Calligraphers bring rules to a battle of fonts

A struggle between the worlds of design and calligraphy in China has spilled over into its national legislature, after a minor political party called on the government to help eliminate sticky calligraphy-inspired fonts.

The proposal, submitted in late February, calls for an “authoritative art committee” to evaluate fonts to “ensure that jianghu fonts are eliminated” and protect “the aesthetic understanding of calligraphy by the masses”. It calls on the government to purge fonts from font libraries used by computers and publishers, and introduce new fonts based on real calligraphy. The motion will be considered at China’s annual “two-session” legislative meetings, which began today.

jianghu describes the type of font often seen on Chinese movie posters, resembling bold broad strokes of a broad brush, mimicking the look of traditional calligraphy. The term – literally “rivers and lakes” – evokes the swashbuckling settings of Chinese historical fiction.

The dominant Chinese typeface known as Songti or Mingti has its roots in traditional calligraphy, and many modern typefaces were created by calligraphers. Corn jianghu the fonts exaggerate the handwritten look.

Many calligraphers say they are hideous.

In 2019, calligrapher Zhang Shouchang published an anti-jianghu lined in the calligraphy journal based in Hubei province. He criticized China’s two major font companies, Founder Type and Hanyi Fonts, for fueling an epidemic of pseudo-calligraphic fonts in advertisements, movie posters and even domestic broadcasters.

Zhang worried that people would confuse the calligraphic-style fonts with the real thing. “jianghu fonts entering the font library are like a virus entering the blood,” he wrote. “It not only subverts the calligrapher’s pursuit of perfection, but also disrupts society as a whole’s understanding of the beauty of calligraphy.”

Calligraphers say fonts use cheap tricks to grab attention. Zhang’s article quoted designer Shang Wei, also known as SAVI, who designed a number of successful fonts when he was in his twenties. His fonts have been used in numerous movie posters, including the 2018 hit “Dying to Survive.” Shang died of a car accident in 2021 at age 31.

Liu Yuli, a jianghu– accepting typographer and co-founder of design studio atelierAnchor, explains that calligraphers see fonts as attention-grabbing tricks. (Liu recently wrote about the history of Chinese digital fonts for Sixth Tone.)

“The font characters of Shang all have a big n / A stroke, and the weight of each character leans down to the right. It makes the works very iconic and powerful,” Liu told Sixth Tone. the n / A the stroke sweeps down and to the right. “However, it breaks a taboo to write down all your n / As so great in traditional calligraphy; calligraphy is synonymous with flexibility and scalability.

Zhang’s article went viral and made jianghu something of a swear word in the type community. Liu says designers have started calling them “brush fonts” (maobi ziti) in place.

The party behind the anti-jianghu proposal, the China Association for the Promotion of Democracy, is one of eight legally recognized minor political parties in China, which sit in its legislature under the country’s “United Front” system. The party’s Lin Yang, former editor of the China Art Publishing House, made a similar proposal for a jianghu banned last year.

Ultimately, Liu said the standards of artistic calligraphy aren’t always suitable for commercial fonts.

“China has always attached great importance to writing and typing standards. When we are in primary school, we are asked to write a dot on a dot; we can’t make it look like a n / A. But I think such rigor is not appropriate except in newspapers and on television,” Liu said. “I hope some unconventional designs will still be acceptable.”

Publisher: David Cohen.

(Header image: Wang Yuan/CNS/VCG)

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