Traditional vs. simplified characters.
One of the proposals being presented before the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference is a plan to “restore, resume, resurrect, or return” to traditional characters.
The whole “traditional vs. simplified” debate might seem inconsequential, but is in fact a heated topic that has its stakes in political and cultural identities.
As the name implies, simplified characters are, well, simpler–they require less strokes to write and are easier to read when written in smaller type. Mainland China moved towards simplified characters as a way to increase literacy in the vastly illiterate 1950s.
However, Chinese in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and various overseas communities still use traditional characters, which have been around in their current form since more or less the 5th Century.
According to Danwei, Pan’s primary complaints concerning the usage of simplified characters stems from these three key issues:
- The first round of simplifications in the 1950s was accomplished too hastily, producing a result that betrayed the fundamental aesthetic and scientific principles underlying Chinese characters.
- They’ve outlived their usefulness, since flexible computer input methods have been developed that handle simplified and traditional characters equally well.
- Reviving the use of traditional characters would foster cross-straits unity by bringing the mainland in line with Taiwan, which still uses what are called “standard characters” (正体字).
China Smack” has translated some of the reactions against the measure and the complaints all seem to be in the same vein – related to either the logistics and costs for re-introducing a completely new system, or whether people (especially the already educated) should have to retroactively learn traditional characters. One commenter offered his terse perspective on this issue:
The cost for the government for things like government seals, etc., all need to be changed. Each only costs a few dozen kuai but has everyone thought of how many government departments are in all of China? These costs are all paid by the ordinary common people!
The proposal, which if we can judge from the reactions of the “ordinary common people!” doesn’t seem very popular, doesn’t face a strong likelihood of passing the Congressional meeting.
Anyway, we already have a difficult enough time deciphering simplified words as it is, so the possibility of moving towards traditional characters is a little petrifying. What is your take on it? Stick with simplified or a return to traditional?
Danwei article about Pan’s proposal.
Photo courtesy of Elanex