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Amnesia with Chinese characters

By Xu Xinlei (
Updated: 2010-08-05 14:05
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In an age widely heralded as the Information Age, few people question the convenience the computers and mobile phones have brought to us. We are given easy access to reach every corner of the world with the computer alone. However, there is a growing concern that we Chinese may lose the Chinese characters, a traditional carrier of Chinese culture.

Amnesia with Chinese characters

Evolution of Chinese characters

“Texting and typing are replacing the elaborate strokes that make up written Chinese. And when it comes time to jot down a few words, more Chinese are realizing they can't remember exactly how,” says one report in the Los Angeles Times.

More and more Chinese people are realizing they can't remember exactly how to write a given character. They are experiencing more amnesia with them.

A survey conducted by China Youth Papers in this April reveals that of the 2072 respondents, 83 % admitted they sometimes found it difficult to write characters. This means, in other words, that we may become the new generation of illiterate Chinese, and the centuries-old characters are teetering on the brink of extinction.

Amnesia with Chinese characters

Evolution of Chinese characters

Today we take the comforts taken from modern devices for granted. We are used to typing before the computer, sometimes under the proud banner of a “paper-free office.” Admittedly, we are reducing the consumption of paper by sending emails and using instant communications. The problem is that the addiction to computer-based comfort has long been neglected. We are able to type more than 100 Chinese characters a minute on a computer, but we can write much fewer characters on paper, or, even worse, we even don’t know how.

Today, letters have given way to emails and mobile messages. Dairies have taken a back seat to blogs and other forms of cyber-journalism. Our names are becoming the only characters we still write by hand, as we often have to fill in various forms, and affix our signatures to the documents in our daily lives. This is a bad comment on our writing skills.

This issue has raised concerns from all walks of life. In 2008, the Education Ministry surveyed 3,000 teachers from around the country and found that 60% complained about declining writing ability. As a result, the ministry last year launched a writing competition with 10 million participants and has begun pilot programs to make students do more handwriting.

More significantly, we have to learn to liberate ourselves from our dependency on computers and mobile phones before it is too late. We are not acting like Chicken Little. It may prove to be a disaster waiting to happen.

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