Fri, Jun 09, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Letter: Traditional writing is better

By Tennessee Gock

Since the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper covered the debate over traditional versus simplified Chinese characters on the front page of its May 8 issue, I feel it is necessary to draw the attention of those who previously have not paid attention to or were not aware of the significance and seriousness of this matter.

I have always thought that it was a huge and unforgivable mistake for the Chinese government to adopt simplified Chinese characters. To say that simplifying Chinese characters makes Chinese people's lives easier is total BS! The people of Hong Kong and Taiwan learn and use the more complicated traditional writing system and never have any problems.

Our Chinese ancestors' beautiful and skillful design of Chinese writing (pictograms or ideograms) immediately conveys the meaning of each character by the components of the character, which resemble the look, action or state of emotion, etc.

By removing or modifying some components or adding some ridiculously unrelated simplified components to the character, the simplified writing becomes totally unrecognizable. Just open a Xin Hua Dictionary which includes both traditional and simplified characters and you will find many examples (and comparisons) that will make you realize how absurd the simplified characters are and how most modifications do not make much sense.

As far as literacy is concerned, I think other factors may be responsible for augmenting literacy in China, such as the much improved gross national and per capita incomes, or the increased migration from rural areas to the cities, but definitely not simplified writing.

Rather, simplified writing might have lowered the literacy level in the entire country, because simplified characters do not preserve nor respect the original and precious traditions of Chinese culture in the first place.

I don't know what other Chinese people think, but my blood boils whenever I see the frequent appearance of the bizarre homonyms in the simplified writing subtitles in many Chinese TV drama series. Although it should come as no surprise to see so many wrongly written characters and words in China, if you think about how the Chinese authorities have given such a senseless facelift to the original traditional Chinese writing by randomly selecting what to add or subtract, why would its people care to use accurately written characters or words?

The attitude from the top down is wrong to begin with.

Some proponents of simplified writing say that the opponents of simplified characters (and supporters of the traditional writing) are not open-minded enough, but the fact of the matter is, it is not about being receptive or flexible, it is about upholding our integrity and principles and about doing things right.

Other proponents suggest that it is not a big deal once we "get used to" the modified version, but that is not right either. First of all, people can also "get used to" the traditional writing, if they are required to. If the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan can handle the more complex traditional writing, why can't the Chinese? Do they not have the same level of intelligence? Secondly, the suggestion to "get used to"; what does it really mean? Wouldn't it be like "a lie told a hundred times becomes the truth?"

Why should we abandon an ideal system for a flawed replacement and pretend it is better? I have heard of yet another pathetic argument that those who have never learned traditional writing would never know what they have missed. But that is exactly the point that made me feel sorry for those people in China and all the foreign learners of the Chinese language who are unfortunate enough to be introduced only to the simplified writing but not the original, authentic and exquisite traditional writing.

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