Chinese with Taiwanese Characteristics

Maybe I should request an audience with Chen Shui-bian. Taiwan has really got to reform. No, not its politics, but its mangling of the Chinese language.

I received my first dose of language culture shock when I realized they use different characters here than in China. All that time I spent learning, on my own, the characters I felt were fundamental –- wasted. Instead of the elegantly simple hanzi known as simplified Chinese (one of Mao’s few positive achievements), here they use “traditional Chinese,” which is a code word for clumsy, hard-to-read characters. It’s hell. It makes life needlessly frustrating.

For example, the first character I had to learn in China was the one that would help me find an Internet cafe. In China, the character for shang wang (surfing the net) is so distinctive, it jumps out at you – a nifty and stylish box with two big X’s in the middle. Here, it’s hopelessly different. It looks like a script version of the letter “E” with three squiggly lines underneath it. Maddening. Isn’t it time to make things easier for everybody? Isn’t it time to leave traditional Chinese to the calligraphers and allow the people to exult in the ease and clarity of simplified characters?

But that’s not all. It’s bad enough that the hanzi here is all wrong, but even the pinyin is screwed up! My bus is on Fuxing Lu — but here the sign says “Fushing Lu.” I live near Xinyi Lu, but here, they spell it Hsin Yi. I am told that this is a political hot potato. Everyone knows the mainland-style pinyin is way better than Wade-Giles, but changing it would be nearly impossible, as it would be a symbolic hat tip to the PRC, and face would be lost. And so the mediocre, antiquated system remains.

I wish that were the end of my lament. But no. My first week here I was conversing in my pidgen-Chinese when I said I wanted to improve my Mandarin, which I referred to as “Putonghua,” as I always did in Beijing. “Oh no, we never say ‘Putonghua’ here,” my interlocutor said. I said, “Oh, I see. I guess you say ‘Hanyu.'” No, he said, aghast. “Here it’s always ‘Zhongwen.'” In the same conversation, I referred to my plans to buy a bicycle, “zixingche,” and again was corrected – they don’t use that word in Taiwan (he told me the word they use but I forget). Everyday it seems I discover a new word that I memorized for naught.

So I definitely want Chen to consider language, reform, and fast. God know it’s long overdue. If he does, I’ll link to the government Web site on my blog.

[Note: I am totally self-taught in Chinese aside from an utterly worthless six-week summer course at Fudan Daxue. Those of you who are proficient, please don’t laugh at my bastardizations and mistakes and multiple ignorances — at least I’m trying to learn.)

The Discussion: 55 Comments

I got a kick out of your latest post on Chinese with Taiwanese Characteristics.

Language reform is, and has been, a major sub-current that has been lost in recent years. But it was a major major issue that was at the core of how China responded to the West in the last century.

Hence simplified characters, pinyin, etc. Are you aware that Mao thought about abolishing Chinese characters and going to pinyin only ?

But he loved shufa too much, and his shufa was extraordinary, so he did not do it — as the Vietnamese did.

But you really showing some ignorance that detracts from an otherwise very fine blog.

Many educated Chinese embrace the traditional characters, as a return to authenticity.

Chen does not have to reform Taiwan language for laowai benefit …

One should let the diversity of Zhonghua continue. In this increasingly homogonized world, the differences are more interesting that the similarities……

September 26, 2005 @ 5:12 am | Comment

Nice. Though in all fairness, without fanti, one wouldn’t be able to navigate the immense world of pre-modern literature with as much ease. Jianti is an important step in modernizing the language, but one wishes that it was done a little more consistently. The pinyin/wade-giles thing, though, is a real shame (though I must confess to be fluent in the former but to have secret sympathies for the latter). As for localspeak–when I was first in the States (am from Singapore), I used to draw a blank saying “photocopy” (for “xerox”), “handphone” (for “cell phone”) among others. And when taking my leave, my “I make a move now…” invited the puzzled response “what move, where?” And if you are in Singapore-Malaysia, it would be huayu instead of putonghua, hanyu or zhongwen. And the rather inelagent jiatache instead of zixingche (was that what you encountered in TW as well?).

