2 0 1 4 年 4 月 1 日

China to abolish Chinese characters, replace with pinyin

Just seen this article on BBC News:


Bad times. I guess I should’ve seen it coming, really. The CCP are planning to abolish all use of Chinese characters in the PRC, and replace them with pinyin.

Chinese characters, or hanzi, are arguably the most famous emblem of Chinese culture.

During their 5000 year history, they have developed into one of the most recognisable written scripts in the world.

The Chinese government, however, has decided that the ancient writing system is out-dated and needs replacing with a more modern, efficient alternative.

A likely candidate is the most recent romanisation system for Mandarin Chinese, known as pinyin.

Yu Renjie, head of the People’s Redesign and Normalisation Committee, told the BBC that Chinese characters were “inefficient”.

“What’s important is that people can learn our national language quickly and easily. Our current writing system only gets in the way of that. Using the roman alphabet is much easier. Just look at English – no foreigners have any trouble pronouncing that.”

This new directive from the Chinese Communist Party follows a large-scale simplification of the Chinese script in the 1950s, when thousands of traditional character forms were replaced with less complex simplified forms.

How this latest change will be implemented in schools across China remains to be seen, but Mr Yu remains optimistic.

“Some people may think this is a joke, but it’s a very serious business. Having fifty-thousand buttons on computer keyboards just isn’t feasible any more.”

That kind of puts me out of a job here. Guess I’ll just focus on speaking and listening now instead; if it’s all pinyin, those skills should transfer pretty well to reading and writing without much extra effort.

Also it’s going to be a bit of a downer for Skritter – half their business is teaching people to write Chinese characters. Not so much need for pinyin.

Oh well, there’s still kanji…

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-42674542.html



The article 'China to abolish Chinese characters, replace with pinyin' has the following tags (click a tag for more articles on that topic):

  • http://horsedragonfish.com Chris

    I lol’d

  • http://nankaiuniversity.tumblr.com HuShiwei

    Haha nice try ;-)

  • 沈睿均

    lol April Fools!

  • http://www.plasmaproductions.net Matthew Elton

    And… April fools. lol.

    Pinyin is great for looking up a single word in a dictionary, but reading entire sentences in pinyin is even more difficult than reading characters, because so many completely different words share the same pronunciation, so you have no idea which meaning is intended. Imagine road signs posted not only Mandarin Pinyin but also the other the romanization for the other 100 or so dialects that are spoken in China. That would require some pretty big signs and it would take forever just to find your own dialect. Billions of dollars would be wasted hiring millions of translators to translate documents across dialects, when all that money, time, and effort could have been saved if they just used Chinese characters, which all dialects can read in their own dialect without the need for translation. The idea of replacing Chinese characters with pinyin is ridiculous. It would actually make writing even more complicated than it already is!

    • http://eastasiastudent.net 葛脩逺

      Yeah the signs are inconsistent enough with pinyin so trying to include other romanisations would probably be pretty hopeless.

    • London

      I know right! It really gets on my nerves when people be trying to say that pinyin is better just because it is the same alphabet kind of that they use in English and because it is easier and because it is easier to write (for us writing European languages! Not for asian languages), well then why not an Arabic script because then it would be way easier for languages that use the Arabic script or why not use the Cyrillic script because then it would be easier for speakers of the languages using that script. Besides, I love the Chinese characters, they are better than the whole damn world using European languages and scripts. But whatever people who know the usefulness of characters are also people who make decisions like what script to use in China. Hahaha.

  • http://www.mandarinreview.com The Mandarin Review

    Is today April first ?

    • Fred

      Omg I fell for it too! It was so funny.

  • http://blog.sina.com.cn/menglelan Lelan

    April Fool to you all.

  • http://chinesejohn.com/ chinesejohn

    well,many chinese characters share the same pinyin with others, so how could people distinguish pinyin to get the real meaning if Chinese language was totally pinyin,not any characters? As a native Chinese speaker,I highly doubt it.

    • Pinyin

      Hahnzih yoou heen duo torngyinzih, dahnshih Puutonghuah meeiyoou heen duo torngyincir.

      • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

        jiu shi zheyang. Yong pinyin xie putonghua ni jiu kan de dong; yong pinyin xie wenyanwen, kongpa bu xing.

        • 小金

          你真的太烦啊 一次又一次再这么多的讨论上说出支持你对拼音有的想法的东西啊。 拼音明明不是正确,而不够表示中文的字的准确的意思。

          • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran


    • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

      In my experience as a second language learner of Chinese, almost every possible syllable-tone combination only has one possible meaning in context.

      Like “tan” only has two meanings by itself:

      tan1 = 贪
      tan2 = 谈

      I don’t care if 弹 is also read tan2, no one is every going to use this word in isolation, and tan2 qin2 is 99% of the time going to mean 弹琴 (play violin) and not 谈琴 (discuss violins). With the tones, you won’t ever mistake 弹琴 for 探亲, since they sound completely different.

      I could list a dozen or more examples of this. It doesn’t matter what’s in the dictionary; only what people actually say matters for understanding Chinese.

  • http://eastasiastudent.net 葛脩逺

    呵呵, thanks for the comments guys. Like you say, it’s never going to happen.

  • Gleaves

    Well struck.

  • Alexandre


  • Wayne

    4 Charaters:
    无稽之谈(wu ji zhi tan)!
    wu ji zhi tan?
    五鸡之谈/无极只贪 +_+

    • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

      The tones don’t match, and the bottom two phrases are not fixed phrases, so no one would ever interpret wu2 ji1 zhi1 tan2 as meaning either of those.

  • http://www.joyfulgreen.com John Lee

    I agree with Mr Yu that learning Mandarin is not an easy task.
    In my opinion, PinYin is a very useful tool in learning Mandarin pronunciation and a much quicker way of typing Chinese Character in this computer age.
    However, I don’t agree that it should totally replace the Chinese Character. The beauty and richness of the Chinese Character developed over thousand years of history should be treasured and retained.
    It is really foolish to abolish it!

    • Pinyin

      Hahnzih bu xuyaoh beih feihchur, dahnshih woo’men keeyii lihyohng Hahnyuu Pinyin.

  • Rolf

    How can you understand what’s said, if you can’t understand (written) pinyin?

    I mean pinyin is just what’s said.

    • http://eastasiastudent.net 葛脩遠

      Yeah, I think you can learn to read pinyin in that way. But written Chinese and spoken Chinese are very different. If someone wrote as they spoke in pinyin, it might be readable. But the written language might be quite hard to decipher as it doesn’t supply so much information when read aloud. You need the characters.

      • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

        I disagree with the ontological argument here. If there were no characters, we would be unable to write in “half-spoken half-written” (半文半白) Chinese in the first place, so all written texts could be read aloud and understood. Chinese people routinely read texts aloud, and they supplement the hard to understand parts with explanations, translations, or whatnot in Mandarin.

  • http://mychinesenotebook.blogspot.com Ma Si Wen
    • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

      Misinterpretation of Zhao’s story…

      Zhao’s intention was to show how ridiculous it is to write Classical Chinese in phonetic characters, because it is unreadable. Why is it unreadable? Because the same story spoken aloud is completely unintelligible, with or without tones.

      Zhao’s intention was to show that Mandarin was the logical replacement for Classical Chinese, since it was a spoken language that could be written with phonetic characters (of which he was a proponent).

      If you translate the story into Mandarin, it is readable in pinyin:

      Title: Yi ge xing Shi de ren de chi shizi de lishi

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    As soon as the Chinese switch from Hanzi to Pinyin, the West will retain its commanding lead in mathematics, literacy, etc. etc. by switching from those inefficient Roman letters and Arabic numerals to the much cleaner — and more binary, hence modern — Morse code.

    What could be more obvious?


  • http://www.21tiger.com Michael A. Robson

    Yeah, hehe, April Fools?

  • Pinyin

    Pinyin hen fangbian. yong Pinyin wulun dui Zhongguoren haishi waiguoren dou you haochu.

