Book Covers

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Books have a long history in China.  The earliest surviving books date to the Tang dynasty, and by the tenth century Chinese printing was already a flourishing trade.  Traditional Chinese book covers were usually string-bound with a plain cloth cover.  Decoration consisted primarily of a title inscription by a calligrapher.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, Western style books with glued or stapled bindings were common in China.  The change to Western book formats was an important step in the development of book design.

The great boom in Chinese publishing in the early decades of the 20th century was due in part to a general increase in literacy, but also to a growing middle class in search of leisure pursuits.  In response to the demand, publishing houses began to employ full-time designers.  Advertising and book design were no longer done primarily by classically-trained painters and illustrators.  Now, graphic artists began to explore the creative potential of book design as the field began to be recognized in its own right.  Book covers exhibited great stylistic diversity during this period of experimentation. 


What are some possible Chinese and foreign influences in the figure on the 1926 cover to the left?

Cover for Xu Jinwen's novel Hometown (1926) source

How do you see artists experimenting with the graphic potential of Chinese characters in these two covers?


What do you notice about the spatial organization of the cover on the right?

 Cover for Lu Xun, Sprout (1930)                      source

Cover for Lu Xun, Literature and Art Study Quarterly (1930)            source

Decoration on traditional Chinese book covers, if any, was usually unrelated to the story.  An important change in the twentieth century was that covers began to be thought of as an integral part of the book.  Designs were conceived to complement content.


Would you have been able to guess from this cover that the book is about depression? 

Cover for Lu Xun's translation of Symbol of  Depression (1924)                                 source

Graphic artists were inspired by European and American trends, but also by traditional Chinese design motifs.  Patterns were frequently based on those found in Chinese pottery, bronzes, and stone carvings.


Does the cover on the left remind you of any traditional Chinese forms?  




The title in red reads The Experience of Creation.  


How is the meaning of the title expressed through the cover design?  

Cover for  Lu Xun, Experience of 

Creation (1933)                         source


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