September 26, 2005 @ 5:28 am | Comment

sorry, jiaotache, that is.

September 26, 2005 @ 5:29 am | Comment

Phile, I hope you could detect the humor in my post – I love Chinese characters. I’m just too dumb to understand them (traditional characters, anyway). While my difficulties are real, my complaints about the language itself are all in jest. Thus my prefacingf the post by saying I plan to complain to Chen Shui Bian. I hope you didn’t think I was really being serious…?

September 26, 2005 @ 6:12 am | Comment

I prefer the Traditional characters – the simplified ones look ugly to my eye, but that’s almost completely because traditional is what i’ve been learning.

On pinyin, Taipei is actually much better now than it was even a couple of years ago, and just wait until you get outside Taipei to see how nonstandard romanization can really get! There are something like 6 different systems in competition in Taiwan – and that’s without the misspellings.

One of Mayor Ma’s big successes (in the eyes of the Western community) has been to enforce standardisation on pinyin. I think you can still get a reward for reporting non-standard spellings at some places (bus stops, MRTs etc.). You can actually tell whether a bus starts in Taipei city or Taipei county by the way they’ve romanized the name!

Chinese is also called ‘guo yu’ (national language) here – although that is also political (should Taiwanese, Hakka, aboriginal languages also be national languages?)

One problem you didn’t mention: noone learns *any* romanization method at school – so asking a local to write a street name will get an almost random collection of letters 🙂

September 26, 2005 @ 6:30 am | Comment

Absolutely right on that last point, David. I am amazed at the different spellings I’ve seen of the same word.

September 26, 2005 @ 6:39 am | Comment

Hmm. Wait until you visit Japan as a tourist someday. They also simplified, but somewhat differently.
As written in Hong Kong: 廣
As written in Tokyo: 広
As written in PRC: 广

In many cases, the simplified version is just a codification of slang that has been in use for a long time, so in any case, I think you just have to learn all the variants.

September 26, 2005 @ 7:07 am | Comment

Bah! Richard, you have obviously been brainwashed by the Russian bandits and their Chinese Communist puppets Zhu and Mao!

(Sorry, I’ve been reading Chiang Kai-shek’s inaugural addresses lately… kind of gets to you after a while.)

September 26, 2005 @ 7:09 am | Comment

I think it depends on where you start. If you begin with simplified characters, the traditional ones seem lovely, but ridiculously unpractical. Compare characters on a cellphone screen, for instance. Which is more suitable to our times and uses?

English is no different. Can you imagine trying to read an SMS written in medieval gothic script?

Sure, gothic script is lovely to look at. and learning to write it is an artform. It also connects us with our historical past.

But those are not determining criteria for a language. A language must be useful beyond all else. And in the modern world, simplified characters just make a lot more sense.

Never surrender, Richard! 🙂

September 26, 2005 @ 9:42 am | Comment

Welcome to the arcane debate that is “What sort of romanization should Taiwan use?” On one side are foreigners who are fervently in support of Hanyu pinyin (which includes me) because that’s what the rest of the world uses. On the other side are some foreigners who are ferevently against HP because that’s what evil China uses. And then there are the vast majority of Taiwanese who are unaware that there’s even a debate going on.

On the other hand, there’s just no way Taiwan’s going to adapt simplified characters simply because there’s no desire or need to. You’re stuck with relearning a lot of even the most basic stuff.

September 26, 2005 @ 9:48 am | Comment

One more thing. Bicycle is 腳踏車 i.e. jiao3ta4che1. I hope for the sake of your own safety you don’t actually ride a bicycle to get around in Taibei. Even I won’t do that, and I’m not afraid to drive my scooter helmetless to go get some more beer from the supermarket.

