MemberMarch 6, 2022 at 7:37 pm
Dheera’s answer is a good overview of generally used typographic families, and I want to expand on it briefly in the “anatomical” mode that is often used to analyze typography of the Roman alphabet.
As with any writing system I can think of, the basic component of a Chinese character (cf. letterform) is a stroke, of which there are several basic classes:
- Horizontal (横)
- Vertical (竖)
- Diagonal, positive slope (撇 or 提)
- Diagonal, negative slope (捺)
- Dot (点), as a special case of the previous two classes
Each of these classes has members that are (variously) short, medium, full length, weakly angled, strongly angled, curved, straight, or other differences in form and orientation. Usually, the direction of a stroke is fixed: top to bottom and left to right, except for positive slope diagonals and dots which can be either and have different names in each case. A stroke has a beginning (起笔 is the term used in calligraphy, though I don’t know if it carries over to the general typographic lexicon), body (运笔), and end (收笔). The shape of a stroke’s terminators, for example, might be uniformly square or rounded, or it might be flared or otherwise ornamented, corresponding to the idea of serifs. The names used for strokes can correspond to the form of the stroke (like “点” or “stem” for example) or to the motion of the hand in making the stroke or by extension the stroke’s “motion” (“ascender” or “提”).
Strokes are combined to form the remainder of what we see in characters: with a corner joining them (折) for example, or a vertical stroke can bend into a diagonal stroke (弯 or 斜), and a dot can be added onto most strokes to form a hook (钩).
We can, not unlike innumerable books containing commentary on samples from famous calligraphers, analyze the families Dheera lists by talking about how their strokes look, and how those strokes are used in various situations. Song faces are characterized by thin, level horizontal strokes with a small terminal upward bump or serif, and similarly thin and straight vertical strokes with a small initial serif to the right or sometimes to both sides. There is minimal variation in stroke thickness anywhere but at the endings, in fact none at all on non diagonal strokes.
In contrast, Kai faces are calligraphic, with traditional stroke thickness variation throughout stroke bodies (diagonal strokes are thick initially and decay to nothing, horizontal short strokes start thin and become thick, horizontal long strokes are thick terminally and thin medially, etc.), and horizontal strokes which tilt up as you move to the right. The degree of tilt decreases for strokes lower in the character.
Fangsong falls between these two faces, while most Hei faces are like Song but with no serif-like ornamentation whatsoever, and expanded, regularized spacings which widen the space in the character as much as possible. As in the Roman alphabet, we see a rich and varied spectrum, which in someways follows the same “humanist” to “mechanist” evolution. The number of non traditional, often whimsical, typefaces is huge, and while their application to body type is limited just as in the Roman alphabet, the amount of creativity possible for display type is inspiring. There is also much to study about the typographic variations between Chinese and Japanese kanji or Korean hanja, for example.
Though not a formal student of the discipline, I am fascinated to see how the implementation of Chinese typography in various medias evolves in the near future.