Language tweak provokes hullabaloo in China

Thu Sep 3, 2009 8:52am EDT
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By Huang Yan and Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - A government proposal to tweak the way a few dozen Chinese characters are written has provoked an unexpected uproar from the public, who have accused the education ministry of unnecessary meddling in tradition.

The ministry has been seeking public feedback since publishing last month suggestions for "minor" changes to 44 characters to go in a new primer for educational and publishing use.

The alterations to common words like "tea," "relative" and "kill" involve little more than removing flourishes at the end of strokes, to create cleaner lines.

It is a far cry from the wholescale simplification of the notoriously complicated script progressively introduced by the Communists shortly after taking power in 1949.

But more than 90 percent of people in one online survey on popular portal said they disagreed with any "innovation plan" for their mother tongue, slamming it as an attack on China's culture and a waste of resources.

"More than 1.4 billion people will be forced to accept these 44 characters," complained Qinque, writing in a chatroom on website

"How can we tell our children that the characters were once written like that and now must be written like this?"

Others said it was a pointless exercise.   Continued...

<p>A man drinks tea as he sits outside his house adorned with Chinese New Year decorations in central Beijing March 4, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray</p>