September 26, 2005 @ 9:53 am | Comment

Hi Duck,

Great website and we all agree with you on the wacky Romanization of street signs and everything else in Taiwan. As other formally trained Chinese learners will tell you, many of us had to learn 4-5 different Romanization methods in our studies and pinyin is the one most friendly to most Chinese learners.

But I heartily disagree with you about the need to further emasculate the traditional written language. Take a few days or weeks or whatever time it takes to understand that the convenience of a few does not outweigh the importance of maintaining a legitimate and living language. There are several issues involved, not the least of which is the cultural identity the island can maintain; the differentiation of language is proof that these two are different cultures and prevents the mainland from wrongly claiming identical cultural identity.

Also, be glad for things the way they are with the street signs, there’s a crackpot out there with yet another Romanization called Taiwan pinyin and nobody with any sense would want to see it in widespread use. Apparantly there are some who actually support this nut and his system, but I think it is only on principle. There are many who would do anything other than take on a mainland approach to anything-even though pinyin is the one thing worth assimilating.

(Saw in a comment reply that you were joking, but it’s too important an argument to leave alone). Tell us more about your Taiwan trip.

September 26, 2005 @ 11:36 am | Comment

Hey Richard, a trick for Chinese practice that really works for me is using a PDA electronic dictionary that does both simplified and traditional characters (and is a Chinese product, so all the menus and everything are in Chinese). I have a 智能王 from Meijin and it’s been handy when trying to figure out traditional characters.

September 26, 2005 @ 11:49 am | Comment

I too have had to stuggle with multiple forms of romanization over the years. I’ve settled on PinYin, simply because everyone else seems to use it. However, just because this is so does not mean it is the best.

I find particular irony that many westerners that argue for standardization, particularly in terms of PinYin, do not realize that as a basis for learning to communicate in Chinese, PinYin is probably the MOST detrminental to someone who was weaned on phonetic scripts. The Yale system, or even Wade-Giles, fits much closer to most western (and particularly English’s) phonetic pronunciation of individual letters. PinYin is the mental equivalent of learning yet ANOTHER language, almost akin in difficulty to learning the Cyrillic alphabet, as you are forced to relearn the pronunciation of a well-known and years-ingrained character like “x” or “q”. The irony is, in my experience, that those who started with PinYin learning Chinese are at a long term disadvantage to learn proper pronunciation of Chinese as it is almost impossible to fully remove from your brain the basic pronunciation of your first language from the Latin alphabet. Hence the “Jigga” Laiwai phenomenon.

“Duck”, if you want to continue self teaching yourself Chinese in Taiwan, there are significant benefits to learning ZhuYin. Not only do the very simple characters not have native significance, but they are phonetic, used in virtually all learning textbooks, very quick to type as every single word is turned into at most 3 keystrokes, as well as being the first phonetic rendering that native Taiwanese are exposed to in school.

A balance between all these forces will be struck eventually, however in the meantime, I for one am thankful that Taiwan continues to exist and have a cultural influence on the mainland. Though many of these words are strange, it is important to remember who was doing the language reform, and why words like “PuTongHua” were literally beaten into the populace. If you have any question about language being a political tool, try calling some guy in Taiwan “comrade” in Chinese (tongzhi). [not recommended BTW]

September 26, 2005 @ 1:50 pm | Comment

To penuma6ra: Obviously you know nuts about China. Have you ever heard anyone say ‘tongzhi’ in mainland China nowadays? No, even the primary school students are aware of that. That being said, what does this ‘tongzhi’ have got to do with the topic?

September 26, 2005 @ 3:56 pm | Comment

Hah, if you say “tongzhi” on the mainland, it has an entirely different meaning these days…though actually, I’m not sure if that slang is still in use.

Richard, the new pleco dictionary is a must-have – you can use it on Palm and now on pocket PC. Check out – you definitely want the whole package. I used their electronic version of the Oxford C/E-E/C for years because of the character look-up – but this new dictionary just blows it away.

