A heated debate on accepting or rejecting simplified Chinese characters has attracted public attention after CPPCC (Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference) member Pan Qinglin put forward a proposal on March 3 on abolishing simplified Chinese characters within 10 years, Zhengzhou Evening Paper reported.
Traditional Chinese characters are popular in Hong Kong, Taiwan and some overseas Chinese communities, while mainland Chinese have generally used simplified versions since the 1950s. At that time the simplification work was carried out in order to popularize Chinese characters throughout the mainland and eliminate illiteracy, since the traditional characters are more difficult to learn and to read and write.
Pan Qinglin, vice chairman of the Overseas Chinese Federation in Tianjin, found himself at the center of a storm of controversy after his proposal was publicized by the media, triggering overwhelming criticism from online communities. Some are of the view that the abolition of simplified characters is nonsense, attacking Pan's proposal as "frivolous" when so many major issues need to be addressed. Others accused him of merely courting controversy. Some even responded with ironic suggestions that everyone should wear traditional Chinese gown and jacket, as in feudal times, instead of modern clothing.
His proposal is based on three arguments: firstly, the Chinese characters that emerged from the simplification process in the 1950s are too crude and lack aesthetic beauty and scientific meaning. For example, the traditional Chinese character for "love" ('愛') expresses both love and heart, but the simplified form "爱" has omitted the part "心" which means heart. Therefore, we now see only "love" without "heart".
Secondly, applying the original complex characters nowadays could be just as easy as using the simplified forms, since most people use computers to write.
Thirdly, reviving the original complex forms might also prove helpful to the unification of China as Taiwan has maintained the traditional characters, which are deemed official there. Taiwan even intends to apply to UNESCO for the recognition of traditional characters as Intangible Cultural Heritage, which might also create the impression that the mainland authorities have not done enough to protect them.
One group, represented by famous Chinese linguist and translator Ji Xianlin, along with other celebrities from the literary and arts circles, are right behind Pan.
But Wang Liqun, professor of Henan University and an advocate of the simplified forms, takes a different view. "I don't think Pan's reasoning is sustainable," says Wang. "First of all, the simplified characters should not be deemed "too crude" and "in conflict with aesthetic beauty and scientific meaning". He maintains that the Committee for Language Reform of China, which was responsible for the work of simplification, had a considerable understanding of the ancient traditions and did thorough research work.
Wang also criticizes Pan's second argument: "Our current primary education begins in Grade One. At this stage pupils write by hand, and do not use computers. Even with a computer, handwriting cannot be abandoned. All signatures must be hand-written, both in China and abroad, so handwriting can never be abolished, whatever technological progress is achieved with computers."
As for the third reason, Wang believes that Pan has exaggerated the role of characters on relations between Taiwan and mainland. He says that reunification is a general trend, and the path towards union lies in the strength of mainland society and economy.
Professor Su Peicheng from Peking University is of the view that the process of simplifying characters has largely been successful, and restoring the original complex forms would be difficult. Available data suggest that over 95 percent of mainlanders write in simplified forms, and less than 1 percent use the complex forms. Another 4 percent use both. "It is likely to be difficult to persuade over 95 percent of the population to abandon the simple forms in favor of the complex," says Su.
(China.org.cn by Jessica Zhang, March 12, 2009)