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Karate, Wonton, Chow Fun: The end of 'chop suey' fonts

April 7, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 18.4%. 2 min read.

For years, the West has relied on so-called 'chop suey' fonts to communicate "Asianness" in food packaging, posters and ad campaigns. But such fonts perpetuate problematic stereotypes.

These "chop suey fonts," as American historian Paul Shaw calls them, have been a typographical shortcut for "Asianness" for decades.

"Mandarin, originally known as Chinese, is the granddaddy of 'chop suey' types," Shaw wrote in the design magazine, Print.

White politicians, meanwhile, have been using chop suey fonts to stoke xenophobia for over a century.

A spokesperson for Abercrombie & Fitch, meanwhile, said in an email that T-shirts featuring caricatures and stereotypical fonts from 2002 "were inexcusable 19 years ago when they were released, and they do not reflect A&F Co. 's values today. " The spokesperson added that the company encourages a "culture of belonging" and is "committed to doing better in the future. "

The design featured a chop suey font on a take-out box with bat wings, alluding to the purported origins of the coronavirus.

It's worth noting that, in 1930s America, some Chinese immigrants themselves used chop suey fonts on their restaurant signs, menus, and advertisements, as a way to heighten the exotic appeal of their establishments.

And "Oriental simulation fonts" (or letterforms designed with aesthetic markers of a particular culture) didn't just approximate Chinese calligraphy.

So, can we ever escape chop suey font?

"In light of the tensions in the US around race and racial stereotypes in 2020, (these fonts are) not the kind of thing I would want to be developing today," said Tom Rickner, creative director at Monotype, a 134-year old digital foundry with several chop suey fonts in its catalog.

Recalling the lone Chinese restaurant in the town he grew up in during the 1970s, Rickner explained that the foreigner-friendly chop suey fonts helped proprietors attract diners, much like the first wave of immigrant Chinese business owners in San Francisco in the 1930s.

Design schools, like KABK (The Royal Academy of Art) in The Hague, Netherlands, and the University of Reading's department of typography and graphic communication in the UK, are also training students to design fonts in the world's languages -- including Chinese, which is notoriously onerous to recreate digitally.

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