A Beau­ti­ful Nar­ra­tive of Chi­nese Char­ac­ters

The Story of­mod­ern Chi­nese Ty­pog­ra­phy

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Zhao Miao

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

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