  • Krystina

    Read this, freaked out for a few seconds, looked at the date, “oh”.

    Haha, a bit late, but :)

  • bob

    I thought it was a good idea. There is no real advantage in simplified mandarin characters now as we all use computers. Traditional characters look a lot better and are historically what Chinese have used for thousands of years.
    (e.g. compare “Like” XiHuan 喜歡 & 喜欢 (the small font doesn’t do it justice))
    The simplified characters just muddy the waters.
    They should either not change (Taiwan,singapore,Hongkong) or change completely.

    Korea moved from chinese characters to their current characters which are very simple and easy to learn and write as well as being completely phonetic.

    It would be probably a lot harder to make a big change these days as most people are literate, lot easier when only a few people can read.

    • Krystina

      How does that make sense at all?

      Then do you mean to say that Japanese and Korean should all be changed as well? Cause they both began with traditional Chinese characters and “simplified” in their own ways (so they’re not changed ‘completely’).

      I agree, traditional is a lot more beautiful, but simplified is a lot more practical – at least for such a large country like China. Maybe one day China can shift back to traditional, who knows, but for now simplified is the best choice…

      • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

        “Traditional” and “Simplified” are anachronisms when we talk about the past. There wasn’t the same level of standardization we see today.

    • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

      Simplified characters are faster to write, somewhere between 10%-20% faster based on research if I remember correctly.

      Traditional characters are supposedly easier to read. However, many simplified characters were simplified to make the phonetic component more prominent or easier to grasp for Mandarin speakers. The key here is MANDARIN speakers: many of the new phonetic components are good simplifications in Mandarin but DO NOT match current pronunciations in Cantonese and other dialects, making Simplified characters just as hard or harder to read for speakers of those dialects.

      So, simplified characters are easier to write for everyone, but only easier to read if you are reading the “national language” of Standard Mandarin. Promoting Standard Mandarin is part of the state-making process and it seems unlikely for the time being that the government would change the script again.

  • bob

    re “do you mean to say that Japanese and Korean should all be changed as well?”
    simple Answer. “No”
    Korea is an excellent example of how to move from Chinese characters to phonetic characters.They have already made the change which is why I used them as an example in my prior comment.

    Although the Japanese seems to be trying to have their feet on both sides of the fence.
    The Japanese use Kanji (Chinese characters), Katakana and Hiragana writing schemes . The last two are phonetic writing systems.
    With Japan they have been reforming their written language but have decided not to get rid of the kanji characters (Chinese characters).
    Kind of almost like having to learn Chinese characters and also Korean. If they got rid got rid of the Kanji they would be in a similar place to the Koreans having only phonetic characters to write.

    This is a very interesting subject , making the characters completely phonetic like the Koreans have, would make learning Mandarin a lot easier. I had a lot of frustration with the characters when I first started learning , found it very irritating that the characters were not phonetic.

    I guess the problem is with all this there is a lot of history with these characters and abolishing them for a more efficient and easy to use writing system is a painful idea for Chinese and Japanese. This is probably the hardest part to deal with regarding making the writing systems completely phonetic.

    The funny part with all this discussion re simplified and traditional is that most people don’t write characters much any more, so the main advantages of simplified are not all that relevant in this situation. (feel free to correct me !)
    Have a look at the following interesting links regarding this.
    “Character amnesia (simplified Chinese: 提笔忘字; traditional Chinese: 提筆忘字; pinyin: tíbĭwàngzì; literally “pick up pen, forget the character”) is a phenomenon whereby experienced speakers of some East Asian languages forget how to write Chinese characters previously well known to them.”
    “Wired youth forget how to write in China and Japan”

    • http://eastasiastudent.net Hugh Grigg

      If they got rid got rid of the Kanji they would be in a similar place to the Koreans having only phonetic characters to write.

      I should point out that Koreans are required to learn 1800 hanja, which are occasionally used. My understanding is that it’s akin to the use of Latin terms in English.

      • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

        My understanding is South Korean students are no longer “required to learn” any hanja in school, though some learn them in extracurricular lessons. Whether hanja should be taught in school/used in written Korean is still a hotly debated issue in South Korea. It was the Japanese occupation publishers who really did away with hanja in Korean, assuming (undoubtedly accurately) that it would be easier for the uneducated to read.

        J. Marshall Unger sums it up nicely: “Japanese attachment to kanji is intimately tied to the shared experience of mastering a complex body of knowledge that defines group membership. Whether kanji facilitate communication or not is a secondary consideration.”

        The same can be said about China.

        There is very little scientific research on the pros and cons of hanzi/kanji/hanja versus the Roman alphabet/hangul, so almost all discussion is emotional in nature and of the “I like…” or “… is more beautiful/expressive/practical/easy” variety. Shen Congwen (or perhaps Xiong Bingming) supposedly said, “Chinese calligraphy is the core of the core of Chinese culture.” (书法是中国文化核心的核心). Whether Chinese characters really facilitate “communication” or are more “expressive” is not really at issue here.

        Sorry for a serious post on a funny topic!

  • White

    Where can i find an all chinese charecters dictionary?

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    Can’t happen: obviously if they were interested in efficiency through simplification, they’d switch to Morse code.

    Imagine: just two things to memorise: dots and dashes!


  • http://eoram.com/ LOL

    I literally laughed! xD
    And hats off to the well crafted BBC article :)

  • lululuya

    It is not true! I have never ever heard about it as a chinese(mainland china)!
    You may not realize how much chinese people (we) love and respect their(our) characters! I hate simplified Chinese although it is easy to write.But a strange thing is most of us can read the traditional chinese without learning it.

    ps: Tell the different between “终止” with “中止”。——one question of China college entrance examination

  • bob

    I like Traditional mandarin and find it far more beautiful.

    Like (XiHuan) 喜歡 (trad) or 喜欢 (simple)
    We (WoMen) 我們 or 我们
    country (guojia) 國家 or 国家
    I have always enjoyed writing guo國 , find it quite elegant.

    I feel that simple mandarin has lost the elegance which traditional mandarin has. Yes I am biased. ;-)

    • 6161

      Neither of those is Mandarin. You’re talking about traditional and simplified characters (漢字). Mandarin can be a few different things but technically it’s the old 官话 and present 北方话s; informally, it’s 普通话. In all cases, it refers to one way (among many) for reading those characters.

  • Pinyin

    Pinyin is good.

  • Ralph Dratman

    How silly! This not true. The Chinese government would never do any such thing.

    The real story is that China is going to convert everything to English in a big hurry. Next they will translate all historical documents into the new “mother language.”

  • Pinyin

    Hahnyuu Pinyin ‘d shengdiaoh furhaoh biaodiaoh bu fangbiahn daazih. yohng zihmuu biaodiaoh jiuh heen fangbiahn ‘le.

  • Pinyin

    Pinyin tone marking:

    a ar aa ah ‘a = ā á ǎ à a = a1 a2 a3 a4 a5

    * For syllable dividing, to use ` instead of ‘, for example: pirng`an (safe and sound), ji`arng (excited and indignant), pir`aao (fur-lined jacket), fang`ahn (scheme).

  • Pinyin

    Pinyin-English News Summary for learning Chinese:


  • mishasibirsk

    I would think it unlikely that Chinese characters will disappear in the foreseeable future. It doesn’t make sense, though, to say that, because there are many times the number of characters than syllables, people wouldn’t be able to read pinyin (with comprehension). People unconsciously computer a lot by the pragmatics. Yes, spoken Chinese has intonation, but writing has punctuation, e.g. the question mark, which carries some of the weight of intonation.

