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Living Chinese Symbols homepage : Learning Chinese Language; Living Chinese Lifestyle Blog : August 2005

August 8, 2005 19:52 - Chinese Symbol for Water

Here in Shanghai we've just recovered from the aftermath of a typhoon...

Luckily only a few people were injured...some property was damaged in the area I live...tress uprooted, shrubs bent over etc...

Not too bad...but PLENTY of water...the surroundings were flooded...so I decided to write about the Chinese symbol for water.

The earliest form of the Chinese symbol for water was a river with dots on both sides representing drops of water. The number of drops varied but gradually it was fixed as two for each side. Over time, it became the form we see today.

Hence the Chinese symbol for water shui originally represented the river, and in general "areas of water" like the sea and lake (as opposed to land lu4).

From this meaning, shui denotes liquid in general as in "tears" lei4 shui3 and "medicinal liquid" yao4 shui3

Read on about The Role of Water in Chinese Thought

August 16, 2005 10:35 - Tug of War between Two Chinese Writing Systems

The Star Ledger, a New Jersey newspaper ran an interesting article about the tug of war between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese characters.

In Asia, Singapore follows China in using simplified Chinese and the hanyupinyin romanization system, while Taiwan and Hong Kong still writes in traditional Chinese characters. In America, it's a mix of both with the trend towards simplified Chinese as this article noted.

I was taught the simplified Chinese system. This system does make Chinese easier to learn, but some of the beauty and internal meaning have been lost in the simplification process. The solution? Learn both! (which I'm doing now)

Chinese puzzle: Tug of war between two forms of writing may end in a draw

THE RISE OF China as an economic giant is fueling the solution to a decades-old debate: how to reconcile two written systems for one spoken language.

Though it may not always be apparent to the foreign eye, Chinese characters come in two formats, traditional and simplified. The style a person uses depends on heritage and country of origin. China uses simplified, while traditional is dominant in Taiwan.

Cheng & Tsui Company, a publisher, offers elementary-level texts in both forms. In the late 1990s, those teaching traditional form constituted about 60 percent of sales, said Jill Cheng, founder of the company.

"A couple years ago, though, this trend has reversed itself," Cheng said. "Now we're finding that 60 percent are teaching simplified and 40 percent are traditional."

Even in overseas communities of Taiwanese who have grown up with traditional and long opposed simplification, parents are urging children to learn both, Cheng said.

"Economics has a lot to do with it," she said. "The enormous trade that everyone's doing with China -- you're just facing reality."

In the mid-20th century China adopted simplified writing as part of the Communist Party's drive to boost nationwide literacy. This sparked a clash between those who preferred the traditional writing and those who favored the simplified form, which uses fewer pen strokes.

"They'd always argue. Students from Taiwan say, 'That's ugly,'" said Lucy Lee, a Livingston High School Mandarin teacher who has taught traditional and simplified together there for 16 years. "Everyone kind of protected their own turf."

But more recently, the two sides have begun to realize that both systems are so widely used, they have no choice but to co-exist.

Lee is on a committee working on an Advanced Placement Chinese Language and Culture exam that will debut in May 2007. The test will be available in both styles, mirroring the pattern in classrooms.

"The resentment is much, much less than before," Lee said. "I don't think the traditional-simplified question is an issue anymore."

China itself is also giving way, with academia pushing government to accept traditional writing, Cheng said. Ancient sources used by scholars in research are often available only in traditional, she said.

Readers versed in one type of writing can easily pick up the other, says Richard VanNess Simmons, associate professor of Chinese at Rutgers-New Brunswick. The university switched to teaching simplified in beginners' courses about two years ago.

Students of Taiwanese background often have trouble with simplified, but Simmons says the problem is psychological.

"They sort of hum and hah and have a lot of difficulties, but it's sort of an attitude," he said. "If they just sort of relaxed ... they'd catch on in no time."

The two styles intertwine in peculiar ways on the mainland, where business people might exchange cards printed in traditional writing while sitting down to dine in restaurants whose menus use simplified characters, known in Chinese as "jianti zi," Lee said.

