When Victoria Beckham announced on social media that she was opening a store in Hong Kong, she unwittingly walked into a hornet’s nest.
“So excited to be coming to Hong Kong! My new store opens March 18th,” wrote Ms. Beckham the former Spice Girl on her Instagram and Facebook accounts in both English and Chinese. However, it was not her words that angered many Internet users; it was her usage of the simplified Chinese script.
Beckham had just intruded on a fierce cultural and ideological battle between native Hongkongers and the Chinese regime.
Hong Kong Facebook user “Marcus Lui” wrote “Please respect our language, do not use simplified Chinese, use traditional Chinese.” Another user, “Clare Sin,” reminded Ms. Beckham: “Hong Kong is using Traditional Chinese~unless your target customers are not Hongkongerssss.”
Two days later, Ms. Beckham modified her post with an additional line in the traditional Chinese script, a move Hongkongers appreciated. “Thanks for taking advice for using traditional Chinese,” wrote Facebook user “Peg Tong.”
The outburst by Hongkongers over Victoria Beckham’s choice of Chinese script are not petty complaints of a few fastidious linguists. In recent years, Hongkongers have become increasingly concerned over what they perceive to be the Chinese regime’s attempts to erode local culture and replace it with communist ideals and mainland customs.
Mainland media saw the dispute and also decided to weigh in. In a Feb. 23 editorial, Party mouthpiece People’s Daily slammed Hongkongers and Taiwanese (Taiwan also uses the traditional Chinese script) for their “ignorance.” “Ancient calligraphers all used simplified characters. It’s not an invention of modern people,” the paper said.
But it was actually the Communist Party under Chairman Mao Zedong that simplified Chinese characters in the 1950s after a plan to get rid of Chinese characters entirely was aborted. Many Chinese intellectuals at the time were against the simplification, arguing that it cheapened the written language by creating meaningless characters. The protest turned tragic for some—Chen Mengjia, a famous archaeologist, was labelled a “Rightist,” severely persecuted, and was eventually driven to suicide during the Cultural Revolution.
Perhaps emboldened by online anonymity, several Chinese Internet users decided to speak up for the use of the traditional Chinese script.
On the website of The Paper, a semi-official online media outlet based in Shanghai, one netizen wrote in the comments section of an article on the Victoria Beckham Chinese script debate: “I agree with what the Hong Kong and Taiwan people say. Simplified Chinese characters do debase Chinese culture.”
“It took thousands of years for traditional Chinese characters to take shape, while simplified Chinese characters was a few months work for a handful of Communist Party experts. It is easy to tell which script is better and which is worse,” wrote another netizen from Shaanxi Province.