Huang Yao studied under his father Huang Hanzhong, a calligrapher, who taught him the finer points of Chinese calligraphy and literature. In 1933 he became the art editor-and-journalist of the Shanghai News. At the same time, Huang Yao developed his cartoon character 'Niu Bi Zi', which was published in the Shanghai News and became quite popular in the 1930s. During the Sino-Japanese war, Huang Yao drew anti-Japanese cartoons that were used as anti-Japanese propaganda material throughout China. In 1937 he started travelling through China and later Vietnam, and he recorded his experiences in his paintings. In 1956, Huang Yao moved to Kuala Lumpur, where he became a teacher. He retired in 1973.