Art and Design, Vol. 3, Issue 1, Mar  2020, Pages 53-60; DOI:

The Application of Ambivalence in Font Design of Chinese Characters

, Vol. 3, Issue 1, Mar  2020, Pages 53-60.


Chen Yibing 1*

1 School of Literature, Nankai University, Tianjin, China

Received: 5 December 2019; Accepted: 10 January 2020; Published: 28 January 2020


Chinese characters are not only a practical symbol to record language, but also an aesthetic carrier to transmit ideas. Chinese characters convey emotions through character forms and meanings. Generally speaking, fonts can only convey one or similar emotions. However, after the design and creation of Chinese characters by designers, they can create a variety of completely opposite emotional experiences according to needs. This strong sense of form will bring readers into another kind of emotional experience, giving people an unforgettable visual impression. This paper makes a comparative analysis and summary between the traditional Chinese character construction principles and the structural rules of modern font design and creative methods of font design, and tries to explore the expression of ambivalence in Chinese character font design by combining the analysis of relevant excellent design cases.


Chinese Characters, Ambivalence, Font Design, Chinese Character Graphics, Text Game

1. Introduction

Chinese characters are the visual carrier of recording and inheriting Chinese cultural thoughts, reflecting and influencing the construction mode and cognitive mode of Chinese people’s thinking. In fact, the use of ambivalence is also a manifestation of China's dialectical thinking model, which is in line with the cultural outlook and values of the Chinese people. Based on the basic stroke composition of Chinese characters, combined with the characters themselves and their extended meaning, creative design is carried out by adding, omitting elements and combination of deformation, etc., in order to seek the unity of aesthetic feeling and inner meaning expression in font design of Chinese characters.

Chinese characters, is the world's most ancient one. Different from the writing of other three ancient civilizations, Chinese characters have not been forgotten but are still in use today and have blossomed their unique charm in different periods, making the ancient Chinese civilization long standing. “About the origin of Chinese characters, there are currently four kinds:‘The eight diagrams say’, ‘knot rope record says’, ‘carve qi record says’, ‘Chang Jie make characters say’ [1].”

“The ‘six books’ theory, written by Xu Shen, a calligrapher in the eastern Han dynasty, divided the formation of Chinese characters into six methods, namely, image, association, imitation, form and sound, transliteration, and finger-pointing, which laid a foundation for the development of later Chinese characters.” [2] The early evolution route of Chinese characters was:Oracle script - inscriptions - small seal script - official script - cursive script - running script - regular script. After the appearance of woodblock printing, Chinese characters continued to evolve in the direction of printing:regular script - old song - imitation - modern font.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. The Principle of Chinese Character Font Design

Chinese characters are composed of strokes, whose structure and shape are fixed. In fact, font design is to innovate and change strokes while maintaining the readability of Chinese characters. The purpose of font design is to show the meaning of font more vividly and intuitively, so that the personality of Chinese characters is more distinct. If the design for the sake of design, the text lost the meaning of itself to convey information, it would violate the principle of traditional character construction.

The shape beauty of Chinese characters refers to the structure and shape of Chinese characters, which is a process of mutual promotion and circulation. Through the beauty of form, we can feel the beauty of artistic conception and pronunciation, sublimate the feelings of words, images and meanings, and elevate the beauty of Chinese characters to a perfect state. [3]

Dots and lines are the basic elements that constitute Chinese characters. The design of fonts should be holistic. In the same character, strokes, structure and overall tonality should follow certain rules to maintain a uniform style. The structure of Chinese characters is divided into:upper and lower structure, upper middle and lower structure, left and right structure, left and middle and right structure, semi-enclosed structure, fully enclosed structure, pinch-shaped structure and single-character structure, among which, semi-enclosed structure can also be subdivided into upper third, lower third, left third, upper left, lower left and lower right structure. (i.e., Figure 1 )

Figure 1. The structure of Chinese characters.

