PhD Viva completed 2019-2020
Yun Wang: The History of Contemporary Chinese Graphic Design in the Context of Globalisation
This thesis explores the experience and role of Chinese graphic designers in developing graphic design in China as a profession and discipline through design work, publishing and education. The focus is on practice in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen as industry centres from the 1980s, after China began to implement the reform and opening up policy, to 2010. The thesis pays particular attention to the ways in which designers in China intersected with international networks, and to the specificity of each location. It analyses the impact of these intersections on practice and self-positioning, from graphic design resources from the West exclusively provided to in-house designers from state owned packaging companies in Guangzhou in the 1980s to academically-trained graphic designers’ more active involvement in international design communities in the 2000s. Chapters discuss changes in graphic design practice and education, as well as the impact of international exchange and experimental exploration on Chinese graphic designers’ practice, with a particular emphasis on book design, posters, packaging and print advertisements as the categories of graphic design most addressed in China in this period.
The thesis situates changing conditions, interests and concerns amongst graphic design practitioners, educators and students in China within broader cultural, economic and social trends and conditions. It maps how economic growth and urbanisation in China after the implementation of the reform and opening up policy in 1978 had a direct impact on graphic design practice and education in China, as did China’s decision in 2001 to abandon economic isolation in favour of deep engagement with the world market through membership in the WTO. Similarly, it links shifting emphases in the graphic design community to the introduction of policies on cultural construction reflecting the government’s desire to build institutional confidence through cultural self-confidence, throughout the period.
The research is based on extensive primary research collected through interviews and questionnaires with over 50 designers and other stakeholders, as well as through archival research into graphic work, design journals, exhibition catalogues and personal and institutional archives.
Key analytic methods include global design history (Adamson, Riello and Teasley), “practice orientation” (Kimbell) and artefact analysis; the thesis also aligns itself with other recent scholarship on post-1978 China in international networks. An emphasis on objects as constituting practices allows the thesis to articulate and analyse the complicated relationship between the graphic design object and its social environment, technology, local tradition and international networks.
Ultimately, the thesis aims to offer a self-reflective critical history of the impact of internal change and international networking on graphic design practice and communities in China since 1980. As such, it also offers a model of critical research within the context of Chinese design history.
Link to thesis >