In the Latin alphabet, a font designer need only design a few dozen letters. When she is done, she washes her hands of responsibility, passing it on to a user who will cobble together sequences of consonants and vowels to form as many words as are needed for a given body of text.
But to design a Chinese font is to reenvision the entire language.
Every character must be individually conceived. A protruding line here, an absent dot there, can entirely alter the meaning of the word. Even characters that share the same constituent parts must be independently drawn because the proportions must be fine-tuned. It is a process akin to the earlier days of writing, when calligraphers laid out each brushstroke by hand, shaping the language word by word as they went.
In English, an omitted ligature can be substituted with the elements that form it. In Chinese, an excluded character deprives the language of a word. The designer becomes a reluctant arbiter, passing judgment on which words to retain and which ones to let go.
To come to Ri Xing is to see a labor of love. Every arcane character, tucked snugly into a cubby hole, exists because someone took the time to etch out its contours. Someone believed that there would one day be a need for it. To understand the allure of language is to run one’s eyes down the columns, across the rows, and find a hundred words for birds, a thousand words for jade.
How lovely that someone would endeavor to preserve a thousand exaltations of a bit of glimmer in the earth.
Tucked into a nondescript alley near Taipei Main Station is one of the last remaining bastions of movable type in Taiwan, if not the world. At Ri Xing Type Foundry, traditional Chinese characters, carefully stacked in slender columns on shelves that span the store, are available in three styles and seven sizes; the Latin alphabet is also available. Craftsmen can often be seen at work, molding lead type the size of pinheads. Buying a set of letters or characters to spell out one’s name makes for a truly personalized—and functional—souvenir.
Name in Chinese
No. 13, Lane 97, Taiyuan Rd, Datong District, Taipei City
Mon-Fri: 09:00-12:00, 13:30-18:00; Sat: 09:30-12:00, 13:30-17:00
02 2556 4626