Chen Zhi-fo and why he should be included in the next edition of Graphic Design: A New History

Chen Zhi-fo “dyeing and weaving pattern” (1925-1927)

Suffered from constant war fare, China in the first half of the 1900s were a broken land filled with pain, but it was also a time of opportunity and the introduction of new blood. China at this time was in dire need of a revolutionary change. The artists of the May Forth Movement were one of those who realized this, in the name of freedom, science, and democracy, to get rid of monarchy and religion, a lot of foreign ideas from western countries were first introduced to the students of China.

Artists who took part in the May Forth Movement were under the influence of the ideas of writer and artist Lu Xun-who introduced modern wood blocks techniques to China. This leads to a new wave of modernization in the world of graphic design in China: German Expressionists, Art Deco, and soviet constructivism art all influenced the new generation of graphic designers. And Chen Zhi-fo is one of them, he points out that Lu Xun always encouraged designers to seek inspiration in Chinese design history.(1)

Chen Zhi-fo, born in Jiang-nan-the land of water, lived with the beauty of nature since a very young age. His love towards nature inspired him to create a huge amount of art works about birds, flowers, and bugs. In 1912, Chen Zhi-fo, under the influence of a Japanese instructor, went trough a change of interest, he realized industrialization was the way to change his country, then went to Japan to further study art. Chen was the first ever foreign student Tokyo Institute of Arts took in, the event itself was a historical breakthrough, because it marks a turning point that modern arts being brought back to china via students studied abroad became possible. A new era fueled by modern design and industrialization was started.

After Chen Zhi-fo went back to China, he started his own studio, called “shangmei design studio”. Which was a attempt to break free from the western monopoly in graphic design industry. During his time working in the studio, Chen Zhi-fo designed “the eastern miscellany” magazine cover and its book design. Which was highly influential. His own book “Laws of Graphic Design” further spreads his influence on chinses graphic design industry. The book was about “art serving as a conclusion of the laws of nature, capturing life and freedom”. It served as a text book, he drew inspiration from Bauhaus then pass on its idea to the new generation chinse graphic designers. The ideas in this book is still influential till this day.(2)

Thus, the new edition of Graphic Design: A New History should include him in order to have a further look in to modern chinses graphic design. And to serve as a showcase of the influence other western art movement have on eastern graphic design industry. Chen Zhi-fo’s influence is no lesser then Qian Jun-tao’s and should be highlighted in the text book.

Image source:

Chen Zhi-fo “the eastern miscellany” #24 second edition. Jan, 1927.

Chen Zhi-fo “dyeing and weaving pattern” (1925-1927)

Works sited:

1.Scott Minick and Jiao Ping. “Chinse Graphic Design in the Twentieth Century”, Thames & Hudson, May 1, 2010.

2.Robert L. Peters. “The Dawn of Graphic Design in China”, commarts, 2004. “

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