    More importantly, pinyin is massively underutilized as a tool for (foreign) learners. I found, first in Melaka, then somewhere in China, that there are large numbers of easy books in parallel pinyin/hanzi for Chinese children and young adolescents. One step would be to make them more readily available to the foreign readership. However, they aren’t really ideal for that segment. Firstly, the vocabulary requirements don’t match. On the one hand, while a three or four y.o. Chinese child might have a less solid grasp of grammar than an advanced foreign student, the child will be by orders of magnitude more in tune with unwritten clues to meaning. So, in traditional children’s stories, there is a lot of obscure, antiquated vocabulary that doesn’t really bother any native. If you ask a native English speaker what a “stile” is, as in “the pig jumped over the stile,” they would probably hesitate to give a precise definition: … some kind of a farm gate/barrier thing. But everyone knows the sense of what it means in context. Then 12 or thirteen y.o. Chinese children, even if they are not 100% sure of all the characters they “should” know, will know many thousands of words, far more than most foreign learners, certainly compared to those who are still struggling to get beyond one or two thousand characters.

    I bought a few of these books two or three years ago; mainly for young children, just had a glance through the teenage ones. Often I knew all the characters, or found them out, but still wasn’t sure of the meaning. In fact I should have persevered I suppose, as I understood a fair amount already. One of the difficulties is not having the characters grouped into words. That is much less of an obstacle for native children, who have an unconscious feel for the syntax and the context. One other thing was that the parallel texts were printed with pinyin on top, the reverse of foreign learners’ texts. But that was the smallest irritation.

    Without going into detail here, I have gleaned a fair amount of evidence that there is, among the teaching (of Chinese) fraternity, a fair amount of prejudice against pinyin, that somehow it is almost an unworthy pursuit, and will impede the learner from proceeding with hanzi. I believe that is an immensely damaging misconception. Chinese, IMO, is not a very difficult language, except for the characters. As it is also by far the richest language, and has the largest L1 community, isn’t it strange that it isn’t one of the most widely studied, and used as an L2, languages? There may be other historical contributing factors, but I am sure that the main reason is the difficulty of the writing, which more particularly impedes acquisition of vocabulary – beyond very common, everyday usage, most L2 learners of any language gain most of their vocabulary through reading, and if they can’t quickly be able to get a grasp of menus, street signs and newspaper articles, they are apt to become discouraged, turn away and add their little contribution to the myth of “difficult Chinese.”

    This problem could so easily be fixed, and should have been ages ago, by the provision of a plethora of graduated reading materials, in parallel hanzi/pinyin, with the early to medium levels’ symbols (first both hanzi and pinyin, then just pinyin) grouped into words, from a few hundred words up to maybe five to eight thousand, and encompassing three or four thousand characters. It still wouldn’t mean that everyone in the world understood Chinese, but it would put Chinese on a par with languages like French, Italian, German and Spanish, which everyone has some basic idea of, knows a few words of; they could probably read a street sign or an instruction manual if they had to.

  • Anonymous

    none of this is true

  • Tony

    I was reading this, thinking it was real!!!! Made me sad and angry…. SO happy to hear it was just a joke!! haha xD

  • Ivan Uemlianin

    :D Very nice – yurenjie indeed (愚人节)

  • jack_gats

    I’ve read Chinese characters were actually more efficient because children could start to read 3 months earlier than with phonetic alphabets.

    • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

      Children in China “start to read” with pinyin, a phonetic alphabet…

  • http://kieranmaynard.com/ Kieran

    If the title wasn’t enough, it’s clearly a joke if the article begins with “During their 5000 year history…”

    None of the oldest character-like inscriptions are more than 4,000 years old by current estimates…

  • Abraham

    It’s gonna be confusing since Chinese pronunciation are very limited. For example, if you ask someone “ni zuo shenme” they probably will get confused between what are you doing and what kind of transportation are you taking.

  • Simake

    Quite late in coming across this article but did wish to point out that Phil Space is a prolific and widely read journalist. He has been published in almost every newspaper in the world. How could anyone doubt the authenticity of this artilce.

  • https://www.facebook.com/david.lloydjones.391 David Lloyd-Jones

    This is of course ridiculous. As everybody knows, China is going all the way and switching to Morse code, simplifying everything to just dots and dashes.

    “This is the appropriate glyph set for the digital age,” say Wang Wang, of Minitru, the Chinese Ministry responsible.