My complaint about Taiwanese Chinese – the elimination of retroflex consonant sounds – I hate that! “Zhang” should be “Zhang,” dammit, not some hissy “Zang.”

It’s just wrong…

September 26, 2005 @ 4:24 pm | Comment

By the way, don’t ever call a guy ‘duck’, be it a Peking duck or Taiwan duck. if you don’t know what that means, try to call a woman chicken, say how she respond.

September 26, 2005 @ 4:40 pm | Comment

since there are both political and inertial reasons as discussed about, we will have to live with both variants of writing for another few decades, at least. but for fairness, one cannot blame chen, as i guess both green and blue love the traditional forms (just the same reason you like the simplified form)

but i guess the romantization can be standardized somehow. the merit of the pinyin system is that there is a one-to-one correspondence to the characters and also to the pronounciation symbols taught in taiwan.

some tips.

1. there are only a few hundreds characters that are simplified, and some are very easy to guess if you know one of the forms (but it is easier to guess the simplified one if you know the trad ones).
2. so start with learning the ‘rules’, i.e. the components of the characters.

September 26, 2005 @ 4:46 pm | Comment

as for zixingche vs jiaodache.
the cantonese call it danche.

china is a large country, even in the mainland you would find variants in use of words. so it is only natural that terms in taiwan have even more variations.

go to singapore, they use simplified characters and pinyin, but you will find another whole set of vocabulary..lah…

September 26, 2005 @ 4:51 pm | Comment

Yeah lor, Singapore don’t use zixingche, nor jiaodache. They say jiaoche.

September 26, 2005 @ 4:57 pm | Comment

Richard, you must be joking.:)

September 26, 2005 @ 6:01 pm | Comment

Lisa, I have heard about pleco and plan to get it, once I get my firsty paycheck. Gotta buy a PDA, which will cost a pretty penny…

Yes, I know that you don’t want to be called a “duck” or a “goose”), and I know that “tongzhi” is used nowadays to mean only one thing. ( is – was? – a very popular site in Beijing.)

Lin, yes, there was a lot of humor in this post, but some serious points as well, mainly in regard to standardized pinyin.

To the commenter who says Pinyin is so hard to learn, I totally, emphatically disagree. it is amazingly simple, and I think I mastered it in a day (and I’m not a very smart guy).

September 26, 2005 @ 6:13 pm | Comment

Many times I saw foreigners walking around with a map in hand and looking very lost. Gotta be a common frustration.
The debate about which romanization system is better is really academic to me. To standardize it is the key. The world got along with “Peking” just fine for a few hundred years. “Beijing” is doing just fine today. Most of Taiwanese are not aware of nor care about the difference among various pinyin systems anyway.
I typed ?M‹`˜H in the Taiwan Post Office website for English spelling. It spits out two different spelling for me:
1) Sinyi Road
2) Xinyi Road
This has to be really confusing for first timers in Taipei standing on Sinyi Road, looking for Xinyi Road on the map.

September 26, 2005 @ 8:08 pm | Comment

PinYin is the mental equivalent of learning yet ANOTHER language, almost akin in difficulty to learning the Cyrillic alphabet, as you are forced to relearn the pronunciation of a well-known and years-ingrained character like “x” or “q”.

and then

“Duck”, if you want to continue self teaching yourself Chinese in Taiwan, there are significant benefits to learning ZhuYin.

Learning that ‘x’ is pronounced with an ‘sh’-like sound and ‘q’ is pronounced with a ‘ch’-like sound is a lot easier than learning a set of completely foreign characters like zhuyin.

If anyone has been crippled by relying on their native pronounciation of the letters in pinyin, that just means they have a terrible teacher and they’d have terrible pronounciation no matter which system of romanization that they use.

September 26, 2005 @ 9:13 pm | Comment

ROFL. You northerners should be glad you get to argue about which Romanization to use…as one gets further south, romanization can drop off alarmingly.

