Taiwan seeks heritage status for complex Chinese characters

Taiwan plans to apply for world heritage status for the complex Chinese characters that China stopped using after 1949 but Taiwan continues to use today, a newspaper said Thursday. Taiwan plans to set up a task force in February to prepare for making the application to UNESCO, the United Daily News quoted Premier Liu Chao-Shiuan (劉兆玄) as saying.

It was not clear whether Taiwan's not being a member of the United Nations would hinder the effort, but Taiwan's government does not believe China would oppose the move because the complex characters are part of the Chinese heritage, the News said.

When the Chinese Communists won the Chinese Civil War and founded the People's Republic of China in 1949, they introduced simplified Chinese characters beginning in 1956 to make it easier for farmers and workers to learn to read and write.

But the Chinese Nationalist Government, which lost the civil war and fled to Taiwan to set up its government-in-exile, preserved the complex characters in the name of preserving the Chinese culture, and today Taiwan is the only country in the world where the complex characters are still being used.

The complex characters are also used by Chinese-language newspapers in the former British and Portugese colonies Hong Kong and Macau, which are now China's special administrative zones.

Liu said that if one knows the complex characters, it is easier for one to read ancient Chinese characters used 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. "So complex Chinese characters are like a living fossil," he was quoted as saying.