The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.
T’ang Dynasty poem
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.
~ Wu-men ~
Tuesday, July 07, 2015
Influence of the West upon Chinese Writing
An interesting article on how the West has influenced Chinese writing. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.
China Chroniclesis when we have a look back at 5,000 years of Chinese history - and pick out something pertinent...
Few are the men who would be willing to lay down their life for the written word; but T. H. Tsien, who died earlier this month at the age of 105, was one of them. In 1941, Tsien rescued over 30,000 books from war-torn China, sneaking the thousand-year-old volumes past customs in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Had he been caught, he would have lost not just the precious volumes but his life as well.
Tsien's story illustrates not only the bravery of one man, but also the immense importance that the written word occupies in Chinese civilization. As the oldest writing system still in use, the history is long and storied, charted out by millenia by gradual evolution. In the traumatic 19th and 20th centuries after Chinese and Western civilization first collided, however, this process of change went into hyperdrive. In this edition, we look at same of the ways that Chinese was challenged and changed by modernity...
The late Qing and Republican eras were ones of great political uncertainty and constant intellectual self-scrutiny and exploration. Educated Chinese, seeing their country battered and humiliated by an ever-broadening cast of tiny 'barbarian' countries, studied every kind of political theory and debated new possibilities for national strengthening progress – a cause for which any cornerstone of Chinese civilization, even the Chinese language itself, could be sacrificed for the greater good. Intellectuals across the empire sought to answer the question put forward by the scholar Feng Guifen – "why are they small and yet strong? Why are we large and yet weak?" – and many answered, "because of our language."
Matteo Ricci and Michele Rugieri were the first to systematically apply the roman alphabet to Chinese in 1588, but this was only to assist other Jesuit missionaries in learning Chinese and had little effect on Chinese society. The first to arouse Chinese interest in alphabetizing their own language was Nicolas Trigault, who was also the first to suggest that the lack of phonetic alphabet not only made the job of foreign learners more arduous, but complicates communication between the Chinese people themselves, united by a single written language but divided by innumerable, mutually unintelligible regional dialects.
These later attempts by the Jesuits in the alphabetic writing of Chinese, although still intended mainly as aids to fellow missionaries and not as proposals to reform the Chinese language, began to exert some influence over the thinking of Chinese intellectuals. The first comments to be recorder by a Chinese scholar on the subject exalted the idea of a phonetic alphabet; he wrote, "[i]n the West... in the basis of ideas they form sounds, and the basis of sounds they form words, these being unique and distinctive. Isn't this better?"
This comment was a portent of later developments. Chinese criticism of their own language come to a head in the 19th century, as the efforts of Protestant Missionaries and Chinese reformers did not stop at annotating Chinese script for easier learning and standardization but sought to replace characters with phonetic script. The impact of foreign imperialism and responses to the Western presence in China around this time were complex and profound, culminating in what Zeng Guofan predicted would be "not just a crisis for our Qing dynasty, but the most extraordinary crisis of all time for the Confucian teachings."
To resolve this crisis, Wang Chao, Secretary of the Board of Rites and cause célèbre of the Hundred Days' Reform, espoused better education for the common people, and the greatest obstacle to this was, in his mind, the lack of "a script that will bridge the spoken and written languages and unite speech and writing." Wang set about creating this bridge once he had regained his freedom, and 1900 produced a work entitled Mandarin Phonetic Alphabet. Towards the end of 1905 and the beginning of 1906, Wang Chao's Mandarin Alphabet began to appear on street corners and in pamphlets, and schools were established to teach the writing system – twenty in Beijing alone – through which tens of thousands became literate. The scheme even managed to impress Yuan Shikai, who drew up plans to promote the scheme in the areas he controlled.
Early Communist ambitions were to do away with Chinese characters entirely; writing in 1958, Zhou Enlai predicted that "like the languages of all other countries, Chinese language is bound to become a phonetic language at long last." In arguing the case for what would become known as pinyin, he made the point that it would be of invaluable assistance to foreign learners of the Chinese language.