Doctor of Design (DDes)


Doctor of Design, College of Art + Design

Document Type



A unique visual language of contemporary Chinese graphic design emerged out of the shadows of Chairman Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in the latter part of the twentieth century. In the following four decades a graphic design movement has emerged that combines the long history of Chinese artistic traditions with the relatively recent introduction of international design styles and global commercial graphic conventions. Contemporary graphic design is conceptualized in this thesis as a specific aesthetic style associated with modern commerce, and therefore must be considered in the context of contemporary China.

The area of Chinese graphic design, its contemporary characteristics and historical antecedents, is relatively unknown in the Western world. Given that China has a profoundly rich set of artistic traditions and a socio-political framework that has underpinned its transition to modernity it is an interesting and important case study to understand in the context of graphic design development globally.

This research is a historical case study approach focusing on three time periods in which the major influences on contemporary Chinese graphic design derive: the pre-modern, the modern Republican and Mao eras, and the contemporary period. Despite the practice of graphic design being somewhat limited as a modern activity in China, it did materialize in response to market and internationalization during China’s Republican and Mao eras. The period from 1978 to the present can be defined as the period of a contemporary global design movement. The research reviews literature to formulate a template of contemporary Chinese graphic design within a specified period of history and geographic area, and tests this through in-depth investigation of six graphic designers—Yu Bingnan 餘秉楠 (1933-2020), Kan Tai-keung 靳埭强 (b. 1942), Lü Jingren 呂敬人 (b. 1947), Wang Xu 王序 (b. 1955), Henry Steiner 石漢瑞 (b. 1934), and Wang Min 王敏 (b. 1956)—to investigate what constitutes contemporary Chinese graphic design.

This thesis argues that there is an identifiable unique Chinese graphic style which is rooted in the collective symbols and motifs of ancient China. Furthermore that, while being transformed by contemporary forces, this aesthetic is predominantly ancient and archetypal in nature, such that merging graphical elements—symbols and motifs—can be found between contemporary and ancient art forms, in particular through the calligraphic style of the written language, with overlayed acquired graphical styles and contemporary influences. These contemporary Chinese graphic designers are borrowing random symbols and motifs to create China as a commercial brand.



Committee Chair

Desmond, Michael



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