A Beautiful Narrative of Chinese Characters
The Story ofmodern Chinese Typography
The Story of Modern Chinese Typography
The unique beauty of Chinese writing has evolved elegantly over thousands of years, and exponentially over the last century.
One of the oldest scripts still in use globally, written Chinese has a history of over 4,000 years. Chinese characters are the sole writing system in the world to combine images, pronunciation and meaning, which gives the script a special charm. It is an important system of symbols preserving the soul of Chinese civilization and the roots of Chinese wisdom.
In the late Qing Dynasty (16441911), the spread of information recorded with Chinese characters changed from woodblock printing to movable type printing. This caused the design of Chinese characters to change greatly. The
unique beauty of Chinese characters radiates from visual features unrelated to phonograms. The charm attracts many calligraphers, character designers and graphic designers, who have created endless typefaces and designs which serve as effective tools for spreading knowledge and visual information in Chinese society.
Over the past five years, Zhou Bo, the author of The Story of Modernchinesetypography, collected loads of primary material and information and interviewed many eminent designers and collectors in Beijing and Shanghai. As a “history in pictures,” the book delicately displays the unique visual effect of Chinese characters in modern times. It also showcases designers’ affection for Chinese characters across the last century.
The book is divided into three parts. In the introduction, the author expresses views on some basic issues concerning the modern design of Chinese characters. The second and third parts introduce their evolution across two periods: one is from the late Qing Dynasty through the Republic of China (1912-1949) and the other is after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Zhou Bo wrote in the Preface, “Compared with the rapid development of media for printing and digital technology, the history, culture, and aesthetics of character design definitely provide more sustained value. This is the fundamental faith that drove me to collect the gigantic volume of material necessary for the book and write it all down.”
Li Gongming, a professor with the Department of History of Fine Arts at Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, remarked that this book presents an overall picture of the development of modern Chinese characters design, with extraordinarily rich pictures and concise narrative. It is the fruitful result of ongoing historical research of the design of Chinese characters. However, the influence of this book goes far beyond character design. It has major academic value for the research of modern Chinese culture since the late Qing Dynasty. Zhao Jian, a professor of the Academy of Art & Design under Tsinghua University and director of the academy’s Department of Visual Communication, hopes that the book not only benefits academic research, but also bolsters public ability to understand and appreciate the modern design of Chinese characters.
Author Zhou is an associate professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. His research focuses on art, design and visual culture. He authored Moderndesignand Ethicalthinking (2014) and translated Typographie (2017). He won the Fine Arts Award of China for Theory Criticism in 2014 and Beijing’s award for excellent research on philosophy and social science in 2017.
Pages of the book. The book was written by Italian commissioner Alphonso Vagoroni and published in China in 1633. courtesy of Gao Yizhi
The Story of Modern Chinese Typography, a book penned by Zhou Bo and published by Peking University Press in September 2018.
1917: New Year calendar from Asiatic Petroleum Company, which was a joint venture between the Shell and Royal Dutch oil companies founded in 1903. It dominated the Chinese market back in the first half of the 19th century. courtesy of Zhao Chen
The cover of a book named Long Live Peace by Ren Weiyin, published in 1958. courtesy of the library of Central Academy of Fine Arts
Example of modern design of characters on a horizontal board in 1934 from Colored Artistic Calligraphy by Song Songsheng. courtesy of Song Songsheng