Qing Zhao, founder and creative director of Nanjing Han Qing Tang Design Co. Ltd, is a well-known graphic designer in China. His work, Marks of China Poster Series, was awarded a coveted Best Design trophy in the 2015 edition of Taiwan’s Golden Pin Design Award, and in 2016, About Trees also took home Best Design in the same award. In Zhao’s opinion, earning recognition in a heavyweight award like the Golden Pin is an honor as well as a responsibility–the responsibility of living your whole life as a Chinese designer.
“Working hard to create good work is the responsibility of every designer. I call it the responsibility of practitioners,” he reveals. “Designers create designs around what they have learned, experienced, and felt for different subjects, and these works should be of a quality that they can stand behind with a clear conscience.” At the same time, he continues, because designers represent contemporary culture through their works, they must also assume a responsibility as communicators. For example, About Trees, depicts the idea of trees thriving for thousands of years on Chinese land, and another work, Sweet Cottage, illustrates Chinese tea drinking practices. “To some extent,” he says, “expression of Chinese culture and aesthetic through designs is even more important than the design itself.”
When asked why his work is always full of so-called Chinese flair, Zhao began reminiscing of his years as a design student, saying that there have been three distinct stages to his career. The first stage, what he calls “the entry stage,” began in the years of information scarcity in China. “From the classroom to the library, learning opened a window to the world for Chinese college students and paved the road for me to enter into the study of design theory and practice,” he says.
The second stage was “learning through doing,” he continues. During this period, Zhao learned his craft through the imitation and exploration of mostly Western designs. “I researched and analyzed their works and, after some experimentation and refinement, fused what I discovered into my own designs,” he explains. The third stage of his career extends into today, and can be summed up in one word: return. For Zhao, this stage represents a return to his origins, a study of his Chinese-ness.
“After a period of exploration, I, in a more mature state, began to form a design context that uniquely speaks to my style and unique understanding of design,” he explains. “I feel very comfortable in the current stage because such a mature feeling enables me to express my roots, my homeland, and myself in the most natural way. I grew up in a town south of the Yangtze River. I came to know and experience the essence of oriental culture first hand. As the old adage says, ‘Essence is revealed in the roots.’ Therefore, achieving unique work with huaren expressions is as simple as instilling my life experiences into my designs. I think this is what the concept ‘Chinese design’ means.”
As the principal manager of Nanjing Han Qing Tang Design, Zhao manages to balance creation and running a business with ease. To Zhao, learning to master your work life should be considered as important a skill as learning to manage your interpersonal relationships. According to the ancient Chinese text, the Book of Rites, a man of virtue stays cautious in his conduct even when alone. As such, Zhao expects his company, Han Qing Tang, to be unique in two ways: original in style and distinctive in design. “As the founder of Han Qing Tang, I laid down the direction of the company’s development and style right at the beginning, and it’s this personal pursuit that drives me to find a style that’s unique, with a path of its own,” Zhao explains.
“After the nation (China) opened its doors to the world, the young generations in China have grown up with the influence of Western culture. They easily accept contemporary Western designs. The older generation, on the other hand, grew up in a more traditional culture, and their aesthetic understanding is influenced by the old artists,” notes Zhao. However, although today’s Chinese youth tend to follow trends from the West or Japan, Zhao still believes that, due to differences in cultural roots, the Chinese market will eventually begin to demand Chinese designs.
To achieve this, Chinese designers need to consider two aspects. Firstly, they need to remind themselves of their roots, and this is where all of their pursuits in design should start from. Secondly, consumers also need to be reminded of their cultural roots. Local designers have thousands of years of Chinese culture to tap into for inspiration, Zhao encourages, and if you just dig deep enough, the essence of the culture will emerge.
About Qing Zhao
Qing Zhao founded Han Qing Tang Design Co. Ltd in 2000, and took up the reigns as the director of design. He is also a Member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI); Art Editor at Phoenix Science Press, Jiangsu; and Advisor for Graduate Studies at Nanjing Institute of the Arts. For over a decade, Zhao has dedicated his life to the research and promotion of Chinese graphic design, and has served as a judge for major graphic design competitions in China, including GDC13, Platinum Graphic Design Competition, Kan Tai-Keung Design Award, and Conqueror Design Contest.
He has also won accolades for his own design work from local international competitions, including the ADC Annual Awards, The One Show, D&D Student Awards, Red Dot Design Award, iF Design Award, Golden Bee–Moscow International Biennale of Graphic Design, Tokyo Type Directors Club Annual Award, Graphic Design in China, HKDA Global Design Awards, and Asia’s most influential design awards, the DFA Awards and the Golden Pin Design Award.