Ping Ze 平仄

  • Ping Ze 平仄
    Graphic Design, Calligraphy, Bookbinding

    A Master's thesis project for the MFA Graphic Design program at Boston University, Boston, USA.



    This project investigates the classical Chinese ci poetry, and explores how to translate abstract literary and phonological concepts into visual elements, in order to make them more accessible to the audience regardless of their knowledge of the Chinese language. 

    In Middle Chinese, all of the Chinese characters are divided into two groups based on their tones: ping, literally “level”, meaning no pitch changes when the character is pronounced; and ze, literally “oblique”, meaning with pitch changes when pronounced. This idea of ping vs. ze is especially important to the ci poetry, because a series of metric patterns, referred to as "tunes", regulate the tone of each character in a poem: whether it needs to be a ping character or a ze one. Each of these tunes is associated with a title, called cipai, which serves as a code name, since usually the title does not describe the tune itself and has nothing to do with the content of the actual poem. 




    This project includes a series of posters that seek to visually represent the pingze patterns of a selection of tunes, as well as the disconnection between the tune titles and their meanings. A system of stripe patterns was developed based on the symbols that represent Yin and Yang in I Ching, in order to visualize the phonological patterns of pingze in each tune. The height of each poster is thus determined by the character-count of each tune. The tune title is then written in cursive calligraphy, to render them illegible and abstract, and thus distant them from their meanings. Additional information is also provided regarding the origins of the tune titles.​​​​​​​

  • From left to right: 水调歌头 (Prelude to the Song of the Water Tune), 忆江南 (Reminiscing about the river south), 声声慢 (Slow Tune of the Sounds), 卜算子 (Tune of the Diviner), 风入松 (Wind Entering the Pine Woods)
  • From left to right: 水龙吟 (Tune of the Water Dragon), 长相思 (Everlasting Longing), 沁园春 (Spring at the Qin Garden), 浪淘沙 (Tune of the Diviner), 满江红 (Wind Entering the Pine Woods)
  • From left to right: 菩萨蛮 (Bodhisattva of the Foreign Lands), 疏影 (Scattered Shadows), 西江月 (Moon over the West River), 潇湘夜雨 (Night Rain of Xiao and Xiang), 虞美人 (Yu the Beauty)
  • A scroll book accompanies the series of posters,  compiling the historical research done throughout the design process, in order to provide more background information to the audience. The book is bound in the historical dragon scale binding style to reflect the subject of the project. It is believed that this binding method was developed for making reference books, among which many were rhyming dictionaries used to regulate the pronunciations of the Chinese language at the time, as well as to guide the composition of classical poetry. 

  • The project was first exhibited during the Boston University 2018 MFA Thesis Show, at the Stone Gallery, in April 2018.

    作品于2018年四月在波士顿大学2018艺术硕士毕业作品展中首次展出于Stone Gallery。
  • This project has won the following awards:
    Certificate of Typographic Excellence, Type Directors Club Competition 2019
    Merit Award, Student Work Category, HOW International Design Awards 2019
    Winner, Students Category, GDUSA American Graphic Design Awards 2018


  • Thanks for viewing!


    Mark Zhu