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Character debate ends up being nothing but hot air

Traditional Chinese will always be used in education, minister says

Character debate ends up being nothing but hot air

The recent fuss over the United Nations' decision to abolish the usage of traditional Chinese characters on its Web sites and official documents has turned out to be much ado about nothing.

A China-based media outlet reported last month that Chinese linguistics expert Chen Zhangtai said in a forum that the U.N. planned to replace its use of both traditional and simplified Chinese characters with only simplified characters on its Web sites and in its publications starting in 2008.

The report circulated widely among Chinese-speaking people worldwide. In less than three weeks, some 63,000 visitors demonstrated their support for traditional Chinese characters by signing an online petition.

Local media reported yesterday that most of the supporters were overseas Chinese instead of local Taiwanese and attempted to dig into the issue.

In a survey sponsored by Taiwan's national radio station, Radio Taiwan International, 65 percent of the respondents said abolishing the traditional Chinese characters would lead to a disruption in Chinese culture.

But a statement released yesterday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs poured cold water on the advocates' efforts by saying the U.N.'s Web sites and publications were already limited to simplified Chinese characters.

When Taiwan's representative office in New York checked on the report with the U.N., officials from the Department of the U.N. Secretariat said they were not informed of the report and felt puzzled by it, the statement said.

Although the U.N. uses Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Russian as its official languages, the decision has not deterred the development of other languages, such as Japanese, German, or Portuguese, the statement added.

The conservation of culture in countries using these languages was also unaffected by the U.N.'s language policy, the statement said.

Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission Vice Minister Cheng Tong-hsing said yesterday at the Legislature that the government has plans to call press conferences and various publicity campaigns to boost public awareness of the significance of using traditional Chinese characters among Taiwanese and overseas Chinese.

Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝) also said that due to the language's historical and cultural significance, the MOE is firm in its stance that traditional Chinese characters will continue to be taught in local educational institutions regardless of the U.N.'s decision.

Simplified Chinese characters were officially adopted by Beijing in 1949 in a bid to eradicate illiteracy in the country. They are also used in Singapore and Malaysia, while traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Updated : 2021-10-21 14:25 GMT+08:00