Born in 1913 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province in China, Man Fong was brought to Singapore at the age of three by his father who was a trader. He received his education at St. Andrew's School where he was taught art by the Lingnan master, Mei Yutian, from whom he learned to sketch directly from life. He began to paint in oil from the age of sixteen under the tutelage of Huang Qingquan.
The artist's first oil painting, The Shuanglin Temple (K.C. Low and Ho Kung-Shang, The Oil Painting of Lee Man Fong, Art Book co. Ltd., Taiwan, 1984, p.17.) was executed in 1929 when Man Fong was only sixteen. The painting allowed the artist to demonstrate his matured handling of the composition and perspective. More importantly, he revealed an artistic tendency that would last a lifetime: an assimilation of Eastern and Western techniques.
Xu Bei Hong, the renowned Chinese painter who is considered as one of the pioneering artists of Chinese oil painting is much admired by Lee Man Fong. Adept in both traditional Chinese ink work as well as with oil, the versatility of Xu Bei Hong is a quality shared by Lee Man Fong too. Man Fong has acknowledged the influence of Xu on his works, particularly on his painting of horses. Xu's horses are depicted in multiple forms and types and engaging in different activities, be it the pensive white horse by the river or the galloping, spirited one, the artist depicts his subject with a calligraphic precision and simplicity which is emulated by Lee Man Fong.