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UPDATED: October 13, 2014 NO. 42 OCTOBER 16, 2014
Should Rarely Used Chinese Characters Be Revived?


The Chinese Characters Dictation Competition, which requires contestants to hear spoken words and then write the correct corresponding characters, is shown every weekend on China Central Television (CCTV), the state television broadcaster. Linguistic experts serve as judges, while CCTV hosts read the characters to the contestants. At the end of the contest, one competitor from the initial 36 teams will be crowned champion.

Because the Chinese language relies on just a few hundred pronunciations to represent tens of thousands of characters—written with anywhere from one stroke to 64—this is an especially difficult task, complicated by the fact that the language has evolved over thousands of years. Many outdated characters and terms are quickly falling into the realm of the forgotten. For some older viewers, however, the contest drums up a strong sense of nostalgia, a longing for the traditional Chinese language used before the advent of computers and smartphones.

Since July, organizers of the competition have also been reviving characters that have fallen out of general use by popularizing them online. Each week, a carefully chosen word, such as weirui (hanging down in clusters), has been posted on the Internet for the public to learn.

Amidst the fervor of reviving forgotten words, many have acknowledged the positive role played by the Chinese Characters Dictation Competition, but others have expressed their doubts, believing instead that trying to revive rarely used Chinese characters does little for today's hi-tech world.

Rare characters still matter

Zhou Yifan (tl.wenming.cn): Chinese characters are unique in the world's vast array of written languages. Their strokes give the characters a strong aesthetic beauty and a rich history. They display Chinese people's unique culture and way of thinking.

Take, for instance, the first word put forth in the recent character revival movement, weirui. The two characters have a total of 27 strokes. They may seem complicated but are in fact quite expressive. The word is used to describe bushes and trees flourishing, their branches and leaves dripping down in clusters. From the sounds and shapes of the two characters, we can picture this beautiful scenery.

Today, the ancient word has regained its strength after being shared online for the public to learn. According to a primary school teacher in Changsha, central China's Hunan Province, after the word was introduced by the Chinese Characters Dictation Competition, many of his students started using it in their own sentences.

The successful revival of this word shows: With proper guidance, many elegant ancient words, which have thousands of years of history behind them, can be revived even in today's changing world.

In fact, the charm of our traditional language is reflected not only in ancient words like weirui, but also in classical phrases and sentences. For example, many traditional sayings quoted by President Xi Jinping have gained traction. This testifies to the strength and vitality of our traditional language and culture.

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