Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Discussion of Chinese characters rekindled: Traditional or Simplified

Whether to learn traditional Chinese characters or to learn the simplified version? That has been an ongoing debate since Taiwan and China began using different written versions of Chinese and it continues to be a contentious issue in the overseas Chinese communities decades later.

Traditional Chinese characters have been used for over two thousand years and continue to be used in Taiwan. Beijing introduced simplified Chinese characters in 1950s and they are now officially used throughout China, including Hong Kong and Macau. Chinese communities in the US have been using traditional characters, but many are switching to teaching simplified characters. Seeing this trend, in early 2009, the Taiwan government launched a campaign to obtain UNESCO World Heritage status for traditional Chinese characters in an attempt to preserve the written language.

According to the World Journal, one of the biggest Chinese-language newspapers in the US, this topic remains a heated issue even in China. At a top level political meeting in China, the issue was raised again when a bill was suggested to gradually abolish simplified characters in favor of re-adopting traditional ones within the next ten years. The reasons given were: 1) that the original simplification process was too rough, violating the scientific and aesthetic aspects of traditional characters, and 2) that modern computer technology has lessened the need for complicated handwriting of traditional characters. Even though the Chinese government rejected the bill, the proposal rekindled a discussion of traditional versus simplified Chinese characters among overseas Chinese communities.

Which version to teach was a question the principal of the New Sprout Bilingual School wrestled with five years ago. As the daughter of Taiwanese immigrant parents who learned traditional Chinese at a local overseas Chinese school, the New Jersey school began teaching traditional characters when the school first opened in 2004. She decided on traditional characters because most of the textbooks came from Taiwan. However, a year later, the school changed to teaching simplified Chinese as most of the school’s students and teachers came from the mainland and were used to simplify Chinese.

Many older schools in New York City have been teaching traditional Chinese characters with Hanyu Pinyin – a Romanization pronunciation system of Chinese Mandarin developed by mainland scholars. Although the schools acknowledge that simplified Chinese, used by a majority of Chinese people worldwide, is the market trend, they still prefer to mingle traditional and simplified characters. This mixture respects Chinese history and heritage while allowing their students to read and write more easily.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.