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Why hasn’t China abandoned Hanzi yet ?

龙腾网/七进七出赵子龙 2018-09-03 16:45:41 中国汉字废除
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Alston, MS fromNational Central University

Because there’s no need at all.

Hanzi has some important advantages westernpeople usually never understand.

Pictograph language, like Chinese or Hanzi,is visually more distinguishable than phonetic ones, thus has faster readingspeed in average. In contrast, phonetic language, like English, is soundly moredistinguishable than pictograph ones, thus has faster listening speed inaverage.




Yeah I know, people who don’t use Chinesewould never know the feeling. Let’s take Japan as an example. Theoretically,Japanese is a phonetic language because all Japanese can be represented withpure phonetic characters, no Hanzi. However, almost in every “reading speedcritical” area, they still use Hanzi. For example:



Above are road signs in Japan, almost 100%presented in Hanzi.



Above is Metro line in Tokyo, guess 95%Hanzi.

If Hanzi is not that useful, why Japankeeps using it for more than 1000 years?

As Korea, they've deceied to back to Hanzi - elementary schools willstart to teach Hanzi in 2019.

As you mentioned, China once tried to moveto alphabet because she didn’t know the reason she lagged behind to the Westwasn’t because of Hanzi. Today, China proved she can built a space stationwithout abandon its root of culture - Hanzi.




至于韩国,他们决定重新启用汉字– 韩国小学将在2019年开始教授学生汉字。

正如你所提到的,中国曾经试图转向字母,因为当时的中国不知道落后于西方的原因并不是因为汉字。今天,中国证明了它可以在不放弃文化根源的情况下在太空中建造起空间站 - 汉字。

Despite the enormity of the written character dictionary, functional literacyfor the average Chinese adult may be achieved with anything over a couplethousand characters. While this seems daunting, compared to a Westernlanguage's couple of dozen or so characters, which much be assembled to createwords, Hanzi provides, after learning the couple thousand characters and theirmeanings and uses, including in compounding, a very rich usable vocabulary ofwhat is likely to be tens of thousands of words.


Contrast that with spending years to learn the alphabet in use in one'sculture, the basics of how to spell syllables or phonemes, the rules forassembling them, which are damningly complex in English, less so in Romancelanguages, I believe from my own parallel learning.


English is one of the most widely used languages on Earth and is preposterouslydifficult to learn as a second language. As Chinese and Tibetan people I'vetutored have often remarked, a lot of how it works "just doesn't makesense." And yet, it is in use worldwide.


Chinese is in use by, what, 3 Billion people on a regular if not primarylanguage basis throughout Asia, and is taught as a second or third language inmuch of the world now, since it is becoming a business necessity, despite theprotestations that "educated Chinese speak English.



I will not study character-written Chinese. Even modern "simplified"Chinese or Japanese or Korean (NK stopped using Chinese characters... a part oftheir Path to Poverty, I suppose) is too much work for someone my age who valueshaving a rich vocabulary in the languages I do use.


I can sympathize with FOREIGN students who move to China and must contend witheducation using Hanzi. You are suddenly rendered as a toddler, in a real sense.

For those with means, there are plenty of English language schools (andcompetition among them to impress American, British or Australian English asthe way to speak), as well as others.



The nations who have stopped or are stopping widespread use of Hanzi seem to beformer conquered or warring nations who would rather shuck that directinfluence on their cultures. Writing is personal. Mongolia uses both Cyrillicand Roman alphabets now and Indonesians can read SOME Hanzi, but don't use it,at least not the young people. Singapore is all about lovely English, etc.



China, however, is invested thousands of years in Hanzi, and it is trulyChinese. I can't see why the CCP would put China through a two-generationperiod of agony to discontinue use of Hanzi.

Chinese people may want to be more like Westerners in many ways, but theydon't, mostly, want to become Westerners.

Few things are closer to the heart of a people or culture than their writtenlanguage.

I would not expect Hanzi to go away... it will continue to evolve, likeall languages do, and will remain truly Chinese.





Lerner Adams, Softwareengineer in IR, NLP and machine learning.

Let me answer your question in three parts.The first, point out the mistake in your question; and the second, tell you a similarexample in the history. Thirdly, brief talk about the merits and demerits, somechanges resulting from technology and costs of an alternative.

