When Taiwanese, Hongkongers or Western people criticize Simplified Chinese, Chinese people will immediately jump and scream in unison: “It is just a simplification of the script. It is the same language, a simpler version, nothing has changed”. Most accomplished students of the “One Country, One Brain” policy will even say: “Then why don’t you write in Latin instead of English?”. Others would wrongly claim that Simplified Chinese has lifted millions out of illiteracy in China. Simplified Chinese is not however, mere simplification. It is mostly a written system based on three points: (1) the gradual eradication of Chinese writing and its substitution by a Romanized system; (2) the Japanese shinjitai or “new character forms” movement initiated in 1946 in Japan, and (3) a modern-Peking-pronunciation-based system of writing.
All three points merge and walk together along the convoluted history of the different periods of the simplification of the Chinese language. For instance, Lu Xun once wrote that “the system of Chinese characters is tuberculosis for the Chinese people. The bacteria and viruses are inside it”. For this reason he pronounced his famous statement: “If Chinese characters do not disappear, China will perish”. This was in fact first said by his friend Qian Xuantong, a Chinese philologist who opposed classical Chinese tradition and who, like Lu Xun, was one of the instigators of the May Fourth Movement, the forefather of the Chinese Communist Party founded by their mentor, Chen Duxiu.
The simplification of Chinese characters initiated by the Communist government was part of a long process that started with Lu Xun: they wanted to eliminate the root of Chinese culture –their own language. For this reason, they started employing Japanese variants in use since the late 1940s, claiming however that they were using cursive writing or calligraphy as their guide. However, when one examines simplified Chinese, it looks like there is no logic behind it. Just like most things created in the People’s Republic of China, they are a broken counterfeit version of Japanese goods, which seems to have been created by a lunatic or a schizophrenic mind.
Some characters, for instance, were not really simplified as Chinese people claim. They were changed according to modern Peking pronunciation into different characters that initially had a different meaning. For example, laoban 老闆, “boss”, became 老板, which literally means “old board”. The reason for this is that in modern Chinese the phonetic component of 闆, 品, is pronounced bin instead of ban. In Cantonese品is still pronounced ban, but because Mandarin was influenced by many foreign languages when the country was invaded by Mongols and Manchus, the original pronunciation has changed and hence the Communists decided to change it to a different character instead of simplifying it. The correct simplified version of 闆 would look like a门 with a品 inside. 老板 and老闆 are two totally different words with different meanings.
Another curious case of meaningless simplification is the word chi 恥, “shame”, now written as 耻 in China. It is true that 止 is similar to 心 when the latter is written in cursive form, but what is the point of changing a four-stroke character like 心 into another four-stroke character like 止, especially when both can be written equally fast? And since 止 is pronounced zhi instead of chi, it doesn’t even make sense from the point of view of Phonetics! In fact, there is a reason for 恥 to be written with a “heart” 心: ancient people believed that shame comes from the heart and reaches the ears, making them red. That is why 恥 was written with the radical characters for “heart” 心 and “ear” 耳. Also, 恥 is pronounced chi because shame makes our ears red, and “red” in classical Chinese was pronounced chi 赤!
Finally another example of this Chinese schizophrenia: The word for “keys” is 鑰, pronounced yao in Mandarin and joek in Cantonese. The character is composed of a radical that gives it meaning, 金, meaning “metal”, and a phonetic element, 龠, pronounced yue and joek in Mandarin and Cantonese respectively. As we can see, the use of龠 as radical makes sense in Cantonese –and classical Chinese– because both鑰 and 龠 are pronounced exactly the same, joek (sixth tone). But in Mandarin, because of the influence the language has received through centuries of occupation by foreign empires, the pronunciation of鑰 and 龠 has evolved differently. Communist decided that this character should be “simplified” by changing 龠 into 月, the character for “moon” which is also pronounced yue! Chinese language has a number of elements that can be used to create a new character with the yao pronunciation: 要, 夭 and 䍃. Why not use them instead of yue月?
As I said, this looks like the work of a lunatic, a schizophrenic mind or an ignorant.
There are many other interesting problems surrounding simplified characters, as you can see in this very long list. Let me give you some brief examples:
– Both “clock” 錶 and “to show” 表 are written as表 in simplified Chinese.
– Both “hair” 髮 and “to send” 發 are written as 发 in simplified Chinese.
– The words “to delineate” 畫, “to divide” 劃, and “to scratch” 划 are all written as划.
– The words “to return” 復, “to overlap” 複, “to cover” 覆, and “repeat” 复 are all written as复.
– The words “tower” 臺, “platform” 台, “desk” 檯, “shovel” 枱, and “typhoon” 颱 are all written台.
Because of this, you can automatically convert traditional characters into simplified, but not the opposite, because you need to understand the context to know which one to use. And what is the result? Just think of the following sentence in English:
He watched the typhoon from the desk in the platform near the tower.
In simplified Chinese it becomes something like:
He watched the platform from the platform in the platform near the platform.
Of course modern Chinese has two character compounds to deal with this, and the meaning is usually clear, but please, don’t tell me it is just a simplification of the script. It is a complete different language that fits the complete damaged brains of the Chinese people.
The rest of us who do not suffer schizophrenia will keep using real Chinese characters..