I never thought Pinyin was any good (I learned on Yale which represents the sounds pretty reasonably in English). But it is what the world uses so we may as well make the switch.

But NO simplified characters. What a nightmare, zombie characters with the life sucked out of them. Besides, i suffered learning the bastards, so you should too!!

Michael Turton

September 27, 2005 @ 12:58 am | Comment

Which reminds me, can one of you longtime China hands post on the ordinary Joes in China and their understandings of and attitudes towards Taiwan?


September 27, 2005 @ 1:03 am | Comment

Actually, in some ways full-form characters are easier to read (tough not to write) than simplified. They’re certainly much better if you’re reading a given character for the first time.

Full-form retains the elements of characters that actually give them their meaning where simplified does not, which means you are more likely to be able to work out what they mean, and often how they should be pronounced.

Some full-form hanzi still look essentially like black squares when printed in a small typeface, though, so it’s all swings and roundabouts really.

September 27, 2005 @ 2:07 am | Comment

I first started learning simplified characters, and not the PRC version, but rather the kind that was common in Southeast Asia (Singapore and Malaysia). I didn’t start learning traditional until I began studying Classical Chinese (guwen/wenyanwen).

My professors in Shanghai (when I was there for a language program) could immediately tell that I was educated in Southeast Asia (Nanyang) because I pronounced certain words subtly different from that of PRC or Taiwanese speakers, and by the terms I used to describe Mandarin: “Huayu” rather than “Guoyu” or “Zhongwen” or “Putonghua”…

Personally, I prefer the simplified for daily use, but the traditional for more ornate or ceremonial matters, where they lend a degree of formality and tradition to the writings.

September 27, 2005 @ 2:19 am | Comment

Incidentally, what’s wrong with calling someone ‘Duck’? Have none of you been to Stoke on Trent?

September 27, 2005 @ 3:12 am | Comment

David, I think the term may have different implications in China than it does in North Staffordshire…

September 27, 2005 @ 3:14 am | Comment

Asiaphile and penum6ra, well said on the values of the fantizi over the jiantizi. Perhaps one day, the fantizi will become just like cultural practices, artistic expressions and even spiritual qualities that were once Chinese inventions at different epochs in history but are only well preserved and evolved outside of its territorial boundaries such as in Korea and Japan…. Or as in “Lao-diao-ya” (meaning old fallen tooth- aka cliche), thanks for speaking up for the embracing this linguistic and writing system diversity….
Other lisa- try not to “hate” the Taiwan-easy habit of not curling their tongues in speech. Really. If Southern twang and Boston ah-ah are at least considered cute these days. If folks in Zhejiang and Hunan speak zang for zhang because of their regional dialect influences…. When “laowai” or yangjingban Chinese is and should be readily accepted or at least interpreted….

bicylce: jiao-ta-che NOT jiao-da-che (big foot vehicle)
Correct pinyin spelling is, however, necessary.

September 27, 2005 @ 4:08 am | Comment

I think Taiwan would adopt pinyin as soon as possible … but as for simplified characters … no way. The traditional form is much more elegant, and (once you learn the component parts) more related to the meaning of the words.

September 27, 2005 @ 5:43 am | Comment

I think both can coexist. I think traditional characters should be used for caligraphy and arts. When you need to write Chinese characters yourself, I believe simplified characters are the way to go. I agree with some posters that simplified characters have lost some of its meaning, but I see it as evolution. I am not conservative, I think change for the better is good. Anyway, I wouldn’t want to miss traditional characters either. I am happy they are conserved in Taiwan, Hong Kong and many overseas Chinese communities.

September 27, 2005 @ 8:20 am | Comment

In the 1950s, the commies, obsessed with indoctrination and terrorising the population, chose to bastardize the language rather than actually do what was necessary – improve the education system. Consistent with today’s modern China, they wanted a quick fix solution rather than doing something with any real substance.

While China’s population was being brutalized, straved and/or beaten to death in the 50s, 60s and 70s, places like Hong Kong and Taiwan were teaching their kids full-form Chinese characters because they had an adequate education system.