让我分三个部分回答你的问题。第一,指出你问题中的错误; 第二,告诉你历史上的一个类似的例子。第三,简要讨论优点和缺点,由技术和替代成本引起的一些变化。

But now I think in this information era,the medium we use to convey the information is not that important. What mattersis who are speaking a certain language.Just as any language ischanging and the trend is determined by the educated usage, the dominantlanguage in this world is also changing by the same token. Centuriesago most educated people should learn Latin, but I think you won’t be surprisedto see such a question today: Is Latin still relevant in today`s world?A question about thethen most popular language which is more similar to English in any way than toChinese.


1. Education in China


Your statement (for the original question)that the students in China are not outstanding in math, science and etc.compared to students in the West may cannot hold water. Here are the Programmefor International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009 and 2012 ranking lists:


PISA is an authoritative studyby Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (PISA-OECD) every threeyears. As you can see, areas or countries such as Shanghai, Taiwan and Japanall keep their own traditional ideographic characters which, as you said, leavestudents short-sighted, stunt in ares such as logic and reasoning.

PISA是经济合作与发展组织(PISA -OECD)每三年进行一次的权威性研究。正如你所看到的,上海,台湾和日本等地区或国家都保留着自己的传统表意字符,正如你所说的那样,这些字符会让学生无法看得长远,在逻辑和推理等方面有所欠缺。

2. Let me illustrate thisissue using Japan's efforts


The tour of Iwakura Embassy in Europelargely broadened the horizon of Japanese, and at the same time, made them torealize that China, the country they once worshiped, was poor andbackward, especially compared to the U.K. and the U.S. Hence its languagewas inferior compared to the phonographic script used in Western countries.They began to research on language reform. What's more, China lost the Jiawuwar in 1894, which completely changed Japan's attitude towards China, andconsequently, Chinese/Kanji.


As for the differences of the thinkingand reasoning, based on different languages, there are tons of studies doneby linguistics saying that the structure of language may determine thestructure of habitual thought in a society, but it doesn't imply that which isinferior and which is superior.

Costs of an alternative



At the very least, let's assume thatthe current logograms used in China is not the "optimal design" fromthe perspective of the theory of evolutionary trend of language. If anything,the transformation from a logographic writing system to a phonetic one, or anyother forms, is very, very costly.


First of all,the loss, otherwise, including the transitional culture mayresult in a culture crisis. Last week, I came across two mothers with theirchildren. I learned that they came back from a school of Chinese studies (国学班) for TheBook of Changes (易经), a book written by authors including Confucius thousands of yearsago. They told me that Chinese wisdom becomes more and more important forthem. Secondly, because of the serious imbalance ofeconomic and educational development in that vast land, such a bigchange may get pretty hairy. It's a totally different situation in South Korea.By way of example, Chairman Mao is the only figure on almost all Chinese papercurrency. Rather than a political concern, it's an education/literacy matter.Many people from remote places know only Chairman Mao, and some even stilldon't know who the current Chairman is. The larger and more diverse the countryis, the harder and more costly the change will be. Last, but not least, economically,the investment for foreign language learning has been very large, and stoppingthe use of Hanzi requires a large amont of investment, which directly orindirectly goes into the pocket of Western countries. Normally, as I know, thepopularity of a language is positively correlated to the impact in the world,or essencially the economy of the countries speaking it. China has become thesecond largest economy power in the world and has beening expanding Chinese inthe world in the form of openning and running Confucius Institutes.



I learned that there are some technicalreasons Hanja disappeared in Korean but some 3000 Kanji still remain inJapanese.

Chinese will be changing, just like anyother languages; more specifically it will be more and more symbolized, but itwill never be abandoned, at least when there are still Chinese in this planetwho are proud and confident.


中文将会像其他语言一样发生变化; 更具体地说,它将会越来越具有象征意义,但它永远不会被抛弃,至少在这个星球上仍有中国人为它感到自豪和自信的时候。

Mark Gelomilotos,works at KIXEYE

There is evidence that the Chinese triedswitching over to phonetics off an on as early as the Han dynasty, and theypretty much all failed.



Answer is actually pretty simple, and two fold:

1) The written language is designed for conveyance of ideas between a smallsubset of people (scribes, etc.), as opposed to convenient mass usage. It's notin the interest of that subset to make it easy to read/write. That lasted a fewthousand years.



2) Even when standardized Mandarin started to become widely used, themono/disyllabic nature of the language makes reading it difficult...just lookslike nonsense, while the characters often contain meaning easily recognized(especially the "radical/phonetic" forms, which give you a hint whenthe character as a whole doesn't look familiar).


Also, please feel free to say "Chinesecharacters". We only say "Kanji" because Japanese has threewriting systems.