• Wed
  • Jul 23, 2014
  • Updated: 4:19am
NewsHong Kong

Hong Kong actor's criticism of simplified Chinese character use stirs up passions online

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 July, 2013, 4:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 July, 2013, 10:52am

Award-winning Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong Chau-sang has stirred up passions in cyberspace with his lament at what he sees as the "death" of China’s ancient culture in the mainland due to its use of simplified Chinese characters.

Wong’s message has drawn both fierce criticism and passionate support from mainland and Hong Kong users of the Sina Weibo micro-blogging site.

Over half of the population in China does not read traditional Chinese characters. Sigh. The Huaxia civilisation is dead
Anthony Wong Chau-sang

“Over half of the population in China does not read traditional Chinese characters. Sigh. The Huaxia civilisation is dead,” Wong said in his message posted early this week. (Huaxia refers to Chinese civilisation in historical literature.)

Some bloggers who agreed with Wong pointed out that traditional characters were important as they were used to write most of China's ancient cultural classics.

But critics of Wong said the Hong Kong star had failed to acknowledge the merits of the mainland’s simplified characters.

“One of its big advantages is that it makes it easier to reduce illiteracy, and therefore promote cultural exchange,” said one user identified as Happy Spear.

The issue of simplified Chinese characters often touches the nerves of the people in Hong Kong, which along with Taiwan, uses the traditional characters as their standard written form of Chinese.

Last April, a Hong Kong café chain was forced to change its menus that used simplified Chinese characters only after it was accused of discriminating against Hongkongers by internet users.

Wong, often an outspoken critic of the mainland in his blog and other media, was also accused by some bloggers of simply using the issue of simplified characters to promulgate his anti-mainland sentiments.

“You habitually look down upon mainlanders to establish your own sense of superiority! You oppose everything [that is] mainland Chinese. You prefer to be a British dog rather than a Chinese man,” one user said in a reply to Wong.

“[You have] no dignity and no brain!” a user identified as Moonshadow Sunlight wrote.

Wong, 50, has won the Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actor Award twice, in 1994 for his serial killer role in The Untold Story and in 1999 for his appearance in Beast Cops.

 

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sudouest
Honestly, does it mean Huaxia wants to write in jiaguwen, because the so-called traditional chinese is not as traditional compared to jiaguwen. People should move forward, not stagnant, nor backward.
zack.chen.3726
****blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_40305bff0101a2p7.html this blog may explain some of the story focusing the character itself other than politics.
johnh
@zack.chen.3726: Hello, I just hope you know that's a CCP approved web site. It just might be a bit biased ;)
scmpgt
You know huaxia is in trouble when the character for East is easier to write in traditional chinese.
Lupax27
There are many Chinese dialects. The written Chinese language should be the same one so that we can understand one another. There are many Chinese living outside China.
Compare with other languages the written Chinese is more difficult to learn,but we can learn it if we want to.
Giwaffe
To follow up, the Chinese language, simplified or traditional, is not a very multi-purpose language. It is inherently ambiguous and lacks specificity. For comparison, there are nine specific tenses in English, whereas there are (correct me if I am wrong) three in Chinese.
It is is cumbersome. Imagine using Chinese numbers for complicated mathematical equations in place of Arabic numerals. It is also very difficult to learn, being memory based. Alphabet based, phonetic languages are far easier to learn as it relies on more than rote pictorial memory, allowing aural sequencing and patterning to serve as memory aids.
I may probably have rotten eggs thrown at me, but if the aim was to reduce illiteracy, the Chinese language would not be the best choice. It is, however, a most beautiful art form. Chinese poetry is in a class of itself.
bonniechin
I agree with Giwaffe that the Chinese language can be cumbersome. However, I disagree when it comes to numbers, though I'm not sure whether Giwaffe is of the same opinion when it comes to the spoken aspect of the language as well.
Take a random number of 139,294. In English, this is "one hundred (and) thirty-nine thousand two hundred (and) ninty-four". That's 14 syllables (not including the "ands", which is debatable whether they should be included or not). In CANTONESE, this is "saap sam maan gau cheen yi bak gau sap sei". 10 syllables.
Another example: 5,378,984. Five million three hundred seventy eight thousand nine hundred eighty four (18 syllables - can someone advise whether "million" is 2 or 3 syllables??!), versus ng bak saam sap chat maan baat cheen gau bak baat sap sei (13 syllables).
Not trying to argue that either language is better than the other, but each language has its own advantages. Merely trying to point out that this is one of the instances where Chinese may just have an advantage over English.
sudouest
Sure, but is making more tenses going to remove ambiguity ? What about asking negative questions like: You don't want to go ? Yes, I ... or No, I ....
Russian and French e.g. are richer in tenses, does that mean less ambiguity ?
There's no such thing as Chinese numbers, or English, or French numbers, for that matter. I'm not sure what you are getting at here. Arabic numerals is similar to Chinese characters, except that Arabic single numerals can be written with just one stroke each, without lifting one's pen, in contrast with Chinese characters for the numerals which requires one or more strokes.
Chinese is more difficult than European languages, and that just implies you need a "bigger" brain. In fact, Chinese requires alot more brain sections compared to other languages, including Arabic. I read articles of these before, and here's one e.g. : ****voices.yahoo.com/how-brain-processes-language-2046733.html?cat=58
Memory is important, but I'm not saying we should regurgitate or rote. Are you saying that lawyers, doctors, scientists, or the likes don't need a strong memory ? Without memory, you can't "upgrade" to the next level. I too find Chinese hard at times, and hope we have a book on the origin of each word, to give meat to them. It's a language and not a language at the same time.
I'll say reducing illiteracy here, means reducing the brain power needed to know and remember the strokes, but at the same time, not expunging the language.
Giwaffe
More tenses are just one way a language can be more specific and descriptive. Since a language is a sum of its parts, more tenses do not necessarily lead to a language with less ambiguity, but it can certainly help. That certain tenses do not exist, and thus certain ideas cannot be clearly described or conveyed, can be seen as a limitation of a language with perhaps far reaching results. For instance, clarity and specificity can be very important for scientific applications.
Another inherent point of ambiguity is the high frequency with which the same sound represents different words/pictographs, leading to a heightened necessity for contextual information for interpretation. This not only increases the processing required for comprehension (thereby lowering efficiency), but also the chance for interpretation error (increasing ambiguity), since contextual interpretation is not standardized and tends to be more subjective. This additional layer of ambiguity is in addition to the ambiguity that exists whenever a word with more than one meaning is used, no matter what the language.
Giwaffe
Regarding "Chinese numbers", I am referring to the use of Chinese characters to represent numbers. The point I am trying to get at is efficiency and ease/speed of comprehension. Arabic numerals could represent the number 4545 with only 4 characters requiring no more than 8 strokes. In comparison, Chinese would require 4 to 8 pictographs (depending on whether one writes the units as well) requiring 18 to 28 strokes.
With reference to memory, of course it is important for a great many people for a great many things, but that is a separate topic altogether.
What I am trying to say is if the aim is to reduce illiteracy, the language chosen to accomplish this would ideally be easy to learn, relatively intuitive, and require minimal processing and memory intensity. Phonetic, alphabet languages usually employ a standardized, logic based system for word formation and pronunciation. One advantage is that a word can be spelled if one knows what it sounds like, and one can pronounce a word even if one does not know the precise meaning. This is unachievable for a non-phonetic language such as Chinese.

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