Thu, Sep 13, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Mandarin an obstacle to progress

By Kengchi Goah 吳耿志

In the year 264, Chinese scholar Liu Hui (劉輝) computed the geometric constant pi to five decimal points: 3.14159.

In the middle of the fifth century, two Chinese mathematicians, the father-son team of Tze Tzong-chih (祖崇之) and Tze Keng-chih (祖恆之) were able to calculate the constant to seven decimal points: 3.1415926.

Not until the mid-15th century, more than 1,000 years later, was a Western mathematician able to add one more digit: 3.14159265.

Chinese failed to take advantage of a 1,000-year lead because Liu’s technique was recorded in Chinese, a representational language that few can master.

Gunpowder and the printing press, two critical inventions of Chinese origin, met the same miserable fate probably for the same reason.

Chinese gunpowder languished in fire crackers for thousands of years before the Germans packed it into V-model rockets in the 1940s.

In 1991, Taiwan’s government set up the National Space Program Office, which is now called the National Space Organization.

After more than 25 years, it can claim little progress. Its plans are often bogged down by component and system specifications tangled in murky Chinese.

Last year, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) launched five forward-looking projects that aim to improve green energy, digital technologies, water management, rail transportation and urban development.

Except for the last item, they are intimately connected to advanced electronics, and power in particular.

Judging from history, the long-terms plans, which will require a lot of funding, will face the same obstacles: building high-tech products with an antiquated, crawling documentation tool.

As long as the nation remains clouded under the Chinese language, all further economic efforts will suffer depressed returns on investment.

Japan, South Korea and Vietnam discerned this problem early on in their national development and took pains to remove Chinese writing from their societies. To a large extent, all have been successful.

Taiwanese must start taking action to eliminate the Chinese language.

Kengchi Goah is a senior research fellow at the Taiwan Public Policy Council in the US.

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