January 15, 2008

Traditional Chinese vs. Simplified Chinese

This argument has been on ever since Simplified Chinese came into existence: Between Traditional and Simplified Chinese, which is better? This argument is especially distinct when there are still regions like Taiwan and Hong Kong where Traditional Chinese is the official script. I have once asked a Hong Kong college student, why people in Hong Kong are still using Traditional Chinese? Don’t they think it’s bothersome to write a character for 10 seconds when it can be just 3 seconds and its meaning is still not at all made ambiguous? The answer was: I want to know too.

There are people in Hong Kong questioning the necessity of keeping Traditional Chinese as of the use of daily life. And I think the situation in Taiwan is similar. So what’s the obstacle of the transformation?

Let’s first come to see what some Mainlanders think. Once I was chatting with a couple of my friends about the two Chinese scripts, and one said, only Traditional Chinese is the real Chinese, it’s much better than the Simplified. I did not question him any further. Such thought is quite common in some Mainlanders’ minds, especially those who love traditional Chinese culture so much, and who practice Chinese calligraphy. I have been practicing calligraphy for more than ten years, I know what’s in their mind so well.

Every experienced calligrapher, or those who are into the art of calligraphy, witnesses the beauty of a regular script character being written with a brush pen. Few of these works, although there are some these days, are in Simplified Chinese. And when people comparing the two, they think the traditional one possesses more artistic value because the combination of Simplified Chinese with brush pen calligraphy does not look “right” to their sense of calligraphy.

In the long history of Chinese civilization, the language, in either its oral form or its script, has evolved to a great extend as well. Several thousand years ago, our forbearers carved simple notations on bones and turtle shells. This kind of notation evolved to be the most primitive script in the civilization – it is called the bones and shells script. In the multi-thousand year history, our scripture has changed to metal script, seal script, official script, cursive script, regular script, and running script. What we refer to as “Traditional Chinese” in modern times emerged only in late Han Dynasty, and there were quite a handful of scriptures used as standard before regular script. Our forefathers may as well argued that the official script was the “real” Chinese scripture while the regular script was too simple to be applied in formal writing.

Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty made the seal scripture of the State of Qin the only official scripture in China. This action left profound influence to China. All following rulers of this nation followed him to unify the scripture, and even the oral language since the wide spread of Putonghua. Without the unification of the language, there would not have been this convenience of communication, thus the prosperity of China, the most powerful country in the world for a thousand years.

The ancient Chinese people have given the answer to the reform and evolution to our language. If any of us is to stubbornly follow the legacy of our ancestors, he should support the use of Simplified Chinese. I am not saying we should abandon Traditional Chinese completely – even the most primitive form of Chinese characters has been preserved until now. And there’s always the need of various forms of Chinese characters in the field of art, especially calligraphy. I am a calligraphy lover myself. When practicing calligraphy, particularly when imitating the classics, I would never hesitate to choose Traditional Chinese. Through the many years of practicing, I can easily recognize and write many Traditional Chinese characters. But still, I think the promotion of the use of Simplified Chinese is a must. By using Simplified Chinese, we are sure to shorten our time when writing and make our life more efficient. This is inevitable. This is what the history would be written.



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