[KS] The finishing touch on early hanja education [English Translation]

Lee JooBai jblee6952 at hotmail.com
Wed Mar 12 13:47:57 EST 2003


Below is the tranlation into English of the article which sparked such a 
and heated debate in Korea.  I hope this would allow those without a browser
enabled for Korean to get a flavor of the article that touched off the 
amongst Korean netizens, one that included much fast flying expletives,
misinformation, and disinformation.

Were there perhaps boosters of CHB camp and YGM camp amongst the 

I wonder if the US netizens could ever be fired up to lauch their own 
and spicy epithets at each other on whether we have too much greek or latin 
german or french or hebrew words.

But surely 70% of any communal treasury deserves considered deliberation.
And any debate about their disposition seems fully justified.
Even were the proportion to stand at 30%, would it not deserve equal 

In so far as the hanja/no-hanja debate is concerned,  my view is that the
orthographic practice of Japan has something to be much praised.  In the 
of identifying what is purely Japanese, derived from or purely Chinese, or 
Chinese or Japanese, the practice of using hiragana|Kanji+kana or 
Kanji+kanji or
katakana respectively to mark this fact surely force the writer and reader 
confront the different provenance of each word, at least in text, which 
can not be a bad thing.  Even granting that the native and proficient 
can usually distinguish one from the others, I wonder if one should not 
the above practice for this ability to some extent.

As for English, no such practice, except for occasional italics and 
can be said to be in force.  Once in the garb of the alphabet, do they all
suddenly transform themselves into "English?"  I sometimes wonder if this
rather welcoming habit of readily accepting a foreigner, once properly 
is not responsible for the heaviness of some of our dictionaries.  Or is it
perhaps that they mostly being europeans, their true natures still shine 
still not overly distorted, even when robed in the english alphabet?

Now it seems the disrobing of chinese words of their garbs of "days-gone-by" 
a done deal.  And all things have been clothed in hangul and therefore 
But may I ask for your comments as to how true is the supposition that most
native speakers and non-native speakers can in a way see through the garb 
know their nationality.  May I also request your comment on what the degree
of phonotactic differences are between say sino-korean and pure-korean.
And even if such differences were significant, isn't there a presupposition
of knowing the difference between one and the other.  May I request your 
on how one does develop this ability.  I guess I am thinking back to my
various encounters with the vietnamese emigres and their views about what 
up their language.

If the garbing of foreign words in alphabet for english is a good thing and
reflects the welcoming spirit of americans, doesn't the same hold true for 

So, aren't the Koreans being open-minded in allowing all words to be 
clothed whereas the Japanese are being isolationist in marking for 
all foreign words?

Sorry for so much digression again.  Asking for your pardon, here follow the

And here is the link to the actual article in Korean:



J.B. Lee

jblee6952 at hotmail.com


Let's now put an end to the issue of elementary school chinese character
Put a stop to what is no more than mutual recrimination and put it to a
systematic test

As for Korea, there are two points of debate as to foreign language 
they are chinese characters and English.

The reason for learning English is so clear as to leave no room for 
The reason is the smooth mutual communication amongst nations. And the 
for learning English is so clear as to not avail itself to be questioned. 
the common acceptance of the attending slogan of "Raising the national
competitiveness" is now a general concensus for which no way can be found to
put a stop to. Accordingly, the debates revolve now only on the question of 
one can effectively learn English.

However, there is hardly any debate on the methodological issues as regards
chinese character education. Instead, one can find only suspicious 
assertions of usefulness, though one of questionable degree, of hanja 

And it is along this line that the 13 former ministers of education, who are
members of the National Association for the Advancement of Hanja Education,
presented their "Recommendations for putting into practice hanja education 
elementary schools" to the Blue House and the teacher's resources section.

Though the association asserts that "Notwithstanding that 70% of our 
is chinese compound, the inability of college students to read even the 
characters is a cause for our loss of economic competitiveness. And further
to be in step with the globalization trend, hanja education is needed." This
statement however is not an important reason.

That 70% of our language is chinese compound is a fact. However hanja.u and
hanja are mutually distinct notions. While hanja.u is a foreign word read in
hangul, hanja is <hanja in chinese> the writing grapheme of the china of
by-gone-days. One is therefore at a loss to understand how not knowing to
write the characters( and ones which are pronounced in the Korean and not 
chinese way no less) can be a cause for our losing economic competitiveness.

Even harder to understand is how "the trend towards globalization" should
poke its head alongside the argument for the need for hanja education in the
elementary schools. It is as many of the characters formerly in use in Korea
differ from the simplified characters in use in standard chinese.

