Sunday, May 3, 2009

Simplified vs. traditional characters

Eugene Wang, a professor of Asian art at Harvard, makes a surprising aesthetic argument in favor of simplified Chinese characters:

"Aesthetic appeal is another argument made for reinstating traditional characters. Calligraphy, the quintessential aesthetic form of Chinese writing, in fact favors simplification. The running- and cursive-hand in Chinese calligraphy has always been the most radical form of simplifying characters. The six-stroke character xing (running), for instance, was reduced to a mere two vertical strokes in medieval calligraphic practice."

Source: New York Times, May 2, 2009

This is surprising because the aesthetic argument is usually in favor of traditional characters.

In the same NYT online debate, Eileen Cheng-yin Chow, a professor of Chinese literature and culture at Harvard, writes: 

"Traditional characters and simplified characters never were two separate and autonomous language systems — they have always existed on a continuum. Many simplified characters are adaptations from common usage in Chinese cursive script; on the other hand, the inability to read traditional characters is to close oneself off to much of the Chinese cultural legacy — its history and arts — before the 1950s."