At a musical performance Simmons attended in China, the outside of the program was gilded with traditional writing -- "fanti zi" -- while listings inside were in simplified.

In the United States, the vast majority of store owners who have a Chinese clientele choose traditional writing for the street placards they use to attract customers.

That's because large numbers of Chinese began immigrating to the United States before simplification took place in China. When they opened businesses in their new communities, they used traditional writing for their signs, said Romana Lee, director of development at the non-profit Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.

Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong who populate Philadelphia and many other U.S. Chinatowns also use traditional, she added.

There are Chinese language newspapers available in both scripts.

Both styles of Chinese have had a long history.

Calligraphers have always reduced the number of brush strokes in some words for aesthetic reasons, said Chen Yaolin, who teaches Chinese as a second language for the Northern New Jersey Chinese Association Chinese School. In a natural evolution, simplified characters sometimes replace their traditional counterparts in everyday use.

Chen says he opposes the rapid simplification China undertook because it changed the writing in an artificial way -- time, not government, should carve and mold language. Written Chinese was derived long ago from pictographs, and in the rush to simplify, many visual elements explaining the words were lost.

Still, Chen teaches simplified because he sees the demand for that form.

"Most of my students are American ... They've already done their research and know the simplified system," Chen said. "So I just say 'all right,' because I don't want to shut the door."

Chen says although some people still align with one style or the other, this kind of stubbornness is waning -- and harmful.

"With all that insistence, you've lost the opportunity to teach your own kids. You're closing this window to introduce Chinese culture to this society," he added.

As more people think like Chen, schools are turning out a growing pool of students proficient in both written styles of the language, Jill Cheng of Cheng & Tsui said.

Cheng says if parents who were once adamant about using only traditional writing are starting to accept the importance of simplified, little else stands in the way of a time when young people in this country will grow up mastering both.

They will be able to walk down alleys in Taipei and recognize easily the same characters they saw lighting the streets of Beijing and parts of Singapore. The awkward divide that has persisted for half a century will fade into the past.

"(The parents) are the ones who were saying, 'We want our children to start with traditional characters, but we also want to make sure they learn simplified characters,'" she said. "Just because it's the reality of the future."

August 18, 2005 22:12 - How do Chinese characters in Korean language arise?

I've always wondered how and why Chinese characters are used along with the Korean script, hangeul. This article published in Korea's JoongAng Dailyexplains it all...

Remembering Korea's best-known calligrapher

What makes the Korean language unique is that the Korean script, hangeul, is used along with Chinese characters. For centuries, Korean scholars considered it intellectually and culturally important to master Chinese characters. The tradition continues today, as it is mandatory for Korean students to learn 1,800 characters during their six-year secondary education.

To inspire young students, the tale of Han Ho, one of the most celebrated calligraphers in Korean history, is told: The aspiring young calligrapher became arrogant about his skills at school. His mother then asked him to write in the dark while she sliced rice cake next to him. When light returned, he saw that his mother had sliced the cake perfectly while his work was sloppy, and realized that he was far from being the best. Han Ho later became the principal calligrapher in the Joseon royal court.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of the calligrapher, also known as Han Seok-bong (1543-1605), who left behind some of the earliest Korean versions of "The Thousand Character Classic," known as "Cheonjamun" in Korean.

The commemorative exhibition "Haneul Cheon Tta Ji: The Korean Thousand Character Classic," which opened yesterday at the Seoul Calligraphy Museum in the Seoul Arts Center, showcases the belated appreciation of the calligrapher whose life was dedicated to the Korean language and chronicles the evolution of the language through more than 100 original calligraphy works and prints made from ancient wood blocks.

"The Thousand Character Classic" is a Chinese poem used as a primer for teaching Chinese characters to children in the old days. It is said that Emperor Wo of Liang county (502-556) in the Southern Dynasty period made the scholar Zhou Xingsi compose this poem for his son, the prince, to practice calligraphy. It is composed of 250 phrases of four characters each, from "Tian Di Xu Hung" to "Yan Zai Hu Ye."

