Tue, Apr 04, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Write more to safeguard traditional characters

By Tsai Chih-hao 蔡志浩

According to media reports, the UN has announced that it will use only simplified characters in all Chinese documents starting in 2008. Many Taiwanese are worried that simplified characters will one day become the only system for writing Chinese, while traditional characters will fade away

I believe traditional Chinese writing is facing a crisis, although the popularization of simplified Chinese is not the only cause. I believe many attempts to maintain traditional Chinese may be misguided, be it the unification camp opposing simplified Chinese because they oppose communism, the independence camp opposing it because they oppose China, or traditionalists opposing it because they oppose unorthodox ideas. To keep traditional Chinese characters alive, we must adopt a healthy attitude of competition. We cannot merely oppose simplified Chinese.

We must realize that both simplified and traditional characters are legitimate systems for writing modern Chinese. Both record Chinese effectively, and allow their readers to read efficiently. If we oppose simplified Chinese without improving the competitiveness of traditional Chinese, or are unable to give up a concept and an ideology that we think is correct, we will never be able to save traditional Chinese, no matter how hard we attack the simplified writing system.

Recently, I had a discussion on this matter in my Psychology of Reading course. A student said he found that the number of online documents in simplified Chinese is greater than the number of traditional Chinese documents. He therefore said that one would lose an important channel for information if one could not read simplified Chinese, and that Taiwan's schools should start to teach it.

This idea is very pragmatic, but looks unlikely to be implemented in light of Taiwan's current attitude of opposing simplified Chinese. Accepting simplified Chinese in Taiwan will not necessarily have a negative impact on traditional Chinese, and resisting the former will not necessarily save the latter. I would like to stress that with the development of the Internet, the biggest threat to traditional Chinese is the decreasing number of pieces written in traditional Chinese.

Taiwan is the realm of traditional Chinese. With its level of economic development and the pervasiveness of the Internet, the Taiwanese people should be capable of writing numerous valuable articles and then posting them online. Unfortunately, it seems that the people of Taiwan do not really like to write. For example, very few Taiwanese have contributed to Wikipedia -- the world's most popular online encyclopedia, which can be edited by anyone. Another example of this is Taiwan's blogging culture -- the writing of online diaries or a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a Web page. Although some Taiwanese have caught up with this trend, most bloggers are busy reproducing articles they have found elsewhere online or summarizing printed articles.

Taiwanese people are too accustomed to using what others have created, and seldom create something original. If most of us only read articles or use software written by others, and do not spend time to think, write or create, then traditional Chinese will disappear. It is not about simplified Chinese or the oppression of the "communist bandits." It would be our own fault.

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