[KS] formal question (which version of Chinese characters?)

Richard McBride rick_mcbride17 at hotmail.com
Mon May 25 15:30:13 EDT 2015

Dear Frank and all

I have been following this discussion with interest.  To the best of my knowledge there is no widely accepted style regarding the use of Chinese characters, Sino-Korean characters (hanja), Sino-Japanese characters (kanji), or Sinographs, as they are increasingly being called in the realms of Sinology.  To me, this issue is tied to the choice of font or type face--or at least to the availability of fonts.  I only know of one journal that asks specifically for traditional characters (and pinyin romanization) with respect to the titles of texts--the Journal of Chinese Religions. 

There are relevant issues other than what the characters "ideally" should be, or what the characters were in their "original texts."  Most primary sources show that many types of simplified or variant characters were employed by writers and calligraphers.  When these texts are published in modern versions that are most accessible to scholars, however, editors and publishers typically use standard forms of characters as an expedient means and to improve the ability to search the text.  This certainly leads to typographical and other problems because the editors and/or typesetters have to make choices.  This is one reason why, in Western scholarship, we "demand, require, or insist" that an author identify the edition he or she is using.  With the increased usage of electronic texts we might see some kind of standardization in the future, but an electronic version is merely another type of edition with all the same problems of published versions.

Furthermore, many journals or publishers use certain selected fonts.  The most common font used in journals in Korean studies (e.g. Acta Koreana, Korea Journal) is Batang.  The Batang font has simplified characters, but perhaps not all the same simplified or variant characters used in either Japan or China.  I recognized this problem while reviewing the proofs of a forthcoming essay.  In the Japanese and Chinese scholarship I am familiar with (Sinitic Buddhism and early Korean history), scholars use the style of characters most commonly in use in their countries.  Sometimes mainland Chinese scholarship uses traditional characters in quotations and simplified for the original text, however, increasingly texts such as traditional histories and Buddhist texts are being made available in simplified characters, so quotations from "original sources" are presented in simplified characters as well.  What we think ought to happen and what is really happening might be two different things.

Rather than attempting some all-encompassing cure--and I don't want some "command decision" foisted on me like the Revised Romanization system--I think scholars need to consider their audience and their discipline.  I want to be able to select the style of characters I use in my writing, but when it comes to secondary scholarship--such as scholars' names and titles of articles--I think that we need to try use the characters found in the original sources.  This might not be possible depending on the font(s) used by the journal we are attempting to publish in.  However, when inserting characters into a text or making a glossary of logographs, we ought to be able to chose the forms that we think are most appropriate.  My choice of characters will certainly tell the reader as much about me as author, my sources (both primary and secondary), and my outlook as will other information in the text.  I don't have a problem with that.

Rick McBride

Associate Professor of History
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
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