Character weight refers to the thickness of strokes in Chinese characters. Character bosom is to point to the number of white space between strokes in the font. The word weight will affect the number of words, that is, the stroke thickness will affect the negative space (white space), and the middle is relatively fixed, because no matter how much the word weight and thickness change, the structure of the word is unchanged, this is like a person's fat and thin change, will not affect his skeleton. Therefore, each attribute of the font is relatively independent and affects each other to achieve a visual balance. For example, during her reign as emperor, Wu Ze-tian changed the characters five times to replace the prevailing characters. She created characters that had the opposite meaning but still retained the integrity of the words ( Table 1 ). Most of the examples made by Wu Ze-tian are expressive. For example, earth is made of earth, but Wu Ze-tian thought earth was a combination of mountain, water and earth, so she created a new word. She also believed that subjects should be loyal to the king and only listen to the king's orders, so she created what she thought of as the word. A country should be built in all directions, but with borders. We can see her ideal in the Chinese characters she designed. Many of the new characters have auspicious and beautiful meanings, and some try to embody the ancient ideas. [4]

Table 1. The word created by Wu Ze-tian.






The modified characters







The king



The modified characters





Every one font has specific expression, bold solemn marked, concise and easy, have a stable and balanced beauty, song style is a font produced with printing, with a strong standardization and recognition. Different occasions use different fonts, so designers in the design of fonts, the first thing to consider the style and use of different fonts.

2.2. The Psychology of Font Design

Rudolf Arnheim said:“according to the basic laws of visual perception, under certain conditions, visual perception tends to organize any stimulus pattern in a structure as simple as possible.” [5]

It is the ability of people to summarize and grasp the main features of objects instinctively and the ability to distinguish, and the Chinese character construction is the confirmation of this principle, which extracts objects in a concise and generalized form, and USES simple structure and shape to build the prototype of objects, so as to convey as much information as possible.

The appearance of font has become standardized after a long period of evolution, but with the increasing aesthetic awareness of people, the standard font can’t meet people’s aesthetic needs. Therefore, designers try to break through the definition of the inherent shape of the font and make some changes to the stroke or the overall structure of the font. For example, on the basis of the text itself, Chinese characters are re-created through stroke reduction, restructuring isomorphism and image formation. Stroke reduction refers to the reduction of some strokes or the use of some strokes of Chinese characters to form a picture, but the part can reflect the whole. To reconstruct the isomorphism means to recombine the strokes of Chinese characters to form a new visual image and strengthen the meaning of a single Chinese character. Image formation is the expression function of the image of Chinese characters themselves through visual transformation to form a new meaning.

The theoretical basis of stroke ellipsis comes from Gestalt psychology, which puts forward the concept that the whole is not equal to the sum of individuals. Stroke ellipsis relates to the principles of proximity and continuity as well as integrity and closure in Gestalt psychology. Proximity and continuity are those parts that are closer together that tend to form a whole. The tendency to completeness and closure refers to the mental automatic filling of the gaps between a chipped, incoherent figure. Font designers need to grasp the degree when simplifying the font. If they omit too much, it will affect the recognition of the text beyond the scope of Gestalt psychology. Reasonable omitted stroke is not simply for font subtraction, but to fit the design theme, through simplified stroke to increase the design interest or reveal the characteristics of a certain phenomenon. For example, the font designed by Hanyi for Alzheimers day (i.e., Figure 2 ) symbolizes the symptoms that patients keep forgetting by reducing the number of strokes, so as to raise social awareness of the disease. With the combination of boldface and song style, the designer controls the literal recognition and the structure center of gravity, and at the same time, simplifies and cuts the font strokes to form a broken feeling, which is not easy to read but recognizable.

Figure 2. Alzheimer's disease font.

2.3. Emotional Expression of Chinese Character Font Design

The definition of "emotion"in the dictionary of psychology is as follows: emotion is a special form of reflection on objective things, and it is the attitude experience generated to meet ones own needs. [6]

Chinese characters, is all sorts of abstraction from the glyph composition of points and lines, is very rational and do not have any emotional color, but as a text in terms of meaning itself is with emotional color, as long as read text, we can feel the words to express emotions, harmony, conflict, joy, sorrow, indifference and so on. [7] Therefore, in view of this kind of emotional attributes of text itself, we will be used in a variety of forms and methods to design in the font to text itself convey emotion, sometimes in order to strengthen the artistic effect can be moderately exaggerate the emotion, through strong feeling and visual perception in the form of the reader into the emotional experience, finally gives a person with unforgettable but visual impression.

The forms of artistic expression represented by Chinese characters all originate from human personal emotion. Chinese characters are one of the expressions that can accurately express personal feelings and thoughts. At the beginning, Chinese characters only played their function of keeping track of events. Gradually, they carried more ancient peoples intuitive feelings about all things in the world and peoples feelings and feelings about nature and the world.

