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

Best, Jonathan jbest at wesleyan.edu
Mon May 25 13:13:36 EDT 2015

Dear Yeon-ju Bae,

Interesting question that you ask; I should caution, however, that since I am not a linguist or a modernist, I'm not the best qualified person to judge the accuracy of my response. I can explain, however, some of the reasoning that underlay what I wrote about those two variant ways of writing that are commonly known in English as Chinese characters (hanmun in Korean). My reasoning, in turn, reflects in large part what I've been told by others that were hopefully better informed.

It seems to me that the contexts for the postwar creation in Japan of the Tōyō kanji and the creation of the Simplified Characters in China are quite different. In Japan there was a substantially literate population created through decades of popular, free education and a population that could understand one another's speech—albeit there existed—and still exist—dialectical differences, but these differences were not—and are not—insurmountable. In postwar China, in contrast, a very substantial portion of its vast population was functionally illiterate, especially in rural areas, and there existed such profound dialectical differences between regions that not infrequently persons who had not learned the official national dialect could not orally communicate with one another.

The different contexts underlying the creation of Tōyō kanji and Simplified Characters dramatically effected the forms that the two scripts took. I have been told that many Tōyō kanji are simply abbreviated forms of the "Traditional Characters" and had long been known and used throughout East Asia—and I have indeed encountered some of them in Chinese dictionaries as common variant forms of the Traditional ones. In other cases, the transformations appearing in Tōyō kanji are sufficiently minor that, if one knows the Traditional form, it is possible to guess what the character is represented.

In China, however, it is my understanding that the Simplified Characters were intentionally created by a revolutionary government to make literacy more accessible to all and, perhaps, simultaneously to make an overt repudiation of the elite culture of the pre-Communist past. Certainly, to my eyes at least, the forms of Simplified Characters tend to more radically depart from the Traditional forms than do the Tōyō kanji.

Thus, it seems to me that given the high level of literacy in postwar Korea, the situation on the peninsula— particularly in the South—much more closely approximates that in Japan than the situation in postwar China and consequently my assumption that South Koreans with a basic reading knowledge of the Traditional forms of hanja would likely have an easier time grasping the meaning of a word written in Tōyō kanji than the same word written in Simplified Characters.

I hope this is helpful in clarifying my posting,

From: Yeon-ju Bae [yjubae at gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, May 25, 2015 1:51 AM
To: Korean Studies Discussion List; Best, Jonathan
Subject: Re: [KS] == formal question (which version of Chinese characters?)

Dear Professor Best,

Hope you don't mind my asking, but would you further explain why you
suspect that most Koreans would be able to read Japanese characters,
while it might not be the case for Chinese characters?
Personally, I'm a young student who is not familiar with both forms,
so I was just wondering.

Best wishes,

Yeon-ju Bae
Graduate Student
Department of Anthropology
Seoul National University

On Mon, May 25, 2015 at 12:57 AM, Best, Jonathan <jbest at wesleyan.edu<mailto:jbest at wesleyan.edu>> wrote:
Dear Frank and all,

What I hoped my response would say is:

I suspect that most Koreans would be able to read the Japanese 伝承, but the Chinese  民间 might be a problem for some, so maybe I'd try "民间 (i.e., 民間)". . .

That is, I'd first insert the term in simplified and then in parentheses provide the equivalent in good old fashioned graphs preceded by an i.e. or an equals sign or some such.

But it didn't show up that way on Frank's screen (and others?), in part, I suspect, because my computer is not presently set up to do simplified characters and in part because I mis-typed my less-than-brilliant suggestion and copied the simplified version from his earlier email and then stupidly inserted it twice, including once within the parens where the old standard equivalent should have been and so my text appeared with two bits of gobbledygook.

But again, given my research interests, the problem of what to do with simplified characters is, happily, not something that I have had to deal with, but surely there are others on the list who have a solution to Frank's original query based on actual experience.


From: Frank Hoffmann [hoffmann at koreanstudies.com<mailto:hoffmann at koreanstudies.com>]
Sent: Saturday, May 23, 2015 9:57 PM
To: Best, Jonathan
Subject: == [KS] formal question (which version of Chinese characters?)

Jonathan, there is a technical problem -- THIS is how your mail looks
for me and I suppose most other list subscribers:
 ... I'd try "Ãñ¼ä (i.e., Ãñ¼ä) ...



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