Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China

By Yingjie Guo | Go to book overview

5

REPOSSESSING THE MOTHER TONGUE

Chinese characters, traditional forms and cultural linguistics

Systematic language reform in China dates back to the May Fourth period, if not earlier. In line with the period’s ethos of cultural iconoclasm and political nationalism, Chinese intellectuals set about transforming the Chinese language by abolishing classical Chinese and the traditional script, and adopting baihua (plain speech) and a phonetic spelling plan. This ambitious reform constituted a key component of the political nationalist project to build a strong and unitary state, preserve national unity, promote mass education and strengthen and enlighten the nation.

The May Fourth tradition was carried on by the CCP: In 1956 it released the Plan for the Simplification of Chinese Characters, and two years later, the Chinese Language Phonetic Spelling (pinyin) Plan, based on alphabet orthography. In 1985, however, the CCP reneged on its earlier decision to abandon full-form characters and launched the traditional character overseas edition of PD in order to reach out to overseas Chinese, most of whom do not understand simplified characters. Additionally, Pinyin bao - the only regular official pinyin publication - was suspended, and the Chinese Post stopped using pinyin in telegraph between 1985 and 1986. The CCP took another step away from earlier policies in June 1986 by withdrawing the second chart of simplified characters released in 1977. The year 2001 saw the promulgation of China’s first language law, whose central aim is to ensure language standardization. Since then, official documents have made no mention of phoneticization or further simplification as the direction of language reform, although dedicated Latinizers, including officials and establishment intellectuals, continue to hold their own.

At the same time, cultural nationalists have become much more aggressive than their May Fourth predecessors in resisting radical language reform and promoting Chinese characters, including full-form characters (fanti), in a bid to mend the cultural fault-line resulting from the language reform. 1 Their objective is not only to put an end to Latinization but also to ensure that ordinary Chinese will be able to read classical texts and access

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Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Tables x
  • Preface xi
  • 1 - Rethinking Nation and Nationalism 9
  • 2 - Renationalizing the State 24
  • 3 - Rewriting National History 49
  • 4 - Reconstructing a Confucian Nation 72
  • 5 - Repossessing the Mother Tongue 91
  • 6 - Reclaiming the 'Othered' China 109
  • Conclusion 133
  • Notes 144
  • Bibliography 172
  • Index 189
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