01 July, 2007:
Different Types of Hanzi 不同的汉字
Chinese characters have been used for thousands of years. In that time, they have changed and developed. The script used today is essentially the same as that used 2,000 years ago, but noticeable changes do exist. The types of changes that have occurred in the past are still going on today, and they can be seen where characters are different over short periods of time or across space. Characters are not exactly the same all across the world of people who speak and write in Chinese. They continue to be developed and refined as peoples needs arise and Change.
When he became the first Emperor of China in 221 BC, Qinshihuang (秦始皇) standardized the writing system of the Han people. After him, the characters used by the Han,汉字 Han4zi4, remained essentially unchanged for over two thousand years. With the exception of calligraphic styles and shorthand abbreviations, the tradition of writing Hanzi has been long and unbroken in China.
At least that was the case in China until the twentieth century. In the early party of the century, when the Qing Dynasty, 明朝 qing2chao2 (1644-1911), was overthrown, some progressives such as Hu Shi (胡适) and Guo Moruo (郭沫若) started advocating an alphabetic script. The movement was revolutionary because the literati involved spurned previous Chinese academic tradition of attending to precedent and studying according to the Classics. Instead, the intellectuals involved in the movement were independent thinkers—many of whom had studied abroad and returned to promote the use of Western scientific methods in academics.
Despite the strong influence of progressive academic thought, the movement to alphabetize Chinese failed in the first part of the century. By the 1930s and ‘40s, any thought of language reform was overshadowed by political unrest. The Nationalists (KMT: guo2min2dang3 国民党) and the Communists (CCP: gong4chan3dang3 共产党) were engaged in civil war, and all of China was at war with Japan. Naturally, it was not a convenient time for changing the way people wrote Chinese.
By 1950, the Communist shifted their priorities away from the alphabetic ideal—probably because it would have been nearly impossible to realize. Instead, the focus lay on the less revolutionary step of developing Simplified Characters, 简体字 jian3ti3zi4, for common use. In 1950, the first dictionary of simplified forms was published, and in 1956 the government issued the first official list of Simplified Characters. The publication of that official list effectively made Chairman Mao the first person to officially alter the Chinese script in 2,177 years.
Today, Simplified Characters are the standard for any printed material in Mainland China. The islands Taiwan (台湾 taiwan) and Hong Kong (香港 xianggang) persist in using Traditional Characters, fan4ti3zi4 繁体字 for everything from printed materials to movie subtitles. Because Hong Kong is a media powerhouse in Asia, Hong Kong’s continued use of traditional characters infiltrates the mainland via television, movies and karaoke. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to live on the mainland without encountering Traditional Characters. In order to read older materials and overseas publications, Chinese must be fluent in both scripts.
Taiwan and Hong Kong’s reasons for continuing to use traditional script are quite distinct. Hong Kong never changed to Simplified Characters because it was a British colony until 1997. It seems that Taiwan persists in its use of Traditional Characters in order to prove that it is not the same country as the Mainland. Taiwanese tend to be proud of the fact that they continue using traditional forms, and they look condescendingly on the Simplified Characters as a corrupt form of writing.
Hong Kong and Macao 香港和澳门
The Linguistic situation of Hong Kong and Macao is slightly different than that of Taiwan. Owing to their long period of separation from the Mainland, Hong Kong and Macao naturally have their own political qualms with policies instituted by the People’s Republic of China. Having spent so much time as colonies, these islands never had to worry very much about the language policy in the rest of China. Furthermore, Hong Kong and Macao were not governed by the People’s Republic of China when simplified characters were introduced. Therefore, Hong Kong and Macao not only use Traditional Characters, but also uses Cantonese as their standard language for spoken communication.
Overseas Chinese Communities