventually Chongqing, the wartime capital. Chen Sophia H. grew disillusioned with the Nationalist government, and she and her husband remained in Shanghai after the Communist victory in 1949. Her husband died in 1961, and she, after much abuse during the Cultural Revolution, died in Shanghai 1976.
"Chinese Women and Other Essays"
(a collection of short essays on cultural subjects in English)
(a collection of short stories in Chinese)
"History of Western Countries"
(a work in two volumes in Chinese)
(Sophia H. Chen - editor, as well as one of the writers.)1932
Mrs. Chen married Zen H. C. on September 27, 1920. She and her husband had three children, a son and two daughters.