FREE SHIPPING IN THE UK FOR ORDERS OVER £10

A celebration of the beauty of Chinese signage

A celebration of the beauty of Chinese signage

新年快樂! Happy New Year!

It’s Chinese New Year (now the Year of the Horse), so I thought I’d be a little self-indulgent here and share some of the photos I’ve taken combining two massive loves in my life – Chinese culture and signs. These are photos I’ve taken of Chinese signage during some of my travels in Hong Kong & Macau, and in the Chinatowns in Los Angeles and San Francisco. London is notably absent as its Chinatown simply doesn’t have anything old anymore – it’s far too cleaned up and polished for my liking thesedays. (Photo above taken in Mongkok, Hong Kong)

Ping Shan and Wan Chai

Left: Ping Shan, NT, Hong Kong – Right: Wan Chai, Hong Kong

With the neon signs you’ll notice they are all daytime shots. I have to say that I actually really love neon signs in the daytime – in fact I think I’d even go as far as to say I prefer them unlit – they take on a totally different personality. I love to see how they’re constructed, the neon tubes or light bulbs against their painted backgrounds, and how they’re ageing, rusting and dilapidated – see how they are in the cold light of day, instead of obscured by their glitzy night-time made-up alter-egos. Some are like the morning after the night before, others are more sedate and gentile, even aloof.

Blue House, Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Blue House, Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Lantau and Macau

Left: Lantau Island, Hong Kong – Right: Macau

But they are not all neon signs here; some are painted, and with this I love to see the texture of the substrate below, typically wood or render, and what is revealed below as the paint wears away and peels: embossed calligraphy on a wooden panel on a temple in Ping Shan; peeling calligraphy on the exterior render of the beautiful and eerie Blue House in Wan Chai; the charm of the wooden hand-painted vernacular signs side by side with official signage on Lantau Island; and gorgeous red faded calligraphy on a brick wall in Macau.

LA & San Francisco signs

Left: LA – Right: San Francisco

What I’ve noticed here is that the signage in both LA and San Francisco is a much more souped-up version of that you actually find in Hong Kong – wandering through their Chinatowns it’s like total hyper-reality. And that goes as far as the architecture as well as the signs. I cannot make up my mind whether this is due to the Chinese that settled in these places bringing their favourite, more selective and thus more extravagant elements with them, or simply an Americanised version. The two from LA here actually contain no Chinese characters whatsoever, but their visual language is clear – or is it purely informed by the buildings and decorations around them? Hmm, I can see a more detailed exploration of this topic in the future…

San Francisco Chinatown signs

San Francisco Chinatown signs

LA Chinatown sign

LA Chinatown sign

Anyway, enough with the talking – this post is purely an exercise in sharing my love for these beauties, so I’ll let you get on with feasting on these visual delights…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *