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Chinese Education in Singapore: A History of Violence

The author says:

In this short work of history, Zhang tells the story of violence in the Chinese community of the colony. Set between the founding of Singapore and the shuttering of Nanyang University is a colorful story of secret societies and their wars, of Sinitic languages and dialects, and of suppressions by a colonial government in a free port. Its 70-plus pages are not crammed with historical facts and dates but filled with the experiences of Chinese migrants over centuries. It is an impression of their achievements and a witness to their weakness of character.



Nathan says:

So is the book actually about violence? The impression from your summary is more of social conflicts.  That would make a difference as to whether your cover implies more violence or less than it does now (the fist, especially, gives it a “revolutionary” vibe unmentioned in your summary).

Strictly from a visual standpoint, two things: The charcoal background in the bottom half could stand some sprucing up (not a lot, but a subtle decorative border could go far), and the fist being split between two colors confuses the eye and reduced the immediate impact of the image; maybe moving it entirely to the bottom half would be a good idea. (Again, I don’t have a good understanding of how well the fist fits the book; I’m just talking about visual impact.)

I don’t know how much good further advice would be without understanding the book better.

11/05/14 Update: I’ve added the resubmitted cover:



That’s certainly less ambiguous!

My suggestion at this point is that you tone the red down to a richer color, and add something visual to indicate a Chinese connection — perhaps a pattern like this behind the fist:

(Please note that I have no idea what symbols like this may mean — I’m just thinking in terms of design elements.)


  1. I really like the color choices and the layout as well as the illustration. I did find the best little hard to focus on. However, the picture seems peaceful and nurturing while the words in red “a history of violence” don’t seem to match. Perhaps if the fist was a little clearer or impacted on the illustration somehow.

  2. I find the message(s) encapsulated in the cover at odds with the stated theme of the book. The drawing, while appealing, is just that. It denotes peace, security, tender learning even. That is not only contradicts the harsh realities presumably revealed in the book. Is agree with Nathan that the fish screams rebellion, not necessarily “violence” or justice or educated.

    I am not suggesting you necessarily lose these components, but you should rethink the message you wish to convey and reconstruct the cover that will give that message to a reader who knows nothing about the subject of your work.

  3. The fist and subtitle indicate one kind of book; the illustration indicates another. Either one is fine, but you need to pick which tone you’re going for and commit to it.

  4. The cover image seems to be at odds with the book’s description. I would choose a more appropriate illustration.

    I also question the use of the fist, which seems to have been added as an afterthought.

    The title is broken at an odd point. It would read better if the two lines read this way:
    Chinese Education
    in Singapore

  5. Thank you for your critique.

    The story stretches nearly 200 years. It started with coolie violence and later shifted into social conflict and communist activity.

    You’re right about the illustration. I’m taking it out.

    I’ll keep the fist as it is a leftwing symbol of solidarity, and put a border.

    Thank you for pointing the odd line break in the title.

    Once again, thank you, everyone.

  6. I’d submitted a revised design for critique.

    It is a simple design because my photoshop skills do not permit greater ambitions.

  7. Thank you for your critique, Nathan. You have given me something to work on.

    (By the way, the chinese character means double happiness, and it is used during wedding celebrations)

  8. The new cover is a vast improvement! Very nice! Nathan’s suggestion about a pattern is a good one, but I’d keep it subtle if you choose to do something like that: just a different shade of the background color.

  9. I like the new cover better and I also like Nathan’s suggestion of adding a subtle pattern to the solid colour, although clearly not this one, since as the designer has pointed out what it means! The illustration on the first submission has nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t really work with the other elements or fit the genre and likely target audience. I think I would try a simpler, bolder sans serif font instead. The kerning is also a bit funny and the letters are squashed together.

  10. The raised fist – that exact graphic image of it, even – is the symbol on international socialist movement, especially used by anarcho-communist and autonomist movements. It is almost as recognisable as hammer and sickle – and about as relevant here. Even though the book tells a story of fight against oppression, it’s not really socialist struggle, and so it does give the potential reader completely wrong idea of what the book is about.

  11. I’m not going for the tight, overlapping kerning in the subtitle. To me, overlapping letters make the text look more whimsical.

  12. I’ve been thinking about this cover, and what about a photo of Singaporean children in a classroom with lighting to make it look dull/gritty/dystopian? The subtitle “A History of Violence” would really stick out on something like that, I think — it would be attention-grabbing and then make the viewer reassess and really think about the title itself and the cover image.

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