Chinese Type Collection:

Transformation of Chinese typography from 1900-1999

Hand-coded Website, 2018

No mobile version!

In this piece, I collected 100 pieces of Chinese types of the last century (1900-1999). I want to show how Chinese typography had transformed during the one hundred years and use it to mirror the shifts and historical upheavals that happened in China. People often forget that typography is also part of history. It loyally records every second of history. This website attempts to record the transformations of Chinese fonts in the past 100 years, anticipating the audience will then be able to understand the history behind these texts and how historical upheavals influenced Chinese type’s formation. 

Once the mouse lands on the first word, the lifeless webpage suddenly gains color and excitement. If one moves the mouse downward, he or she will see the Chinese type appear next to the English word one by one. The alluring Chinese calligraphies are glowing like neon lights, illuminating the pitch dark background. A piece of melodious old-fashioned jazz music broke the quietness, adding another dimension. The duet of saxophone and piano plays the rhythm of the ninety century. A sweet female voice chants gently in Chinese, a language that is unfamiliar to the western world. The music reminds me of old shanghai, where gorgeous fashionable ladies would sing this melody in the dance halls. At this time, the website takes us back to the era of the Republic of China. It’s a good time when rich people had the luxury to enjoy life and novel things Westernization had brought to them. It is a time period when the Chinese people are embracing the “Modern” western culture. At that time, the schools taught English, French, and theology, which are taught by foreign priests who came to preach. But it is undeniable that when the rich enjoyed life, most Chinese people were still suffering. While the rich were eating bread brought by the foreign cultures and learning novel foreign literature, the poor were still starving to death due to famine. Words appeared in this section: “freedom, spring & summer, sugar, and the nightingale” are so innocent just like China at that time: a pure untouched land. It is the time when poetry, music, and dream flourished. 

1900-1930

1931-1948

If one moves to the next section, 1931-1948, the first word comes into sight is “Invasion”. By the sound of missile howling in the sky and loud noise of massive explosions, the atmosphere took a sharp turn. It’s the Second World War when millions of Chinese people are slaughtered by the brutal Japanese army. Words like freedom and sugar that appeared in the last section are turning into luxuries. War always brings pain and suffering to the people. At that time, many people died under the Japanese army, and most of them died defenselessly. The Japanese army attacked cities after cities and slaughtered the residence inside. Many of them were children and women. In the beginning, it was not a war. It was a massacre. In my heart, I have never forgotten that time. War does not have mercy on children. Cannonballs treat everyone the same. We are all human and similar in appearance, but why can not we understand each other? The Chinese typographies come into sight lost their colors and becoming dull and gray. Words like invasion, imperialism, war, safeguard, fight, outpost occupied the whole space. The style of typography also becomes intense and depressing, echoing people’s lives of that time. Looking at those fonts, I heard people screaming and crying for life. I see Chinese people who were suffering from the invasion hardly finding a way to live under the gun fires, missiles, bombs, and in vivo experiments. It’s an unforgettable, humiliating, and mournful history that is forever carved in every Chinese’s heart.

1949-1965

Following that period is when Mao and his communist party stepped into the stage of history. In the war years, propaganda was crucial. All the typographies turn into a red color and the forms are becoming bold. Red slogans can not only boost morale but also unify the mind. At that time, many people were illiterate. As a result, the heavy traditional characters had to become the less complicate simplified characters; thus, more people will be able to recognize the characters. There are also fewer curves and strokes on the types and the characters are becoming more standard and boxy, which is often seen in propagandas during this time. Due to the high demand for reproduction, all the details in the character had to be reduced. The individuality of different font designs is erased and criticized. Then, there is only one way to design fonts. Just like typography, many literary works had also been criticized. People were not allowed to read “incorrect” literature and are only allowed to read Mao Ze Dong's quotes. When one’s mouse is moving through this section, Chinese words like Long live, the Greatest, and forever that praises Mao and his party appear. A patriotic song is playing in the background. It is a song that praises the Communist Party. It sang that the Communist Party had rescued the suffering people and led them to happiness. Listening to the young and passionate singing of the choir, I can feel their true heart. The chorus’s voice is full of vigorous strength and compassion, enchanting the greatness of communism. Young men and young women are expressing their love for Mao and the country. It is a time when revolution is the key to survival. At that time, many brave heroes appeared and saved the country and the people. Many of them were just ordinary people, but because of their love for the country, they stood up to protect it when their country is suffering from war. 

1966-1976

The following time period also has similar font styles but for a different purpose. 1966-1976 is the Cultural Revolution period of Chinese history when the revolution backfired on its people. Since the “Red August of Beijing”, massacres took place all over the country. During the Cultural Revolution, young men and women would parade and shout in the streets, wear red armbands and suits. They were called the Red Guards, who would blindly follow any command passed by the Communist Party. The Red Guards searched door to door for “Anti-communists”. However, those who were arrested were not really anti-communists but intellectuals, landowners, and people who were not workers or peasants. The Communist party waged a class struggle, trying to eliminate all the different voices. Whenever someone dared to resist, he or she will be denounced. Those who were apprehended would be tied up and taken to the streets. On their neck, the Red Guards will hang a sign describing their “crimes” and the bystanders would scold them, spit at them, humiliate them, and beat them. Those who committed “heavier crimes” would be tortured or even killed. Mao Ze Dong launched the Cultural Revolution in order to eliminate all forces that might resist the Communist Party. Those have knowledge are often less likely to follow the Communist Regime; hence, they have to be eliminated. Mao Zedong used the class struggle to stabilize his government. On the site, the characters are still red but they stand for blood. It is the darkest period of Chinese history when thousands of intellectuals are killed by the irrational mass crying for revolution. During the Cultural Revolution, 20 million of innocent people were persecuted. In this section, violent words such as red terror, crush, criticize, rebel, and overthrow appears. Those words were repeatedly used in propagandas to brain-wash people and make them the Communist party's political puppets. 

1976-1999

The last time period was when New China was founded. When Chairman Mao announced: "The Government of the People's Republic of China is established today!”, tens of millions of Chinese people gathered in Tiananmen Square, waving the national flag in their hands and singing the national anthem. Their faces were full of happiness and excitement. The establishment of the new government represents the end of the war and the beginning of the era of peace. The Chinese people who deeply suffered from war finally ushered in a peaceful life. From 1976 to 1999, it was a decade of rapid reforms and economic developments. Non-violent words like “peace”, “education”, “typography”, and “art” reappeared on the site. Many people no longer worried about survival but to live a better life. I have heard my parents that at that time, they were able to eat chocolates and they could go to the movies occasionally. Although China was still poor, many people could live normal lives without the intervention of war. This was already very satisfying. In the background, a recording of the Macao’s Return Ceremony is playing. 1999 is the year when Macau was returned by Portugal. It is also the year when I was born. One intention for creating the site is for me to understand the part of China that I am not familiar with and events that happened before I was born.