The emotional expression of Chinese characters refers to the emotional colors that Chinese characters, as language symbols, show when conveying text information on the basis of the function of pictograph. Chinese characters have a long history of conveying emotions through character modeling, which is benefited from the traditional writing tool of Chinese characters -- the brush. [8] In the long evolution of Chinese characters, the evolution of official script, regular script, cursive script, running script and other fonts were all based on the brush as the writing tool. The writing brush is flexible and full of elasticity. It can be bent and twisted at will to show the changes of rigid and soft, straight, thick and thin, smooth and harsh lines, which imply the feelings of the creator. “Collapse written by modern Japanese calligrapher (i.e., Figure 3 ), in the field of visual communication, Chinese characters are not only the carrier of information but also a graphic symbol, which is used to express the content and emotions contained in the text.


Figure 3. Collapse.

3. The Application of Ambivalence in Font Design

In ancient Chinese, some words are composed of two single words with opposite meanings, but in the actual understanding of these sentences, the meaning of such words is only one word and the other word is only used as a foil.

In order to avoid or alleviate the stimulation and discomfort brought by negative and negative meanings, the ancients consciously used an antonym to eliminate such negative meanings. [9] According to the theory of "national traditional mode of thinking", the formation of the phenomenon of "complex words partial to meaning"in ancient Chinese is influenced by the dialectical unity, harmonious symmetry, euphemism and implicature of the whole Han nationality.

There are some posters of Chinese characters with this kind of partial compound words as the creation, but the fusion is rather stiff. (i.e., Figure 4 ) this interesting phenomenon of Chinese characters is also one of the sources of inspiration for the author's final font design.

Beijing comedy festival in play “Tough people in micro times” is a comedy with tears. Its theme is “Confusion does not block its line, difficult does not abandon its love. Drama in the poster of nan word, the wordmeans hard but the right half of the word means joy, pain and pleasure is contradictory. (i.e., Figure 5 ) Director Wang Wei explained: “Difficult is I like the state of life, difficult but adhere to, there is always hope and dawn.In such a big city as Beijing, the dream is always neither immediate nor distant, and the hard work is not worth mentioning. But there are a number of people, no matter how experienced difficulties, temptation, separation, finally, they still stick to the original. It can be seen that the director hopes to convey such a social spirit through the special composition of this Chinese character, and praise those who insist on running with tears and laughter on the way of pursuing their dreams, no matter whether they can see the dawn in the dark or not.

Figure 4. The Chinese character posters.

Figure 5. The poster of the drama.

“Xi” character is said to be invented by Wang Anshi. Folk also use four “ji” word stacked together, which means good luck and good weather. (i.e., Figure 6 )With the change of designers, the Chinese character “xi” has a new meaning. The four characters, which are similar to “xi”, are worth pondering. “Xi” and “Ku” are a set of contradictions, but such contradictions can remind the audience of the Buddhist education:“There is no suffering, no accumulating, no extinction, and no Way.” what “ku” talk about is that “birth, aging, disease, hatred, love separation, not to beg”.

Figure 6. The poster of xi.

Figure 7. Blessing and misfortune.

“Misfortune is where happiness lies. Happiness is where misfortune lies.” From chapter 58 of Lao tzu, it means that misfortune and happiness are interdependent and can be transformed into each other. Metaphors for bad things lead to good results, and good things lead to bad results. The poster USES the similar characters of fu and disaster to combine the two characters into a Chinese character, and attach color distinction. (i.e., Figure 7 ) in the poster, the meaning of fu and misfortune are completely opposite. However, the designer not only adds visual effects by combining them, but also vividly expresses the Chinese philosophy of blessing and misfortune depend on each other.

4. Conclusions

According to the interesting rules and principles of Chinese character construction, this paper applies ambivalent emotions to the font design of Chinese characters, skillfully expresses Chinese philosophical thoughts, aesthetic viewpoints and aesthetic orientation, so as to convey different emotions to the audience. Expression of emotion factors can cause the audience emotional resonance in the font design, excellent font design raises audience in philosophy from the perspective of emotional or social problems of thinking, emotional factors used in the design of the font, you can work more expression, can not only meet the demand of basic audience to watch, and can meet the emotional needs of the audience, make can form the emotional communication between authors, works, and the audience. Excellent font design should pay attention to the development of human nature and social needs on the premise of guaranteeing the basic recognition function of words and meanings, and convey the deep connotation of words with humanistic care visual language.

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this article.


This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.


© 2017 by the authors. Licensee International Technology and Science Press Limited. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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