“Simplified” characters are a perfect example of just how much the commies raped Chinese culture. Well done Chairman Mao, you achieved….nothing.

September 27, 2005 @ 8:51 am | Comment

Daniel: actually, the simplification was really just a codification of how many characters were commonly written.

I think your theory is way off-base, to be honest. Simplified characters are not any easier to learn than full-form, but they do take, on average, half as many strokes to write.

September 27, 2005 @ 9:49 am | Comment

1. the original purpose of jiantizi is to increase literacy, whether it succeeded is hard to qualify
literacy certainly improved over the years, but it is hard to isolate the reasons.
(i guess those who learned it as a foreign language may be able to tell us if the number of stokes really matter?)

2. many of the jiantizi were already in use informally (or already in quick calligraphies), and during the histories charaters have changed form — e.g., the character “sun” from a circle into a rectangle.
so you can view jiantizi as one kine of such evolutions, in parallel with today’s classical music and yesterday’s pop music.
the problem with this analogy is, however, in evolution the bad elements will fade out over time, only the good ones survive. but for fantizi, both the good and bad presevere.

September 27, 2005 @ 10:59 am | Comment

…”but for JIantizi, both the good and bad presevere” (sry for typo)

September 27, 2005 @ 11:01 am | Comment

“Which reminds me, can one of you longtime China hands post on the ordinary Joes in China and their understandings of and attitudes towards Taiwan?”

1. most of them do not understand what (and how and why) the taiwanese think, they are only exposed to the domestic media/propaganda (almost everyone i talked to thought HK people elected Tung Cheehwa and loved him!)
2. some do, but these voices are muted
3. they think taiwanese are their compatriot and are passionate about them (analogous to the N and S Korea), but they also are arrogant that it is a ‘small island’ far from the center.
4. some also have the ‘rich neighbor’ complex as you would imagine. usually very willing to befriend with a rich neighbor at the personal level, though that is more often due to curiosity and passion toward a compatriot rather than the stereotypical rich neighbor complex.
5. they do not have strong emotion of the debate of jiantizi vs fantizi, otherwise than that they would biase toward jiantizi because of they learned that
6. many people in taiwan (and overseas)believe that taiwan preserved the confucius chinese culture a lot better (while it was totally lost during the cultural rev in mainland). mainland chinese would be surprised of such view

September 27, 2005 @ 11:16 am | Comment

Some simplified forms of characters had been in existance for millenia. Take 国and 國. 国 has been around since at least the Han dynasty. There have been many simplified characters that have evolved based on the “grass script” calligraphy over the ages especially the radical components.

Of course, the idea behind the simplification is to increase literacy. In Taiwain there are 20 million or so people. In the PRC there are 1.3 billion. Which method is easier to teach a large and non common linguistic population? There was a push to have even more simplifications encacted in the 70’s. John @ Sinosplice has a neat post that listed some of these characters. They were never fully implemented.

Even the KMT was talking about doing a national character simplification program back in the 30’s before they got into that little war with the CCP. Since then it is a political issue mostly: Simplified = Communist oppression of traditional culture – Classical = Propogating traditional culture. When I lived in Taibei in 1990-1991, it was still illegal to use Mainland simplified characters. But that didn’t stop the makers of Taiwan Been to label thier brew 台湾啤酒 instead of 臺灣啤酒.

Much like the newly independent America delibreatly started to change the spelling of English words after the Revolution of 1776 to distance itself from England, so too are characters (and romanization) used as a wedge between Taiwan and PRC. But also as there is much word migration between UK and USA, so too between Taiwain and PRC. There is bleed through on both sides. Some Pinyin and simplified characters in Taiwan, more general use of tradional characters in PRC. It is less a political issue now than just a natural evolution of language and writing systems.

