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Wired youth forget how to write in China and Japan
Like every Chinese child, Li Hanwei spent her schooldays memorising thousands of the intricate characters that make up the Chinese writing system.
Yet aged just 21 and now a university student in Hong Kong, Li already finds that when she picks up a pen to write, the characters for words as simple as "embarrassed" have slipped from her mind.
"I can remember the shape, but I can?t remember the strokes that you need to write it," she says. "It?s a bit of a problem."
Surveys indicate the phenomenon, dubbed "character amnesia", is widespread across China, causing young Chinese to fear for the future of their ancient writing system.
Young Japanese people also report the problem, which is caused by the constant use of computers and mobile phones with alphabet-based input systems.
There is even a Chinese word for it: "tibiwangzi", or "take pen, forget character".
A poll commissioned by the China Youth Daily in April found that 83 percent of the 2,072 respondents admitted having problems writing characters.
As a result, Li says that she has become almost dependent on her phone.
"When I can?t remember, I will take out my cellphone and find it (the character) and then copy it down," she says.
Zeng Ming, 22, from the southern Guangdong province, says: "I think it's a young people's problem, or at least a computer users' problem."
One notoriously forgettable character, Zeng says, is used in the word Tao Tie -- a legendary Chinese monster that was so greedy it ate itself.
Still used as a byword for gluttony, the Tao Tie is one of many ancient Chinese concepts embedded in the language.
"It?s like you?re forgetting your culture," Zeng says.
Character amnesia happens because most Chinese people use electronic input systems based on pinyin, which translates Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet.
The user enters each word using pinyin, and the device offers a menu of characters that match. So users must recognise the character, but they don't need to be able to write it.
In Japan, where three writing systems are combined into one, mobiles and computers use the simpler hiragana and katakana scripts for inputting -- meaning users may forget the kanji, a third strand of Japanese writing similar to Chinese characters.
"We rely too much on the conversion function on our phones and PCs," said Ayumi Kawamoto, 23, shopping in Tokyo's upscale Ginza district.
"I've mostly forgotten characters I learned in middle and high school and I tend to forget the characters I only occasionally use."
Tokyo student Maya Kato, 22, said: "I hardly hand-write anymore, which is the main reason why I have forgotten so many characters.
"It is frustrating because I always almost remember the character, and lose it at the last minute. I forget if there was an extra line, or where the dot is supposed to go."