Xu Bing – Book From the Sky and Book From the Ground – Jiamu Cao

Xu Bing – Book From the Sky and Book From the Ground: Conflicts and Communications of Language

I believe Xu Bing and his works Your Surname Please should be put in the next edition of Graphic Design: A New History. 

Xu Bing has produced many artworks by using especially Chinese, letters and characters as elements. His work interacts with the audience in a special way. In his works A Book From the Sky and Book From the Ground, Xu expressed his understanding of the gap between different languages, and try to use the language of design making a new way of communication.

According to Leon vandermeersch’ s  The Origin and Characteristics of Chinese, Chinese letters have the features of ideogram. It can be understood that every part of the Chinese character is a simplified icon.

Xu split the strokes of Chinese characters then regroup them together, then uses the wood board to print huge works and a series of books called A Book From the Sky. In these books, Xu Bing carefully typesets and makes them look like real books-a classical old Chinese book, and all the characters in the books look like real Chinese characters, which symbolized knowledge and authority. However, once started reading, audiences would find that they can not understand any of them, even if Chinese is their mother language.


Inner Page of The Book From the Sky, 1987-1991

This series of books forced audiences (especially those who understand Chinese) to use their previous experience to interpret the meaning of the text. But in the end, nothing was found. Xu Bing used this strong contraction, clearly convey the gaps in language communication.

As a comparison, The Book From the Ground aimed to make a book that has no word but all the people can understand.


This book uses common design language in modern life, such as stickman, emoji and described a very simple story. Xu Bing believes that no matter who speaks any language, as long as he or she is in modern life, this person will understand what this book is talking about. From the introduction of Xu Bing Retrospective Exhibition, we can know he is seeking “communication without borders”. This reminds people to pay attention to the importance of graphics when designing for the world, and the gap in understanding caused by different culture backgrounds.

Maybe we don’t see his artwork such as Book From the Sky in daily life. Yet Xu Bing showed the importance of design in a new way, reminding people of the issues that should be paid attention to when designing – especially today, a world with globalization and information exchange are more frequent.


Leon vandermeersch’ s  The Origin and Characteristics of Chinese, 1998, August.

Author unknown, “Book From the Sky” “Book From the Ground” Xu Bing Retrospective Exhibitionhttp://humanities.cn/modules/news/view.article.php?31

Xu Bing, “Book From the Sky” ,1987-1991 http://xubing.com/cn/work/details/206?year=1991&type=year#206

Chou Haibo and Zhu li, “Xu Bing’s Art View and Action Logic”, Changjiang Literature and Art No. 4 2018

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