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Taiwan Post, known officially as Chunghua Post, is releasing a commemorative set of stamps for the inauguration of President Tsai Ing-wen, and her Vice President, Chen Chien-jen.

Three million sets will be released for sale on May 20th, the date of the inauguration. It includes four stamps and a souvenir sheet. The design is by Aaron Nieh, a 39-year-old Taiwanese designer who runs a three-person studio in Taipei.

While commemorative stamps are released for every new power duo, this year’s set is raising eyebrows for being dramatically modern. Almost a little too modern, I dare say.

Apparently the word people are using to describe the stamps is “cute”. Even Tsai Ing-wen herself said it was “designed like video games in the old days – retro and cute.”

What do you think?

tsai ing wen stamps

Commemorative presidential stamps typically feature photo portraits. You can scroll down to see the previous set (spoiler: it’s shockingly unattractive). But here, our newly elected leaders are barely recognizable. Almost anonymous, in fact, through these two disconnected illustration styles that are forced to appear side by side.

Tsai Ing-wen has been reduced to her hairstyle, while the new VP could be any middle-aged Chinese man on the street. Was this intentional?

Chunghua Post’s describes the strategy like so:

“The aim is to reflect contemporary art and culture with a fresh new look. The pixelated faces express the idea that heads of state are not only individuals, but also embodiments of the collective spirit and style of the nation. Simple and unpretentious line drawings were also used for two of the stamps. Breaking new ground in the design of stamps commemorating inauguration, the images fully demonstrate the ideas of beauty, emotional connection, diversity, abstraction and freedom.”

tsai ing wen stamps

tsai ing wen stamps

Having worked as a design agency copywriter in my previous career, the explanation makes total sense to me…in that it doesn’t make any sense at all. And that’s precisely the point. For the record, all bets are off when you close with the word “freedom”.

Who can argue with pixelated faces and simple line drawings that are supposed to represent freedom? But the question remains, how exactly does pixelation represent freedom when it’s typically used to represent censorship?

Chunghua Post continues:

“Apart from displaying the diversity of contemporary culture and art, the designs also convey the idea that the president and the vice president are of the people and that they embody the will of the people as democratically elected leaders.”

tsai ing wen stamps

In addition to the stamps, there’s also a souvenir sheet with more pixelated illustrations. From afar, it looks like a primitive emoji set. Can you tell what all the icons are supposed to be?

There’s a dog and a cat for some reason. I also see a soldier, a policeman, a nun (I think), a few caricatures of old people, a blonde, a (somewhat disturbing representation of a) black guy and also a redhead. It’s a valiant effort to be inclusive but it really misses the mark.

Chunghua explains:

“The design of the souvenir sheet…is based on a conception of solidarity with the people. It places the president and vice president amid a collection of icons representing people of all backgrounds and walks of life. The icons of the president and vice president are found in the upper right-hand corner of the group. The remaining icons show a variety of occupations, genders, social roles, and ethnic groups, drawing attention to issues of equality.”

tsai ing wen stamps

Other small things I’ll point out: there’s no discussion of what the orange, teal and neutral background colors represent. And you might notice the national flag is missing. It’s actually the first time the flag is not depicted on the commemorative stamps at all.

The official explanation is the designers didn’t want to distort the flag by pixelating it. Apparently it was only appropriate to distort the faces of the president and her deputy…

I’m being critical, I know. And yes, it’s just a set of stamps.

But there’s a difference between change for the sake of change, and change with purpose. My point is, there’s nothing in the design of these stamps that celebrates Taiwan’s newly elected president. The first female president, I might add. And that’s what I’m most disappointed about.

Overall, a missed opportunity. But of course, almost anything looks better than this…

tsai ing wen stamps

Photo Credit: Facebook/Aaron Nieh

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