Were the aims be one of increasing the economic competitiveness and putting
the country in step with the globalization trend, then it is only necessary
to diligently study chinese and japanese. That is, there is no need 
to teach to the elementary school students those characters which are not 
frequently used even in those two countries belonging to the chinese 

Whether it be because those claims of usefulness of learning hanja, in 
of international matters, have proven unsatisfactory, for which claims one 
find only weak theoretical arguments and little real evidence, their
proponents have recently begun to assert increasingly the usefulness of 
education in respect of national matters. Such assertions are varied and
range from the claim that making-words-easy hanja will enrich our stock of
vocabulary to even the claim that hanja will allow us to philosophize by its
power to develop our ability for abstraction.

However, these arguments fail to have the backing of real evidence. The
neologism being coined today are generally the likes of "clubby" or 
or "helpies" or "keepies", all based on our native roots, or are new 
of foreign words based on languages of western europe. Further, if it really
is so beneficial to philosophizing, why is it that the philosophy has risen
to such heights in the rest of the world and yet no philosophy worthy of
consideration has yet to germinate in Korea during the last half century?

They do often point to the fact that the college students are unable to read
even the basic hanja as a reason for the need for hanja education. But, it 
necessary to examine whether that situation is for some other cause. 
we must find justification for why hanja must be used in college texts. "As 
matter of habit" excepted, there is no particularly convincing reason. Were
it the case that the specialty requires hanja, than it is a matter of the
specialty to resolve the problem.

While it may be a matter of course that korean students read sam.gook.yoo.sa
or cho.sen.wang.jo.sil.log, but there it is not a matter of course that it
must be read in hanja. It is a matter of fact that were a skilled han.mun
specialist make a beautiful translation into han.gul, then the students can
in a shorter time and with much less effort read and understand its content.

Were one to aim to do so, it would be far more certain and useful to make a
concerted investment in the development of han.mun specialists than to teach
han.ja to elementary school students in increasing the readability and
broadening the understanding of korea's ancient texts.

But, the most influential claim in the debate over the side-by-side use of
han.ja appears to be a most absurd one. It is the claim that the children
will become smarter. It is the claim that it will stimulate the imagination
and broaden and deepen one's thoughts. It is the favorite darling of the
after-school chinese academies.

In fact is is no more than an extension of the ridiculous claims that han.ja
is useful in philosophy. And how welcoming would such claims be to the many
parents of the students!

On the other hand, the counter-arguments of han.gul.society is not lacking
in their own incertitude. Claims that han.ja education interferes with
language learning, that the rote-memory centered han.ja education decreases
creativeness are the likes. Such assertions remain in large part as 
only or are generalizations based on unsystematic observations.

Whenever such claims and counter-claims are made, I can not help but be
suspicious. Why haven't the academics in the educational and national
language circles performed experiments?

Firstly, is the matter of selection of those students who will learn han.ja.
There would presumably be consents of the parents and the students. The
students can be of a school, of a class, or of a region. Then, these 
would study han.ja at the elementary school level for say 3 or 6 years.

Simultaneously, fix on a different group of students but of similar 
And from them extract a promise not to study han.ja, even outside the 
Of course such should be limited to those students and parents who promise 
their own accord.

After the passage of a predetermined period, compare such metrics as 
performance, IQ test results, and such claimed effects as "development of
imagination" and "smartening." On a broader scope, we can also examine the
effects of having and not-having received han.ja education on their
performance at middle and high-school level.

Whatever the results, won't there be at least results? If the students who
studied han.ja had higher IQ scores or greater capacity for abstract thought
or had better classroom performance in chinese literature classes in middle
or senior school levels, then such would be evidence of effectiveness of
hanja education at the elementary school level.

Were the hanja students prove themselves comparatively not much better in 
abstract thinking, or in middle school chinese literature classes, then such
would be evidence rather of harmful effect of early hanja education. Were
there to be no significant differences in the two groups performance, one
can decide that elementary hanja education has no effectiveness.

It is a very simple matter. It is an experiment which can be concluded in
possibly 2-3 years and in at most 20 years. We can then come to a decisive
conclusion on the full effects of early hanja education on the students. I
can not understand why the question has been chewed on to no avail for all
these decades.

While we fail to come to a conclusion on this debate, the parents backs are
being twisted from the resulting burden. Those parents not teaching hanja 
burdened with the guilt that they might be turning their children into 
Those parents who are burdened with the added expense of teaching hanja are
also finding their backs twisted from overwork.

No matter however firmly a view is held, whether by education ministers or 
the teachers of classics, it is nothing a view, a private view at that.
Regardless of whether a recommendation is made by a joint signatory of a
group of ministers of education, it remains still a matter of their private
opinion. Were their perhaps misguided opinions to hold sway in matters of
policy, how big would be their harm to the society?

Truth be said, "a loss to society" is an overly kind way of putting it. Were 
to put it concretely, it amounts to wasting the taxes collected from the 

If only to put an end to a directionless policy and to conclude ..(????)..,
the academic circle and the government should arrive at a timely and
conclusive decision through systematic experiments.

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