The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy

The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy

The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy

The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy

Excerpt

The world is of the opinion that those who know Chinese characters are wise and worthy, whereas those who do not know characters are simple and stupid.

Zheng Qiao (1104-1162), Tong Zhi [Encyclopedic annals]

This is a report on my discovery of material exposing what has since come to be called The Singlish Affair. The discovery came about when I chanced upon a forgotten carton of wartime documents in the Tōyō Bunko Library in Japan while pursuing research on the fate of the Chinese writing system in China, Korea, Japan, and Viet Nam.

The material consists of a hodgepodge of manuscript documents and notes prepared by a small secret group of scholars with the innocuous name of the Committee on English Language Planning. Attached directly to the office of General Tōjō, the supreme commander of the Japanese armed forces, the committee was headed by his close personal friend, Prof. Ōno Kanji, and included only three other members, all collaborationists from lands occupied by the Japanese -- a Chinese, Lǐ Yìlián; a Korean, Kim Mun-yi; and a Vietnamese, Phi De Giua. Information is lacking on how these four scholars came to be selected for membership in the committee, a point of considerable interest, for it would be hard to imagine a less harmonious group of coworkers. The documents reveal that they were continuously involved in ethnocentric bickering on what to an outsider seem to be quite trivial points of detail.

On only one thing were they fully agreed. This was the astonishing notion that, in anticipation that first Hawaii, then Australia and New Zealand, and eventually the continental United States itself would be conquered and incorporated within the Japanese empire as part of an expanded East Asia Coprosperity Sphere, it was necessary to plan for the day when policy would be implemented for reforming the writing systems of these English-speaking countries by forcing them to abandon their traditional orthography based on the Latin alphabet and to adopt instead a system based on Chinese characters.

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