A visual journey of Chinese character design

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A visual journey of Chinese character design

FREE: Exhibition of the history of Mandarin from 1200 to 2023

Last updated: 11 April 2023 

Did you know that printing originated in China in the 11th century? Ever wondered how your name looks in Mandarin (a form of Chinese)? 

At The Way of Type – Modernisation of Chinese Typography, you’ll be able to learn about the evolution of Chinese characters and publishing through a visual tour of Mandarin history (plus, discover your Mandarin name). Bonus: The exhibition is free.


Attention designers, linguists, travel lovers, historians or anyone looking for something different to do for themselves and their kids. 

The Way of Type – Modernisation of Chinese Typography will be held from 19 to 23 April 2023. The exhibition coincides with UN Chinese Language Day on 20 April, which seeks to promote multilingualism and cultural diversity, and is hosted by the Chinese Language Teachers Association South Africa. 

The exhibition focuses on the evolution of Chinese characters, typography, printing and publishing, from the 11th century to the present. There’ll be photographs showcasing the progress of publishing and ancient Chinese typewriters (which sometimes had up to 2300 character keys! Compare this to English typewriters or modern computers, which only include 26 letter keys). 


Printing didn’t kick off in Germany with the invention of Gustenberg’s movable-type printing press, but rather in China 400 years earlier. Movable-type printing (a method that involves reproducing text using pre-formed letters and symbols, similar to a typewriter) was actually first invented by Bi Sheng in the Northern Song Dynasty during the 11th century. This is just a taste of the kind of history you’ll learn at the exhibition. 

There’ll also be a visual history of the Chinese characters themselves. Originally, these characters were visually similar to the word or concept they represented (kind of like Egyptian hieroglyphics). Over time, they’ve become simplified due to contact with other languages and cultures, as well as domestic issues (like the modern-day literary level crisis, which led to characters being simplified in an effort to make Mandarin easier to understand and use). 

Jumping to current times, you’ll also learn about the work done by modern scientists on the input, processing and output processes of Chinese character information so that Mandarin can be processed and used by computers.

Learn about the history of Chinese printing, from the 11th century until now. Image: The Way of Type – Modernisation of Chinese Typography


There are various ways to translate a name to Mandarin. It can be done phonetically, by breaking up the name and choosing Mandarin words that sound similar. 

The translation can also be meaning-based, i.e. the meaning of your name is used to create a Mandarin name that holds similar meaning. This method also incorporates Feng Shui principles to create a balanced name. 

When creating CapeTownMagazine founder Marcus Zandhuis’ Chinese name, a sand symbol (Zandhuis means ‘house on sand’) was paired with a water-based symbol to balance the energy of the name. 

Interested in learning your Chinese name? On's Facebook page, event organiser Teddy Ren will be translating your name into Mandarin. Follow and turn on post notifications to make sure you don’t miss it - it's happening on Thursday 13 April from 10am. 

The exhibition includes copies and images of historical documents, like above. Image: The Way of Type – Modernisation of Chinese Typography


The Way of Type – Modernisation of Chinese Typography is happening: 19 - 23 April 2023, 9am to 5pm (closes at 2pm on 23 April)
Find it: Welgemeend Function and Conference Venue | 2 Welgemeend St | Gardens (drive up Kloof Street and turn left onto Kamp St right after Ditto Ice Cream; then turn right on to Welgemeend St). Get the directions.
Book: It’s free, no booking required

By Julia Rowley 



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