Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Linguistic Concession?

Since Ma Ying-jeou became President of Taiwan in May 2008, relations between Taiwan and the mainland have been getting cosier.

This is an interesting twist in history considering Ma is with the Kuomintang Party, that fled China in defeat in 1949.

Soon after Ma came to power, talks immediately began about having increasing economic links -- increased direct flights across the Taiwan Straits instead of having to pass through Hong Kong, and more trade in a variety of sectors.

And as of late a few more Taiwan representatives and mayors have made visits to China with their own agendas, and warmly welcomed.

At no point in time was politics mentioned, but it was understood that a positive atmosphere could lead to some kind of resolution.

Nevertheless, speak to Taiwanese, and they are proud of their native heritage and their identity. They speak Taiwanese and have their own method of teaching Mandarin, by using a series of symbols and bo, po, mo, fo.

But yesterday Ma floated a trial balloon, suggesting that Taiwan adopt the simplified characters used in writing in China, a subtle cultural move in becoming closer to its former archrival.

"We hope the two sides can reach a consensus on (learning to) read standard characters while writing in the simplified ones," Ma told a visiting delegation of US-based Taiwanese community leaders.

"It is also our hope that the standard characters can be listed as World Heritage by the United Nations one day," he said in a statement.

But critics think Ma is conceding too much in his bid to appease Beijing.

"Ma is seeing China as his master. He is even trying to change our writing habits to please China, which is absolutely unnecessary," said Cheng Wen-tsang, spokesman for the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP.)

In the 1950s, Beijing began using a system of simplified Chinese characters to replace traditional ones which it deemed too complicated for the majority of the population to learn and become literate.

This intriguing move should get an interesting response from Taiwanese. Are they ready to concede this cultural identity? If they do adopt pinyin as well, does this mean Taipei will be Taibei?

Maybe mapmakers should consider working on changes now...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is a Chinese wisdom-Unification after a long separation; and separation after a prolonged unification. The simplified forms of Chinese character have been promoted for decades under the regime of the Republic of China. Since 1950's it is gone into real practice. But the the'communist'radically simplified forms are too 'simplistic' an lack literary and esthetic merits. Hopefully with the unification of Chinese political ideologies on both sides of the Taiwan strait a more moderate type be evolved and accepted by most of the Chinese people all over the world.