Historical Chinese characters – an endangered script?

Posted on Tuesday, May 5th, 02009 by Laura Welcher
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Chinese script

Can a logographic script of a major world language survive its own government bureaucracy?  As reported in the NY Times:

“Seeking to modernize its vast database on China’s 1.3 billion citizens, the government’s Public Security Bureau has been replacing the handwritten identity card that every Chinese must carry with a computer-readable one, complete with color photos and embedded microchips.  The bureau’s computers, however, are programmed to read only 32,252 of the roughly 55,000 Chinese characters, according to a 2006 government report. The result is that at least some of the 60 million other Chinese with obscure characters in their names cannot get new cards — unless they change their names to something more common.”

  • kate545

    This is hardly surprising – when the simplified characters came out in the 70s, it was widely suspected that while they might help spread literacy, the Party’s true motivation was to control what people can read. Over time, fewer and fewer people would be able to read old, pre-Party text.

  • I don’t work with Chinese, but to my eye it looks like a move that will, in addition to saving the government plenty of money, help Westerners understand that the number of Chinese characters is not as daunting as it could be…

  • Zheming

    This issue has many aspects & motivations – political control, increasing literacy, questionable benevolence, standardization & simplification of written text – to name a few. Consider that the roman letter D comes from the pictograph of a delta and the D sound remains to this day, altho the richness of that script and the lamentations of its loss are no longer heard. If China expects to interact across its borders in any major form of Chinese or even across diverse cultures within its own borders the Chinese written language has more challenges than this in store. And then there’s the spoken language …

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