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Shanghai graphic designer Jiang Qinggong has spent the past 5 years researching the history of Chinese typography and recently wrote a book about his findings.

From Sun Shuangjie at The Global Times –

There are roughly 80,000 Chinese characters in sum and about 3,500 of them are commonly used. The history of typefaces for Chinese characters can be dated back to the 7th century, when engraving typography was invented during the Sui Dynasty (581-618). According to the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone Daily, there were some 420 distinct Chinese font designs by 2011.

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If you think that sounds low for one of the world’s oldest forms of writing, you’re not alone. Jiang Qinggong who has over 10 years of experiences in graphic design, notes that it’s only about one-seventh of the number of font designs for Japanese writing, which shares many character forms with Chinese.

Jiang believes that font design plays a fundamental role in graphic design. Over the past five years, the Shanghai native has been studying the history of Chinese typography based on collected historical publications and interviews with experts in the field. He recently published a book named Shanghai Typography, which he hopes will provide more knowledge of Chinese typefaces and arouse designers’ interest in Chinese characters.

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“In the past five years or so, the font designs for Latin characters have received overwhelming attention with the success of several significant books, such as Akira Kobayashi’s Latin Typeface: The Background and Use, and Lars Müller’s Helvetica Forever. However, there are far fewer studies of Chinese characters,” said Jiang.

The new book is Jiang’s fourth in his Shanghai View series, which also consists of Shanghai Boutiques, Shanghai Shikumen, and Shanghai Outing. He started the series after closing his design studio in 2005.

History in typography

Incorporating more than 400 pictures – mostly copies of historical publications, along with some photos of handwritten, painted and Chinese characters – the book covers the development of Chinese typefaces from 1900 to 2014.

“Since the 1990s, the use of hand-written Chinese characters in graphic design has been on the wane, possibly because many Chinese designers have the mind-set that Latin words are more beautiful than Chinese characters,” said Jiang, explaining why his materials from the 1990s and thereafter are mostly photographs of life scenes.

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