President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) told a Chinese-language education conference yesterday that his comments last week — that people should be able to read traditional Chinese characters but write in the simplified version — were strictly aimed at the people of China, not Taiwan.
Ma’s clarification came after his remarks fueled criticism from the pan-green camp last week.
Dubbing it a “very big misunderstanding,” Ma used nearly 15 minutes at the sixth annual International Conference on Internet Chinese Education to explain his point.
“Written words and culture are inseparable. Traditional characters have been around for more than 2,000 years and there are many irreplaceable advantages [to them]. [My stance] that people should be able to read traditional characters but write in simplified characters has no political basis, rather, it only means that understanding traditional characters is a prerequisite to connecting with Chinese culture,” he said, saying it was “unfortunate the suggestion was misconstrued.”
Ma said that his comments were aimed at people in China, not Taiwan because “Taiwan does not need to make any changes.”
Speaking to members of a Chinese Association from California on June 9, Ma said he hoped that Taiwan and Beijing could come to an agreement on teaching traditional and simplified Chinese characters at schools for overseas Taiwanese and Chinese, whereby students would be taught to read traditional characters and write using simplified characters.
He did not elaborate on what he meant by “understanding traditional Chinese characters and writing in simplified Chinese,” nor on how such an agreement would be reached with Beijing.
The remarks drew ire from Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators, who said Ma’s push for simplified characters was another move toward unification.
Ma was not originally scheduled as an opening speaker, according to the conference manual.
“I was surprised when he showed up. I guess this is the perfect venue for him to plead his case since he knows probably no one here would be against him,” a participant surnamed Lee said.
The three-day conference, organized by the Overseas Compatriots Affairs Commission (OCAC), attracted educators and language instructors from Taiwan, the US, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the UK and China.
The OCAC placed an over-sized sign at the conference hall door prohibiting banners or placards that contained protest slogans.
In the packet given to participants was a 14-page leaflet printed by the Taipei City Education Bureau in 2005 detailing efforts Ma made as Taipei mayor to promote traditional characters.
DPP Legislator Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英) told a press conference yesterday that while Ma said he would not promote simplified Chinese characters in Taiwan, the Ministry of Education (MOE) was prepared to release a pamphlet in simplified characters.
Ma lied to the public, Huang said. The legislator held up a proposal by the minstry’s Student Affairs Committee that said it was producing a pamphlet on gender-equality education.
The committee would print 160,000 copies, with 110,000 in traditional characters, 30,000 English copies and 20,000 copies in simplified Chinese, the proposal said. The pamphlets would be distributed to schools, libraries and township offices for people to take home.
“It is reasonable that Mainland Affairs Council publications have simplified Chinese versions, but when an MOE publication comes in simplified Chinese characters, it must want schoolchildren to be familiar with simplified Chinese,” she said, adding that the ministry was implementing Ma’s simplified character policy.
The committee yesterday responded to Huang’s accusations, saying the proposed publication came in a simplified Chinese version because it was meant to promote advances in Taiwan’s gender equality internationally.
Later yesterday, Fu Mu-lung (傅木龍), a section director from the Ministry of Education’s Committee on School Discipline and Moral Education, said the ministry decided not to take on the commission’s suggestion, and that no simplified Chinese version would be printed.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY RICH CHANG AND STAFF WRITER