Every country is attractive and distinct in its own way. Natural wonders might draw foreign tourists, but a country’s biggest draw is usually its unique culture — as defined by its people, language, heritage, cuisine and way of life — and this is what attracts travelers from across the globe.
Taiwan is no exception, and many foreign tourists come to marvel at the many aspects of its distinctive culture — among which are the use of traditional Chinese characters and a range of terminology and phrases that combine to create Taiwan’s rich culture with its distinct identity.
Thus it came as a shock to hear President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) proposal last week that was tantamount to the abandonment of traditional characters. His comments came at the launch of the online Chinese Language Knowledge Database (中華語文知識庫): While stating his record as a defender of the use of traditional characters since he first served as Taipei mayor, Ma went on to note that it would be difficult to ask China, which uses simplified characters, to adopt the traditional script.
“Maybe the two sides will develop a new set of characters that can be used and that would be acceptable across the [Taiwan] Strait,” he said, adding that the most important matter was the facilitation of cross-strait cultural exchange.
A bombshell indeed, to hear from the president that he is willing to go to such lengths to promote so-called cultural exchanges with the other side of the Strait.
When did the definition of cultural exchange change to mean that one has to abandon one’s own culture? In this case, Taiwan’s uniqueness in using traditional script.
After all, it is common knowledge that the purpose of cultural exchanges is so to cultivate an understanding and appreciation of each side’s heritage, culture and lifestyle and to develop cultural awareness.
Isn’t this exactly the point behind the appeal of Taiwan to the Chinese, that they are intrigued by Taiwan’s unique culture, different from their own back in China? This is what they want to see and experience at first hand.
Ma’s latest proposal brings to mind how, back in 2009, he promoted the idea that the two sides of the Strait could reach an agreement whereby Taiwanese students would be taught to read traditional characters and write simplified characters.
Indeed, Ma may like to trumpet his record as a defender of traditional Chinese script, but it seems such a stance is undermined every time he comes up with a new idea in his push for the promotion of cross-strait exchanges.
In case the president has not realized, language is not merely a medium for conveying culture — it is a vital part of any culture. Ma himself, during the launch of the Chinese Language Knowledge Database last week, pointed out numerous examples which show how certain terms or phrases carry different meanings in China and Taiwan. Aren’t the examples he cited a perfect illustration of just how interesting and unique Taiwan’s and China’s cultures are, each charming in its distinct way?
In the light of Ma’s latest proposal, it appears that the president has failed to understand that, as head of state, it is his duty not only to uphold the nation’s sovereignty and dignity and attend to the well-being of its people, but also to respect the country’s cultural integrity and its cultural sovereignty.