I learned simplified characters and pinyin first. Later I studied in Taiwan and learned tradional characters and zhu yin fu hao (bopomofo) for phonetic pronunciation. I can use both but I prefer simp / pinyin because that is what I learned first. I agree with the post that learning pinyin pronunciation is like learning a foreign language at first, but once it is drilled in your head, it is pretty easy. I am always railing at American sportcasters for mangling Chinese names. They call Wang Zhi Zhi of the Dallas Mavericks, Wang jee jee. I also agree with Richard that the mish-mash of romanization in Taibei is a mess. They really should clean it up and standardize.

September 27, 2005 @ 1:27 pm | Comment

Sunbin says: they think taiwanese are their compatriot and are passionate about them (analogous to the N and S Korea), but they also are arrogant that it is a ‘small island’ far from the center.

This is a crude statement, most of the people in China understand the problem of the Taiwan issue. We claim that taiwan is part of China, but we never assume that taiwanese are our campatriot. One of the reasons why taiwan leaders become so outspoken nowadays is because that the taiwanese kind of support taiwan go independent.

September 27, 2005 @ 1:32 pm | Comment

One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about Pinyin is that it uses letters and combinations not found in English – “q,” “zh,” etc. – to represent consonant sounds that are not exactly found in English either. I mean, “ch” in the old Yale system (I may have this wrong because it’s been years since I’ve looked at Yale) isn’t really close to what in Pinyin is represented by “Zh.” If that makes any sense.

September 27, 2005 @ 4:02 pm | Comment

“This is a crude statement”

it was intented to be a crude statement….. just to give michael one facet of what i observed. but my observation was only based on a rough generalization of the thousands of people i met, from a total of 1.3bn people.
so now your perspective will show the other facets as well.

September 27, 2005 @ 7:46 pm | Comment

I love simplified Chinese characters. I am very glad our foreign friends can easily learn it and use it. Traditional Cinese character is beautiful, but it’s a language, not pictures. If you wanna be a handwriting artist,learning a little traditional ones might help, but if you just wanna speak and write. the simplest the best.

September 27, 2005 @ 7:46 pm | Comment

As a foreign learner who started on full-form slightly (a few months) ahead of simplified, and had to know both throughout my time at university (except when I was studying in Beijing), I would say that the only real difference I found was in the speed of writing.

It takes much less time to write simplified characters, but I don’t think either is particularly more difficult to learn.

Each has its advantages and there’s no reason the two can’t peacefully coexist as they have done for centuries.

I must admit, of course, that being on the mainland has rather dulled my facility with full-form characters, but then again my Italian has rusted with disuse too. That’s just the way it goes. Were I to start readng full-form again on a regular basis, I imagine I’d be back up to speed fairly quickly.

September 27, 2005 @ 9:48 pm | Comment

Yeah, the “Taiwan preserved chinese culture unspoiled’ was a bit of KMT propaganda put out during the 1950s as to support the regime. If you read older anthro and history books you’ll find that claim made. It’s absurd.

Thanks, Sun Bin, I appreciate the effort.


September 27, 2005 @ 11:35 pm | Comment

Interesting comments on the Chinese writring and romanization systems. It makes me wish I knew enough Chinese to have an opinion. Maybe some day… Richard, I hope you get over to the National Palace Museum. They’ve got some nice “tea music” CDs at the museum shop. I picked up some similar music at the BaLi anthropological museum last trip. I think of it as Chinese “new wave”. Anyway, give it a listen. Also, they have a microbrewery (le Ble d’or) next to the Outback Steakhouse at the Holiday inn Asia World. The beers had a bit of a yeasty aftertaste, but they were a pleasant departure from Taiwan beer. Interesting setup. Footy games projected on the wall, Spanish music, and a microbrewed beer.

September 28, 2005 @ 2:50 am | Comment

Lirelou, I’ve heard a lot about the musuem and hope to get there this weekend. I don’t really know what “tea music” is but look forward to learning. Hsieh Hsieh.

