Some Oxford-educated English man claims in his blog that China should use an alphabetical writing system, and China’s failing to do so in history partly resulted in the high level of illiteracy. He goes like this：
[China failed to invent stuff] Like an alphabet. Really, how hard is that? The Koreans managed to transform their character-based system into a very serviceable syllabic alphabet nearly 600 years ago. Amongst the reasons why China still hasn’t achieved a high level of literacy….
It is not the first time westerners point a finger at Chinese culture and claiming it backward, outdated or lacking creativity. Well, China has to ‘disappoint’ them for yet another time, because China will never use an alphabetical writing system. Koreans designed their square-shaped writing system, Vietnamese reverted from Chinese characters to French alphabets after being colonized and Japanese are using half-Chinese and half-syllables. But these examples do not mean that China, the inventor of its unique writing system, will follow suit just because an Oxford man can’t learn it.
The reason is very simple: Chinese writing system is part of Chinese culture, and it has been a very stable and mature writing system over the past 2,000 years. Its earliest appearances date back to 1,000 B.C. A remarkable treasure of cultural heritage has been preserved by this consistent writing system, and this is part of the reason that Chinese conquered the barbaric conquerors from the North. To claim that China should discard its unique writing system is tantamount to a cultural genocide, something western colonists excelled at. Just look at the whole American continent!
The writing system of Chinese, in all its uniqueness, perpetuated and preserved our culture. It is China itself in one sense.
The value of Chinese writing system aside, I am going to explain in simple words why Chinese are actually easier to learn than English and other major European languages:
- Chinese grammar is an ideational grammar. It is very straightforward with an intense focus on ideas rather than grammatical forms which are commonplace in European languages. Translated literally, Chinese goes like this: I EAT-le THREE APPLE. No conjugation and no plural form. To express a past tense just add the universal “le” at the end of the verb. The plural form of APPLES is semantically redundant because the word THREE said it all. The economy of grammatical forms and the focus on ideas make Chinese simple to learn yet powerfully expressive, a hallmark best exemplified by Chinese poems.
- Chinese uses symbols very efficiently, and knowing about 3,000 Chinese characters is more than enough to read extensively in modern China. Ideas rarely exhaust the combination of a few thousand everyday Chinese characters, and a learned person in China is not judged by how many characters he knows. To read extensively in English, one would learn about 20,000 words to say the least. A simple example is suffice to show the difference : In English you say January, February, March etc, but in Chinese you simply say Month 1, Month 2 … I have been learning English for over ten years and I still come across new words more often than not. While Americans have to take the GRE test to enter graduate schools, Chinese students are poring over English glossaries in order to pass the qualifying English test for a master’s program in Chinese Literature. What an irony.
- Contrary to the widespread superstition that Chinese characters are difficult to write, writing a Chinese character is not difficult at all. Even a Gecko caveman can do it. Sounds too good to be true? Just install Microsoft Pinyin on your computer, change into Chinese language input method, and type “woaizhongwen” without the quotation marks. Do you see it? You have just written 我爱中文 which means I love Chinese language. Admittedly, it takes some training to write Chinese characters by hand, but it is not difficult for Chinese kids at all. It is in their blood, remember? Besides, fewer and fewer Chinese write by hand today because typing characters into a computer screen is so easy and fast.
Ignorance of a foreign culture is always pardonable, but passing judgment about a country’s writing system with quarter-knowledge passes for stupidity.