Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

The Chinese characters that define 2014

By Yang Ziman (China Daily) Updated: 2014-12-27 08:51

The Chinese characters that define 2014

Guests hold a piece of calligraphy of the Chinese character zhuan in Taipei, Taiwan on Dec 18, 2014. [Photo/]

People in Asian countries where Chinese characters are widely used, including Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and China, have been voting for the most representative characters of the year for the past few years. The polls normally organized by academics or the media are an interesting way of determining which events or incidents have affected the people most in a calendar year.

In 2014, Malaysia hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons: the crashing of two planes. And not surprisingly, Malaysians have chosen "hang" (or flight) as the character representing 2014. The scars and void left by the two flights (one with 239 people on board is still missing and the other went down in Ukraine with 298 people) have put Malaysia Airlines in a fix. People, especially relatives and friends of the passengers, have criticized the airline for its failure to supervise the actions of its employees, particularly the flight captains, because one of them used to invite pretty female passengers to the cockpit while flying. These two accidents have also compromised Malaysia's appeal as a tourist destination.

The character that has had the greatest impact on Japanese people this year is "shui" (or tax), reflecting how much they detest the rise in consumption tax. In April, the Japanese government raised the consumption tax from 5 percent to 8 percent, the first in 17 years. But the tax increase could not help revive the sagging Japanese economy. Instead, it has increased people's living costs and led to a sluggish consumption market. Perhaps the opposition to the tax increase forced Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo to defer another tax increase from October next year to April 2017.

Singaporeans surprisingly chose "luan" (or chaos) as the representative word for 2014. It is the only country where people choose the characters on the basis of both domestic and international situations. Though they are citizens of a country known for its strict law enforcement and exemplary civic behavior, Singaporeans feel that countries around the globe faced a turbulent year because of the Middle East and Ukraine crises, the territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea, and other volatile events.

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