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Chinese characters, simplified or traditional?

Updated: 2011-01-04 17:04
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Recently the use of Chinese characters and the policies related to them have been a concern of many. The debate on traditional Chinese characters and simplified Chinese characters is an ongoing issue and has stirred up heated responses from supporters of both sides. On April 8, a research forum concerning this issue was held by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, experts were invited to address the questions.

Have simplified characters failed to do justice to the beauty of Chinese?

"The simplified characters are too rough to express the Artistic qualities of Chinese characters. For instants, the simplification of 愛 (love) to 爱, where the simplified version removes the radical 心 (heart) makes the love without a heart," said by Pan Qinglin, a member of the CPPCC National Committee, who suggested to revive the use of traditional characters in 10 years or so.

Advocates of traditional characters say that as a result of such "unnatural" evolution, many characteristics underlying various Chinese characters, including radicals, etymologies and phonetics were ignored and destroyed in their simplified form. Some claim that the simplified form has seriously jeopardized the originality of ancient literatures and put traditional Chinese culture at stake.

"Problems with Chinese characters are more complicated than they appear to be. It is closely related to the viewing of Chinese traditional culture as well as realizing cultural communication and information modernization." claimed Wang Ning, vice president of the Chinese Language Association and professor of Beijing Normal University. The recognition of traditional culture has been shown in the progress of the debate.

The simplified characters have great contributions

Advocates of simplified characters claim that besides from the artistic and scientific functions, the characters are mainly a tool for communication. In the information age, the problems of inputting characters into computers and mobile phones must be solved for the purpose of communication. Experts believe that simplified characters have fewer strokes and make it easier for school children, workers and peasants to learn to read and write. This can work to improve the level of education and popularize science and technology.

As the old saying goes, Custom makes all things easy. Despite of some disadvantages, simplified Chinese has come to dominate the written form of Chinese used nearly all over the world. Keeping the way it is now stands in everyone's interest and the proposition to "revive the traditional" or "further simplify" the Chinese characters are both unpractical.

New standard for new age

Experts believe that compared with the debate on whether the simplified or traditional characters should be adopted, how to face the challenges of the information age is more of an urgent issue. The standardization of characters in computers is a matter of priority. In addition, new characters are forged from time to time causing lack of character standardization on the Internet. It is suggested that this kind of phenomenon should be strictly limited. Except for commonly used characters, others should maintain the prototype to protect historical heritage. Technologies should be improved in striving to develop new specialized software which can distinguish usage as well as alternate between the two kinds of characters.

Professor Wang Ning believes that the standard of Chinese characters should be updated with time. New technologies are emerging along with new characters. To avoid chaos when using characters, changes should be made at the same time only after careful research into user habits regarding Chinese characters has been completed.

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