The Encyclopedia of East Asian Design is the first English-language encyclopedia dedicated to the study of Asian design in all its rich diversity. It provides a reference work for professionals, scholars, students, and general readers who have an interest in design and its histories and their place within the cultures of Greater China, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia. The growing interest in global approaches to the study of East Asia, as well as the enormous commercial success of its popular art and culture, demonstrates the need for a publication that combines a discussion of both historical and contemporary developments in design.
Recognition of the importance of design in growing a technologically advanced economy is also on the rise within East Asia. With almost half of the world’s goods produced there every year, the region is already widely recognized as the “world’s factory.” Yet, as shown by the designation of Seoul and Taipei as World Design Capitals in 2010 and 2016, many East Asian cities are also using their power as major metropolitan centers to promote design. The demand for design education is also expanding. These developments have contributed to design being understood in the broadest sense as the human and social capacity to plan and make ideal or desired products and systems.
Design in East Asia as it is defined here is understood in both the broad and the narrow senses of the term, taking into account its historical and modern significance. In the West, design usually means “modern design” and its history generally begins in the eighteenth century with the onset of the industrial revolution in Britain, but the term is increasingly used to refer to practices and products before this period. In East Asia, the high-quality metalwork, woodwork, ceramics, textiles, and so on, produced there for thousands of years have also been envisioned within an expanded concept of design. Many Chinese-language books on design history interpret a wide variety of crafts, ranging from prehistoric metalwork and ancient and medieval ceramics to modern design, dating from the Neolithic period to the present day in this way. The mass-production of 6,000 life-size terra-cotta warriors in the tomb of the First Emperor of Qin (d. 210 B.C.E.), for example, may be understood within craft history, but also within design history, broadly construed.
This example also illustrates that the history of East Asian design does not always conform to chronologies or categories common in the West. The sharp division between the “fine arts” and “decorative arts” or “crafts,” for instance, does not hold true in the context of East Asia. Japanese woodblock prints were mass-produced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for popular consumption and were not regarded as high arts. Yet, as a result of their influence on the development of European modernism today they are commonly labeled “fine art.” Furthermore, fine calligraphy, regarded as the highest form of artistic expression across East Asia, has no equivalent in the European tradition.
The approach to the presentation of design adopted in this encyclopedia has been guided by the conviction that it is necessary to contextualize the particularities of design and its histories in East Asia. To this end, the discussion of each geographic region is divided into three parts. The first part addresses the environmental, historical, religious, and cultural background. The second part focuses more specifically on key developments in the history of design. The third part, “Contemporary Design,” consists of entries on topics ranging from popular culture and design education, curation, and legislation to design organizations. These entries include discussion of the activities of designers in the last quarter of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century. Each entry in the three parts is followed by a list of recommended readings. To facilitate the making of connections between entries, internal cross-references are offered as “see also,” and in an index at the end of the volume. Here, as elsewhere, design is construed in the broad sense of the term to include collections of bronzes, ceramics, textiles, and calligraphy that may be classified as crafts or decorative arts.
The preparation of the Encyclopedia of East Asian Design has been challenging in many respects, but especially in light of the complex politics surrounding its internal and external boundaries. East Asia is not a monolithic entity. Although the geographic region that today encompasses Greater China, Japan, North and South Korea, and Mongolia shares many cultural roots, there is considerable national, regional, and local diversity within it. The cultural development in each country, while interrelated, is characterized by highly distinctive patterns. Indeed, even a uniform formulation of the concept and practice of design is inadequate to cover all these disparate contexts.
This variability is also true for many of the other topics examined in this publication and for the level of scholarly attention they have received. The understanding of modern design in Japan, for instance, was marked by the nation’s rapid industrialization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a development that produced conditions for its dynamic participation in the international modernist movement, conditions that were not shared evenly across East Asia. In Japan, as in other parts of East Asia, the promotion of design was closely bound up with economic modernization, cultural nationalism, and competition with Europe and America. Early awareness of the importance of design and the coining of new terms to refer to it have also meant that its study is also particularly well developed in Japan. Yet, as the entries in the Encyclopedia of East Asian Design underscore, many practices and forms of material culture in Japan predating the modern era may also be framed within the broad framework of design. Notable among these one might include the elaborate floats and other constructions made for annual festivals, the ceramics made by potters following models prepared by a designer, and calligraphy, whose design elements are a feature of its discussion in this volume.
These constituent differences are highlighted by the four geographic subdivisions of this volume: Greater China, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia. These divisions are not without their challenges of interpretation. The territorial boundaries in East Asia have been highly permeable, the subject of constant reimagination and renegotiation. Although the survey of Japanese design extends from Neolithic to the Contemporary, “Japan” as it is referred to here is defined by the boundaries of modern Japan, from the Ryūkyū islands in the south to Hokkaido in the north. Defining the boundaries of contemporary Japanese design is further complicated by the mobility of practitioners: many successfully designers, especially architects, have trained and or work transnationally.
