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

Du Hao (China Art News): There is no doubt that Chinese characters are unique and alluring. However, in the new age of the Internet culture, many expressive and elegant characters and words have been abandoned and forgotten. Luckily, the recent Chinese Characters Dictation Competition has offered us a rare opportunity to rediscover the beauty of ancient characters and words.

China has a long history and a time-honored culture. However, due to changes throughout history—especially those in the 20th century—the links between its age-old culture and the modern world have been disrupted. Under such conditions, an effective method was needed to re-link the two; the Chinese Characters Dictation Competition is doing just that. It has provided a means for the rediscovery of these forgotten characters.

Guan Zhengwen, director of the competition, notably commented that people in China need an event like this, as it is of vital importance to pass on the beauty of our written system to the next generation. Yu Guangzhong, a famous poet from China's Taiwan, also noted that the Chinese language is the foundation of the spiritual world of Chinese people. That means that as our mother tongue, Chinese is the basis of our culture. Without the language, we lose everything. In this respect, ancient characters bear the weight of memory of China's long history. Losing sight of them risks leaving China and its people without a tangible history, and thus no future.

Let them stay frozen

Wang Pengfei (The Mirror): Today, the value of ancient Chinese characters is largely embodied in their aesthetic and cultural implications but not in modern communication. They are too rarely used to have real value in modern life or enjoy mainstream usage.

Language has its own developing logic. Throughout the course of history, outdated characters or words have inevitably been replaced with more modern and innovative versions. Even the dawn of "Chinglish" phrases like the popular anglicized four-character idiom "no zuo no die," meaning if you don't do stupid things, they won't come back to hurt you, shows the continued advance and integration of modern-day speech.

The research of ancient Chinese characters should be undertaken by academics, instead of the general public. We must understand that the fates of these characters are not decided by a contest or the media, but by the passing of time.

All in all, the most basic function of Chinese characters is for communication. If some characters lose this function, they should be left to the pages of history books.

Liu Shaohua (Shenyang Daily): Outdated characters cannot follow new linguistic trends. Take weirui, for example: The two characters of the word have so many strokes that most people today cannot remember how to write them. Besides, many other simpler words can express the same meaning. Why would people invest the time in remembering the strokes of such a needlessly complicated word?

For a television program, using traditional culture to attract an audience is a great selling point, but we should understand that the show has little power to bring these rarely used characters back to life. The meaningful revival of these characters requires certain linguistic circumstances; I believe such circumstances have not yet come.

The development of a language cannot be separated from its usage in reality. With the passing of time, it's inevitable that some characters and words will be replaced by newer and more popular ones. It seems foolhardy to put more effort into remembering weirui than into learning new words to express the same meaning.

Hu Kefei (China Art News): From the angle of enhancing traditional Chinese culture, the Chinese Characters Dictation Competition can be seen as a positive thing. But when looking at it in terms of practicability, the contest is leading the public in the wrong direction. To most, the real need for a language is its usage in daily life. But many characters and words promoted by the contest have lost their usefulness in modern times.

Many believe that ancient Chinese people all spoke elegant, classical Chinese. False. Our ancestors started using colloquial Chinese in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Classical Chinese became reserved for writing only. This is simply how languages develop.

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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