Thu, Aug 27, 2009 - Page 13 News List

Just their type

Ri Xing Typography has the last complete set of traditional Chinese character lead-type molds in the world. Now it’s attracting a new generation of typophiles

By Catherine Shu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chang’s ultimate goal may be to transform Ri Xing into a museum, but it is still an active business with clients, many of whom have ordered lead type from the factory for decades. Ri Xing’s customers are usually smaller print shops that produce specialty items, such as movie tickets or forms with serial numbers. Their proprietors dug their heels in two decades ago when Taiwan’s printing industry began to abandon movable type in favor of faster methods like offset printing.

“These older business people didn’t want to follow the rest of the industry and change what they were doing. They still use movable type, so I stay here and work with them so they can get the supplies they need,” says Chang.

Now Ri Xing Typography is garnering a new, but equally dedicated, group of supporters. Many of these fans are graphic designers who were drawn by media reports on Ri Xing. Some now volunteer with the digitization project, including Mu-han Chiu (邱睦涵), a freelance designer who first saw photos of Ri Xing’s lead type online.

“It is important to our culture. Taiwan and Hong Kong are the last places to actually use traditional Chinese character typeface, and it would be a shame to let this ancient form of writing disappear,” says Chiu. The 30 or so volunteers aren’t just designers, she adds — they include computer programmers and a bookstore owner.

“There are a lot of people who are passionate about this project,” says Chiu.

The Ri Xing plan is still a long way from being realized, but it has already received a fair amount of publicity in the Taiwanese media, thanks in part to a visit to the factory by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in June. Ri Xing is open to visitors for a few hours each week, and individual lead type can be purchased for NT$1 to NT$80 per piece. Its gifting potential is increased by the fact that the Taiwanese pronunciations of lead type (鉛字) and the fate that draws people together (緣份) sound alike.

“Chinese characters have a very long history and they are always evolving,” says Chang. “As long as they keep transmitting culture and knowledge, as well as their own individual meanings, then they are already fulfilling their purpose. It doesn’t matter what they look like, but we think lead type really brings out their beauty.”

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