A country so involved with ancient traditions and culture, China has had to learn to adapt in the 20th century. Modern China looks at art very differently then those in the West. For Western artists and designers, styles and techniques are built upon artistic movements preceding them. Each generation passes on its findings to the next. However, when it comes to design, China is only beginning its journey. It was only in 1992 that the first Graphic Design exhibition took place in Shenzhen, China. Chinese designers cannot look to their past for reference because there is little to expand upon. Designers in China face the difficult challenge of creating a foundation that future generations can benefit from
For Graphic designers in China, being innovative and resisting western influence is imperative. In an interview with The New York Times, Liu Zhi Zhi, a graphic designer from Beijing elaborates on the distinctions between the East and West, “An important difference between China and the West is that we respond to things instinctively,” he said. “Westerners often want to understand things by rationalizing them, whereas we just feel and know. Our relationship to visual culture is intuitive and fluid.” Coming from the 798 zone of Beijing, a vast growing community of artists, Liu Zhi Zhi is an emerging designer who utilizes artistic techniques rooted in Chinese culture and then applies them in contemporary ways. As part of the new artistic generation of China, Liu is paving the way for other young designers. Only in his mid 30’s, Liu has already made a name for himself in the art world. Liu agrees it is difficult for today’s designers to be recognized in the public eye. He aims to reach people on a broader level.
Though Graphic Design is not in the forefront of mainstream China, its popularity is increasing daily. Many companies and organizations are beginning to promote the arts as well as Graphic Design. Endorsed by many Chinese government organizations, Beijing Design Week has become an assembly of new and emerging talents in China. The fact that the Chinese government encourages this event says a lot about the direction in which art is going. Years ago, Graphic Design was used for propaganda rather then fine art. Although many designers are still “underground,” events like Beijing Design Week showcase what modern China has to offer creatively. A space where designers can freely create art is paramount to modern China’s culture.
According to Javin Mo, founder of the Hong Kong based Design Company Milkxshake, Hong Kong is at a different speed then mainland China in terms of graphic design. He believes there is more freedom in for self-expression in Beijing and Shanghai. In Hong Kong, designers are limited and only have the means to produce commercial art. When Hong Kong experienced an economic recession in 1997, many designers were left with no choice but to work commercially in order assure financial stability. Today, It is on the Internet that new designers can begin to share their expressive art without restraint. As the creative director at Milkxhake, Javin Mo is set out to bring young designers to light. Javin Mo is affiliated with the new media art festival Microwave, where young artists can exhibit their non-commercial graphic design work.
Graphic Design’s presence in China is flourishing but is still very new. Both Mainland China and Hong Kong are pushing for self-expression to mass audiences. Aric Chen, a design critic and curator, mentions that because design has only recently been introduced to the Chinese culture, Chinese designers benefit from “working with a clean canvas.” Chinese graphic design has great potential for originality and complete innovation.