Saturday, 5 March 2016

The Political Fight over Chinese Characters

Many in Hong Kong think students should learn traditional Chinese characters
The Hong Kong government continues to push its agenda to mainlandize the city with the Education Bureau's latest consultation document that says local students should learn simplified Chinese characters.

There was a huge uproar last week when TVB started using simplified characters for its Putonghua newscasts on its J5 channel that led to 10,000 complaints.

It is a divisive issue, because depending on which side you're on indicates your political leanings.

Education chief Eddie Ng says the issue is being politicized
However Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim denied any political intent behind the move, accusing others of distorting the facts and creating an uproar.

The bureau said learning simplified characters was not an item for consultation because it was already stated as a goal in the Chinese Language Education Key Learning Area Curriculum Guide back in 2002.

Why didn't we hear about it then? Perhaps it was because there were other more pressing education issues at the time?

The consultation document says after mastering traditional Chinese, students should be able to read simplified characters to widen their reading range and foster better communication with the mainland and overseas, while schools should promote "using Putonghua to teach Chinese language" on campus as a long-term goal.

However the bureau did admit it didn't have any evidence to prove using Putonghua to teach Chinese would be more effective than using Cantonese.

The difference between simplified and traditional characters
When the general public was asked about their view by a newspaper, they all resoundingly rejected the idea of using simplified Chinese in schools, saying there was no need.

Nevertheless, some international schools teach simplified Chinese to make it easier for students to learn and easily integrate with the mainland, where as local schools insist on traditional characters, and that students would be able to figure out simplified characters.

Academics say learning traditional Chinese characters helps students understand their etymology.

"I beg the government not to create problems where there are none," says Chinese language expert professor Ho Man-koon of Caritas Institute of Higher Education. "Teachers do not need to specifically teach simplified characters. Students can naturally learn them by guessing and making logical inferences."

Legislator Lam Tai-fai, representing the Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong and supervisor of Lam Tai Fai College, said the business sector was ambivalent about students learning simplified characters.

Simplify this! The character biang to describe noodles
"The knowledge of simplified Chinese has nothing to do with making profits," he said. "Since traditional Chinese is widely recognized and adopted in Hong Kong, it is better to encourage students to learn simplified Chinese [of their own accord] rather than to make it mandatory."

Teachers are also concerned that simplified Chinese will take hold if it actually becomes a course in the curriculum. "They fear that after students achieve a good grasp of simplified characters and Putonghua, many years later simplified Chinese will fully replace traditional script in their textbooks," Ho said.

Eva Chan Sik-chee is the convenor of the Parents Concern Group on National Education, and warned that although the issue was overlooked in 2002, it didn't mean there was consensus now.

"The government has not really consulted the public," she said. "Many people in the education sector are not even aware of this proposal. We are highly concerned about the overall impact of the proposals, including using Putonghua to teach Chinese as a long-term goal. We have a feeling that the whole consultation exercise is leaning towards the mainland culture, and made out of a political motive."

Education chief Ng needs to come out and explain clearly what is going on -- is there really no more opportunity for the public to give its own opinion on the matter? And why does it think learning simplified Chinese will help Hong Kong students liaise better with Chinese overseas? They are most probably learning traditional characters, and if they are using simplified, again, they can figure out what they are saying without having to explicitly learn simplified Chinese.

It seems like this issue will not be resolved anytime soon and there should be a dialogue about this, instead it seems like the government is bending over backwards to please Beijing.

Yet another reason why the government is so alienated from the general population and that Hong Kong people get no say in their lives.

As some people are saying these days, it feels like 2047 is already here...

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