Return to Traditional Chinese Characters

December 13, 2007 Updated: December 13, 2007

At the Eighth International Chinese Character Symposium (ICCS), held on October 30 to 31 in Beijing, scholars from Mainland China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan agreed that Chinese characters should be standardized, and more importantly, traditional characters should be maintained.

During an interview with The Epoch Times on November 6, several scholars said that traditional characters are the essence of ancient Chinese civilization and can truly reflect the depth and richness of the Chinese culture. The symposium also signified that although the CCP has tried since 1949 to eradicate traditional characters—and thereby cut off the connection to traditional culture—their efforts have been in vain.

Traditional Characters Considered for Standard Writing

According to Korean Daily, based on the understanding reached at the symposium, experts will regard the traditional writing forms as the standard. However, simplified versions of individual characters may remain in use.

The symposium was hosted by the Institute of Applied Linguistics under the Ministry of Education and the Office of Chinese Language Council International. Participants decided to create a “Comparative Research Dictionary” for China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan in order to gradually unify the characters used in various countries. The next symposium, scheduled for 2008, will be held in Seoul, Korea. In future years, experts from Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macao will also be invited to better represent other Chinese-speaking countries.

WHO to Use Traditional Characters for Chinese Medicine

The ICCS has long been active in the international community. Prior to the decision to unify Chinese characters, there had been an increase in the number of countries using traditional characters. According to an October 17, 2007 article, the World Health Organization (WHO) established that translations of traditional Chinese medicine texts should be written in traditional Chinese characters.

It has been reported that China has accepted the WHO translation standards. The international community has exerted significant pressure to bring back traditional Chinese characters.

Both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have used traditional characters in their calligraphy works presented to expatriate Chinese and students in Hong Kong.

Policy Change from the Communist Party's Language and Culture?

Chief Editor Xu Shuiliang of Internet Digest said that although this symposium was hosted by government organizations, most of the participants were experts and scholars from grassroots organizations. On the whole, the majority of people favored restoration of traditional Chinese culture. This indicates the failure of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) policies on language and culture. The CCP will be forced to change its approach.

Xu said, “Under the current conditions, with the CCP policies on language and culture still in effect, reaching an agreement on the co-existence of traditional and simplified characters is a breakthrough. In the future, traditional characters will be used more broadly.”

The CCP implemented character simplification even before it took power in 1949. In 1956, the CCP announced its “Proposal to Simplify Chinese Characters.” In 1964, it published “Summary List of Simplified Characters.” However, in 1977, its “Second Proposal on Character Simplification” failed to pass and was rescinded. Now there are only several hundred simplified characters and radicals left. Mao Zedong was a strong proponent of abolishing Chinese characters and replacing them with pinyin (phonetic spelling of sounds).

Simplified Characters Impede Passing On Of Cultural Heritage

Taiwan-based editor Zhang Fuzhang of “Today in Prophecies” said that Chinese characters have rich inner meanings and reflect the laws of nature, a view of life and the universe, as well as a respect for and fear of, gods. The five elements and yin-yang harmony are applicable to human behavior, as well as thoughts and feelings. In the past 5,000 years, Chinese characters have represented the depth of the Chinese culture.

Zhang said that the CCP's policies to simplify traditional characters were designed to sever the connection to traditional culture, thereby diminishing our heritage. Although simplified characters are easier to write, they have destroyed the rules of radicals and the inner meanings of the language. Some characters now have meanings that are opposite to what they meant originally. As a result, students who learn simplified characters have difficulty understanding ancient texts. This has created a gap in Chinese culture, and the very essence of Chinese culture is being threatened.

He said that in the process of promoting Chinese characters, people also found that simplified characters cannot replace traditional characters. The trend will be to return to traditional characters as the language unification progresses.

Attendees at the symposium included President Huang Dekuan of Anhui University, Professors Su Peicheng and Li Dasui of Peking University, and Director Xu Xueren of the Chinese Language Association, among others.