Outrage over simplified Chinese characters in subtitles is much ado about nothing

The practicality to read both types of characters is far removed from politics and nothing to do with the “mainlandisation” of Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 February, 2016, 1:15am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 February, 2016, 1:15am

Simplified Chinese characters in subtitles accompanying a television newscast in Putonghua would not seem reason to cause concern. Yet in politically charged Hong Kong, where a vocal minority views all matters mainland suspiciously, it is cause for protest. Thousands of complaints have been lodged over free-to-air broadcaster TVB’s decision and it has been forced to defend itself. But there should not be a need to justify or apologise; rushing to politicise everyday issues is not helpful.

There is, after all, a sizeable population of newcomers from the mainland living in Hong Kong who are yet to get to grips with the traditional characters in common use in our city. TVB’s use of the simplified way of writing Chinese in the newscasts on its J5 channel caters for their needs. But it also serves the purpose of allowing Hongkongers to listen to broadcasts in the national language while improving their reading skills of what to many is an unfamiliar script. That opportunity should be welcomed.

Use of simplified characters has long been a contentious issue in our city. But TVB’s decision came at a sensitive time, concern having been raised over a consultation document that some feared was an effort to replace traditional characters in teaching. It said students should be equipped to read simplified characters so that they had a broader reading range and better communication with the mainland and overseas. Authorities have rejected the worries, saying the matter is not part of the consultation and there are no plans to alter teaching methods.

Schools should offer lessons in simplified Chinese, but they should not be compulsory nor taught at the expense of traditional script. Mastering one is necessary to be able to properly learn the other. Language is an emotional issue, bound in culture and tradition. Yet the practicality for present and future generations of being able to read both types of characters is far removed from politics and nothing to do with the “mainlandisation” of our city, as some allege. It is about understanding, communicating and having options and opportunities.