Defining the historical and geographic parameters of Chinese, Korean, and Mongolian design is even more complex. In the Chinese context, “modern” design arguably developed in the late nineteenth century through the cultural translation of European modernity and Western cultures. European modernity, though, involved more than exposing the proud millennia-old Chinese culture to new ideas and practices. It encompassed the split of mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan; their citizens have been challenging Chinese traditions since the mid-1800s.
The modernization of technology, especially military hardware and shipbuilding techniques, was the government’s goal during the early phase of the European modernity in China (1839–1911). Its aim was to “learn from the Western barbarians to defeat them.” Chinese modernity emerged during the period between the Republic of China’s (ROC) establishment in 1911 and the formation of the Kuomintang (KMT or the Nationalist Party of China) in 1949. Prominent during this phase were New Culture Movement intellectuals who recognized the importance of expressing national Chinese identity in modern art forms so as to distinguish them from foreign manifestations.
Despite the above-mentioned separation, the four societies shared a Chinese national identity and many common traditions, and engaged in interregional interactions throughout the early modern period until about 1945. They reconnected in the communication and business spheres in the early 1980s. However, the political and geographical separation continues to complicate the study of modern design in the Sinophone context. Each society shares cultural roots, but each developed its own values and identity. In this way, the evolution of design in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macao since the Second World War means that each region should be considered as a unique case study when compared to mainland China, known since 1949 as the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The inclusion of the PRC’s five autonomous regions adds to the rich puzzle of Chinese modern design. Officially established after 1949, the five regions are Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Guangxi, Ningxia, and Tibet. Each has a prominent minority population that faces distinct challenges in integrating its region’s rich cultural heritage and traditions into modern design. The study of the term “design” in both Sinophone and regional contexts reveals issues of ideological differences in cultural translation and transnational studies within postcolonial studies, and area studies requires basic knowledge of historical and political development in these areas and the Greater China Region more broadly.
The historical and geographical situation of Mongolia is particularly complex and has implications for understanding its disparate design traditions, one of the significant contributions of this volume. In the thirteenth century, Temujin, later given the title Genghis Khan (Chingis khaan), united the various nomad groups in the Mongolian plateau. His first son Juchi conquered the whole Eurasia from south Siberia to the north shore of the Black Sea, and Juchi’s son Butu crossed the Volga to invade modern-day Hungary and Poland. Therefore, in European or Russian history this region is called the Tatar-Mongolian Yoke. Genghis Khan and his descendants established the Mongol Empire (1206–1638), which covered from Eastern Europe to the Korean peninsula. Although today’s Mongolia is a country within East Asia, the Mongol Empire was the largest contiguous land empire in history, and not limited to modern-day Asia.
Since the seventeenth century, China’s Qing dynasty (1644–1911) controlled the Mongolian lords who were Genghis’s descendants and there developed significant differences between northern and southern parts of the region that are now known as Outer and Inner Mongolia. During the colonization of Russian and Japanese modern Imperialism, the differences became definitive. Through the twentieth century, the international ideology of socialism spread from the Soviet Union with Western modernization, which suppressed some traditional cultures. After the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), democratic movements in Mongolia ended the one-party dictatorship of the Communist Party in 1990 and a new constitution was established in 1992.
Both South and North Korea are also featured in the Encyclopedia of East Asian Design. In South Korea, despite considerable political and social debate, it is fair to say that modern design starts around the liberation from the Japanese occupation in 1945. Concepts of modern design were first introduced to Korea from Japan and China through photography and printing. The design industry of Korea has expanded through the decades especially in the 1970s and 1980s. The government led the promotion of design at the start of modern design history. Thus, the Korea Design Packaging Center has aimed at revolutionizing the export structure of Korea by promoting the field of design and has engaged in a variety of activities to assist in the advancement of Korea’s design industry. Korean design became internationally recognized during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In the 1980s, the economy expanded and the country became a highly industrialized society. These developments were also accompanied by huge social changes, such as the coming of mass society, the development of Western-style commercial culture, and the advent of mass consumption. In recent years, the Korean design industry has grown dramatically in scale and impact, by focusing on exports and improving the distribution system and through mobilization of digital media, so much so that South Korean pop culture, popularly known as K-POP, has a global reach.
The geographic divisions described above, however imperfect, serve an important purpose by drawing attention to the commonalities and disparities across time and space that justify the adoption of East Asia as an interpretive framework. On the one hand, the uniform thematic categories used for the entries in each section clarify the ways in which locally specific ideas, institutions, and individuals have contributed to the particular characteristics of design in that region. On the other, the geographic divisions approach open these up to comparison.
This volume is the result of work by an international team of editors and over 130 contributors selected on the basis of their expertise in their individual areas. Together they have provided more than 240 entries, all especially written for the publication, offering readers a comprehensive view of East Asian design, both past and present. We take this opportunity to thank them for helping to create an encyclopedia that expands the understanding of the richness, complexity, and diversity of Asian design.