Professor Wendy Wong rings in the New Year with celebrations of Chinese design

Professor Wendy Wong, Chair of the Department of Design in the Faculty of Fine Arts and associate director of the Centre for Asian Research at York University, is featured in two public events in Toronto highlighting Chinese design, past and present. The events are set within festivities leading up to Chinese New Year, the most important celebration in the traditional Chinese calendar. The Chinese year 4706 begins on Feb. 7, 2008.

Left: Wendy Wong

On Jan. 30, Wong delivered the keynote address at a special event, Celebrating the Year of the Rat: Chinese New Year, at the Bata Shoe Museum. And opening on Feb. 8 at the Design Exchange is the exhibition Chinese Design. Everyday, which Wong curated.  

Wong has a longstanding interest in the history and evolution of design in China, from its traditional roots to the present day. She is currently engaged in a SSHRC-supported research project on the history of Chinese graphic design. 

"The coming years will show very interesting developments in Chinese design as the country emerges as one of the world’s economic powers,” said Wong. “My research has taken me to Hong Kong, Taipei, Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai, where I attended forums, studied library collections and met with designers. I was totally inspired by my interactions with people in the field, by their insights and experience of the history of Chinese design and its future as the country continues to opens up to global influences."

Wong’s lecture for Celebrating the Year of the Rat: Chinese New Year explored symbolism in both traditional and contemporary Chinese iconography and design, with a special focus on rat and other animal motifs. Her talk made reference to artifacts on loan to the museum from the private collection of Glenn Roberts, as well as the Bata Shoe Museum’s own holdings.

Right: One of the artifacts mentioned by Wong in her talk are these black lotus shoes from the early 20th century. The shoes feature rats nibbling on grapes and are an example of the wish for many children. From the private collection of Glenn Roberts.

Wong’s upcoming exhibition for the Design Exchange, Chinese Design. Everyday, introduces viewers to the world of contemporary Chinese design. The show traces the development of Chinese design in the past 100 years, illustrated by artifacts from the late Qing and Cold War periods to the current era (1908-2008).

Right: Contemporary Chinese design as displayed in the ideology poster “Pray & Pay”, which features a theme of man and God, created by designer Javin Mo, Hong Kong 
Contemporary Chinese culture is a fascinating mix of diverse influences, combining the millennia-old Chinese cultural heritage with the most current Western and international trends. Through advertising, product, fashion, graphic and architectural designs, the exhibition provides an overview of the achievements and the challenges faced by China during the past century. Visitors will be able to learn about Chinese cultures, history, politics, societies, economy, ideologies and material life through authentic design works selected from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and from designers of Chinese ancestry residing in North America.

Chinese Design. Everyday opens with a reception Feb 8 at 6pm and runs to April 13. Wong will give a curator’s talk on the show on Feb 21 at noon. The Design Exchange, located at 234 Bay Street, is open weekdays from 9am to 5pm and weekends from noon to 5pm. Admission is $5, students $4 (free for DX members). Information is available at 416.216.2160 or

Left: Olympic pictograms design, an example of contemporary Chinese design directed by Min Wang and the design team at the Art Research Centre for the Olympic Games, School of Design, China Central Academy of Fine Art, in Beijing

Wong is the author of Hong Kong Comics: A History of Manhua (2002) published by Princeton Architectural Press. She has also published four books for Chinese readers funded by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and many articles in academic journals. Wong was the recipient of an Asian Cultural Council Grant, an affiliate of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, in 1998. She was a visiting scholar at Harvard University from 1999 to 2000, and was the 2000 Lubalin Curatorial Fellow at New York City’s Cooper Union School of Art. She joined York University’s design department in 2002.