September 28, 2005 @ 2:54 am | Comment

I like the point about pinyin being another language in the sense that they stand for sounds which aren’t necessarily equivalent to the ones that you’re used to if you use the Romanised alphabet. HOWEVER, this is true of many languages – especially english. We have an alphabet, but it’s really a pretty roughshod guide to pronunciation compared to the way Spanish uses the same alphabet, and you can tell that when you hear people pronouncing “pear” so that it rhymes with “ear.” So i think the point is interesting, but moot. Pinyin is infinitely helpful to foreigners, and it’s totally standard compared to the English 26 letter phonetic alphabet.

When I was in China sometimes a friend would ask how to prounounce something, and I’d say the word, then they’d say, “oh, I thought it was pronounced like this” and they’d proceed to write it in PHONETIC english – the weird alphabet they use in dictionaries. And I’d say that I had no idea what that meant, and I’d get weird looks.

As long as you know that “x” is an aspirated dental, or whatever it’s called, and “q” and “r” and “j” are whatever they are, you’re good. W/G sucks because it may be more phonetic but it’s not standard like pinyin.

interesting tidbit – chinese has 800 different syllabic sounds, give or take 10%. English has over 5000, although obviously we don’t use many as single syllable words.

September 28, 2005 @ 5:22 am | Comment

Actually, Russian was the base language for transliterating into pinyin, not English — hence the initial awkwardness for native English speakers. Believe it or not, it’s even harder for those who’ve learned English as a second language. For that reason, many people prefer zhuyinfuhao.

September 28, 2005 @ 6:03 am | Comment

“Yeah lor, Singapore don’t use zixingche, nor jiaodache. They say jiaoche.”

No lah…both (jiaotache and jiaoche) also can in Singapore.

“Actually, Russian was the base language for transliterating into pinyin, not English — hence the initial awkwardness for native English speakers. Believe it or not, it’s even harder for those who’ve learned English as a second language. For that reason, many people prefer zhuyinfuhao.”

But that doesn’t sound right, considering that most Singaporeans (the younger ones, who learned it) are fluent in the use of pinyin. Perhaps is a matter of how early in life one learns it?

As for zhuyinfuhao–bopomofo, I presume–that involves learning another alphabet (technically, syllabary). Another 40+(?) sui generis symbols. Not exactly efficient if one already knows the roman alphabet (in which case the only trick is to ‘reassociate’ the appropriate sound values to letters for pinyin as opposed to, say, English).

September 28, 2005 @ 9:38 pm | Comment


You’ll soon get used to it and when you go back to simplified characters they will look to you as they do to the Taiwanese – damn ugly! Why should the Taiwanese follow the Mainland? As a Englishman I could easily say that colour is the correct spelling, not color. Variety my friend is the spice of life. It can only enrich your knowledge of Chinese

September 28, 2005 @ 10:32 pm | Comment

Thanks Si, I’m actually getting used to it already. Traditional isn’t that bad. I’ll let Chen know he doesn’t have to change to simplified.

September 28, 2005 @ 10:35 pm | Comment

ok, another tip for you, richard 🙂

hold the characters far enough, take off your glasses if you wear them, and (works only for a few of them) the blurred image may look like its simplified counterpart.

September 29, 2005 @ 12:59 am | Comment

I spent days trying to figure out what the word “fen xi” meant…the Chinese papers in Malaysia that pick up the HK/Taiwanese stories use it now.
Fen as in powder, Xi as in “fine thread”, en fin, voila! a literal translation of `fan’ – as she’s a fan of Rain! Whatever happend to a word like yin-mi.

September 29, 2005 @ 9:31 pm | Comment

In my humble opinion, Simplified Chinese is to Traditional Chinese what SMS is to fully-spelled words. 台灣 is to 臺灣 as US is to USA… or something like that. I mean, have you ever heard someone say, “Why do you hate America?” to someone for using the shorter of those short forms? (Rolling on the floor laughing my ass off! Winking emoticon!)

October 1, 2005 @ 2:24 pm | Comment

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