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UPDATED: October 8, 2013 NO. 41 OCTOBER 10, 2013
Hanzi Crisis
Dictation contest proves handwritten Chinese characters are under threat in digital age
By Bai Shi

There is an old Chinese saying: A person is always judged by his or her handwriting. In ancient times, a person with excellent calligraphy could always win respect and admiration from others.

In the West, calligraphy is regarded as a form of art, though the writing style differs from that of Chinese. Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple Inc., talked about learning calligraphy in his commencement address delivered at Stanford University in 2005. He took a calligraphy class in Reed College, while being fascinated by serif and san-serif typefaces. Many years later, Jobs put his learning into the Mac, which features beautiful typography, multiple typefaces and proportionally spaced fonts.

Efforts needed

Currently, it is an urgent task for China to tackle new challenges in the digital age and revive its language, seeing as many countries have made remarkable efforts to preserve and promote their own native tongues.

Spelling Bee, an English language spelling competition, has been held in the United States for middle school students every year since 1925. Its purpose is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn the definition of each word, and develop correct English usage. Furthermore, one generation after another has been inspired by the TV program.

The Japanese have shown enormous interest in written hanzi as their own language is mainly derived from Chinese. Since 1975, an exam on hanzi has been held in Japan every year in a bid to improve vocabulary and knowledge. To encourage interest, the Japanese Government has even issued a preferential education and employment policy for those who have passed the test.

In Guan's opinion, the first episode of the contest is a good attempt to cultivate national pride in the Chinese language. "Though the program is quite young compared with those overseas, it garners a considerable amount of media attention. More importantly, it arouses public enthusiasm to revive our native language," he said.

The government has also realized that handwritten Chinese characters are under threat, with the Ministry of Education recently calling for better calligraphy education at local primary and middle schools.

Email us at: baishi@bjreview.com

The Origin and Evolution Of Chinese Characters

As one of the oldest forms of writing in the world, Chinese characters have survived for over 4,000 years. Today, it is the language spoken by the largest population in the world.

Chinese characters have their origins in ancient rock drawings, and were first utilized as part of a mature writing system during the Shang Dynasty (about 16th-11th century B.C.).

Having evolved from scripts on animal shells, bones and bronze ware, hanzi embodies the wisdom of traditional Chinese culture.

The invention of printing technology and the availability of Chinese characters in computers have further facilitated its popularization.

Chinese writing is not only the carrier of Chinese culture, but has generated many forms of art such as calligraphy and seal cutting.

(Source: National Museum of Chinese Characters in Anyang)

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