In ancient Korea, Chinese characters, or hanja, were the sole means of writing until King Sejong invented the hangeul script in the 15th century. Although the use of hanja gradually decreased, Korean scholars continued to write in Chinese characters until the early 20th century.

The Korean version of "The Thousand Character Classic" combined Chinese characters with the phonetics and meaning in hangeul. The "Classic" began to be used as a writing primer for children in the late 15th century, when King Seonjo ordered Han Ho to carve the text into wood blocks.

The title of the exhibition, "Haneul Cheon Tta Ji," is in fact the first two characters ¨D heaven read as "cheon," earth read as "ji" in Korean ¨D in the poem. "Haneul Cheon Tta Ji" is also a popular term that Koreans affectionately use to refer to the study of Chinese characters.

The Korean "Cheonjamun" is more than a list of Chinese characters. It is a series of verses detailing important events, seasons, farming and ethics taught in ancient China. Ancient Koreans believed that the poem was an ideal comprehensive textbook, teaching the significance of literature and language, which was important in the maturation of a person's character. Also influential in the use of Chinese characters in the Korean language were the teachings of Buddhism here.

Lee Dong-guk, the curator of the exhibition, says it offers a close look at the evolution of the Korean language. "Because both hangeul and hanja are still used and are important, we wanted to have the audience be part of it through various events," he said.

The exhibition includes a 15-minute animated film incorporating Chinese characters and the writing of the 1,000 characters by visitors to the museum. On Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m., a Korean dance troupe, Yeoulmok, performs live for 20 minutes, under the title "Mo Bei Si Ran." The verse is from "The Thousand Character Classic," and is roughly translated as "White paper tainted with ink/Sadness sweeps the heart."

August 28, 2005 17:58 - Symbol of Ancient China -- Great Wall of China

No other Chinese symbol or landmark is more recognized than the Great Wall of China, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Here's a brief history and facts about the Great Wall of China.

When seen from above the Great Wall looks like a dragon zigzagging over mountain tops. The Chinese call it ¡°Wan Li Chang Cheng¡± which means ¡°Wall of 10,000 Li¡±. (10,000 li= 5,000 km)

Actually, the Great Wall of China is 7,200 km long. Height wise, it is 4.5m to 9m. Depth wise, it is 4.5m to 8m. The entire structure was built by hand using stone, bricks, soil, sand, straw, wood, clay or whatever was available depending on the terrain.

Three main Chinese dynasties -- the Qin (B.C 221-207), Han (B.C 206- A.D 220) and Ming (A.D 1368-1644) -- built the Great Wall...

Go here to read more about the Great Wall...

August 29, 2005 20:32 - The Silk Road -- Connecting East and West

The Silk Road is a series of caravan routes which connected China and Europe some 2,000 years ago. Along these paths the exchange of ideas and inventions between East and West changed the world forever.

In the 19th century, the name Silk Road was given to these historical trails by a German geographer, Ferdinand von Richthofen.

Paper, printing, gunpowder and the compass -- the Four Great Inventions of China -- reached the West through the Silk Road. Buddhism, one of China¡¯s three teachings along with Confucianism and Taoism, was imported from India through the Silk Road.

Read more about the Silk Road

August 30, 2005 15:57 - The Yangtze -- Longest River in China

Next in my series on Chinese landmarks...the Yangtze River

The scenery around the lakes and canals of the towns along the Yangtze River is famous for its heavenly beauty!

Jiangnan means "South of the Yangtze River". At 6,300km, the Yangtze is the longest river in China.

Jiangnan includes Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Anhui provinces. Through the ages Jiangnan has been the wealthiest region in China, producing first-rate rice, silk and tea leaves.

Jiangnan is famed for its scenic water towns and lakes. A typical water town is Zhouzhuang. This 900-year-old town has arched bridges, winding streams and quaint houses in the old Chinese style. Among the lakes, West Lake (Xihu) and Tai Lake (Taihu) are the most beautiful...Read more

July 2005 «  » September 2005


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