Republic of Characters: a Social Network Centred on the Hong Kong Type
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In 2019, a set of nineteenth-century Chinese metal matrices was discovered in the warehouse of the Museum of Ethnology (Museum Volkenkunde) in Leiden, the Netherlands. The Chinese typefaces embedded in the matrices were designed in Hong Kong, hence the name Hong Kong Type. The typefaces cast by these matrices were used to print various publications, with profound influence on the development of Sinology and Japanese studies in the Netherlands. However, they have received disproportionately little attention in their own right: their provenance has yet to be verified, and few past studies and reference books address the Hong Kong Type, let alone its significance in the past or present. This thesis examines the birth and development of Hong Kong typefaces, the reason why they were brought to The Netherlands, their typographical application in Dutch publishing, and its global network. Taking the Hong Kong typefaces and their archives in the Dutch collection as a point of departure, this thesis address an understudied research perspective in the history of the nineteenth-century Chinese metallic typefaces: the epistemological network that joined type designers worldwide. This thesis argues that during the production of Hong Kong types, typefounders around the globe shared their views on Chinese type design through intellectual exchanges such as correspondence, visits, and publications, which have significantly influenced, directly or indirectly, the design and application of Hong Kong Type. I call this social network “the Republic of Characters”. Over time, the involvement of non-European participants made this social network increasingly diverse.