[文摘] China’s Tyranny of Characters Might Not Succeed (and Be Succeeded)

The English subbing of Dynasty Warrior 6 & 7 & 8 is totally not a bad work, which I just found out these two days by bumping into them on Youtube.
The work certainly helped popularize that part of Chinese history (namely, the Three Kingdoms era, of which I am a serious enthusiaste) among a new generation of foreign (non-Chinese) game players.
The thing is, due to the lack of scholarly materials (and of accurate translation of either first or secondary materials on that history), these foreign audiences got serious confused about what is in DW6/7/8, what is in Romance of the Three Kingdoms (the novel 三國演義 written in Ming), and the Records of the Three Kingdoms (the historical account 三國誌 written by Chen Shou in West Jin). I am so sad with their inability to get the different layers of facts straight, especially some Thai and Vietnamese players claimed to have the authoritative say because « Chinese history is a mandatory class at their school. »
Anyway, the Economist article here is also dealing with a very complex and historical part of Chinese culture that i’d say without significant exposure to local knowledge would be hard to avoid mistakes. However, the authoritative weekly has gotten the job beautifully done.
It touches the following things about the tension of retaining current Chinese writing system with Mandarin pronunciations:
1)
The Communist Party is basically pursuing the course of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, for linguistic unification by suppressing the use of regional dialects, « just as the British authorities tried to get rid of the Gaelic languages in Scotland and Ireland in the 18th century, and many companies are going along with it. »
2)
China in reality it is like medieval Europe—a continent full of different languages, nominally united by a written lingua franca (classical Chinese analogous to Latin).
The Europe got rid of Latin for regional languages (German, English, etc.) just like classical Chinese became dead, too. But China has managed to avoid a linguistic fragmentation with the introduction of plain Chinese (白話文) and with Mandarin as the official way to pronounce it.
Some revolutionaries, including Mao Zedong, initially wanted to scrap Chinese characters altogether and replace them with an alphabet. They settled instead for a simplification of the characters and a standardisation of how they are pronounced and written in Roman letters, known as pinyin (拼音). //
3)
Early in the technological revolution, many thought the complexity of inputting characters into computers might kill them off completely. But the opposite has happened: “Pinyin allows anyone to read and write anything they can say.” Just type “chang” or “mao” in pinyin and choose from a selection of 5 or 6 characters pronounced that way, easing the burden of having to recall the characters cold.
4)
Slogging away at the rote learning of characters (by speaking into their phones and computers—in their own languages and dialects) leads to “character amnesia”-many digital natives now have difficulties writing an article by pen, but it also help release cognitive resources for thinking other things outside the boxy prison of Chinese characters.
And as they become more reflective and creative- as we could see how the Chinese language is re-appropriated, new words and phrases are coined in an unprecedented way, would Beijing still be able to achieve the same level of imperial state control as that ancient counterparts?
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