Posts Tagged ‘blogs’

On literacy and the dumbing down of culture

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Xu Jinru (徐晋如), a self-described “poet, scholar, and conservative thinker,” writes a rant against simplified characters and pinyin that’s good for a laugh. Like a number of Xu’s other anti-simplification pieces, Character Simplification, Spread of Pinyin Leave an Awful, Lasting Legacy quotes part of the 1927 essay “A Literacy Problem?” by Pan Guangdan, a noted sociologist.

In places where society has reached a certain level, the average person’s reading material, even if it is worthless, is not absolutely harmful. In the US, for example, the topics of endless interest are instructions on how to succeed, how to improve your memory, how to be a clever speaker, and laments over public misfortunes: none of these accomplishing anything more than duping a few of the more eager believers. In places where society has not reached a certain level, you don’t even want to know about what’s being read. Wickedness, theft, evil, perversion, and everything else that stimulates people’s base impulses. Anything, regardless of whether it is true or false, can be used as material. This is the extreme end of a social phenomenon we can see wherever we look in China today. Conspiracy novels flourished a few years ago, and the “new knowledge and new culture” now constantly pouring forth demonstrates that under today’s policies that promote education, day by day more people will be able to read, yet day by day the standard of our reading material will drop.

Pan’s argument, or at least the parts of it that Xu most frequently quotes, boils down to: “The more literacy spreads, the further culture declines” (Xu’s formulation from an interview with BQ in 2007). It’s an argument against the use of simplified characters that I’d never read before: the increased literacy that results when characters are made easier to learn is ultimately responsible for destroying Chinese culture.

At the end of the essay, Xu writes in phrases that echo familiar ideological dogma that traditional — complicated — characters are a historical inevitability:

There’s a noted scholar of ancient Chinese at Zhongshan University who applauds simplification for the reason that Chinese characters in the age of oracle bones were very simple. But on the other hand, he also explains how from the Shang and Zhou dynasties through today, the development of Chinese characters has followed a law of increasing complexity. Using an administrative edict to simplify characters is precisely in opposition to this law.

Realism and Chinese literature

Monday, January 19th, 2009

From The Spell of Realism in Chinese Literature by Chen Xiwo:

I am indeed fully aware that a completely objective recognition of the facts is difficult. Any description of facts cannot avoid being colored by subjectivity. But the so-called “typical” is determined according to a pre-determined object. A typical character, for example, is “a representative of a particular class and inclination” and “a representative of the particular thinking of his age.” Why does he represent this? Because the most important social relationships are gathered in his person. There is a basis for this belief: the world in which we live is an organic whole, and it has a center. There is reason to doubt this belief, for it inevitably puts constraints onto thinking. Besides, literature itself has the perogative to fictionalize. Whatever criticism was leveled at Yu Hua’s Brothers, practically all of it revolved around “reality.” But in fact, the problem with Brothers wasn’t that it wasn’t real, but that it tried too much to be real and in doing so became a model, an imitation of reality. Strive as he might, the writer simply couldn’t take flight. The author ought to have boldy cast off from reality and let literature drift upward.

Chen Xiwo is working with Engels’ definition of realism: “Realism, to my mind, implies, besides truth of detail, the truthful reproduction of typical characters under typical circumstances.”

A taxonomy of Chinese blog posts

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

From Yuyiwang’s blog:

Commonly-observed forms of online writing

  1. The Annie Baobei (安妮宝贝体). The characteristics of this form are: clusters of short sentences, three or four to a paragraph. Lots of adverbials and adjectives in a lucid context, it’s basically one person talking to herself. Frequently appearing props: flowers, grass, plants, and children, and they’re all pretty clean, aesthetically pleasing, and lushly detailed. On average, each paragraph contains what appears to be a sentence of incisive criticism. There may be an emotional object, such as a man named Lin or Shen, but this is nothing more than mirror to reflect light back on oneself. This type of writing is typically short, as the writer lacks a breadth of knowledge or substantive details and has no concern for the people around her. Information content is low and seldom generates conversation.
  2. The Shu Yi (亦舒体). A cold, detached perspective that feigns having seen it all. “She” is written “伊”, and 吧 is written “罢了.” Here too, short sentences predominate, and they’re decisive declarative sentences. Life experience, with a slightly pedagogical attitude, but in my own experience, this form is mostly written by the naive. The intelligence of the language is just a pauper’s wedding — borrowed pageantry. I’m generally fairly well-disposed toward girls who write in the Shu Yi form. It emphasizes reason, where the Annie stresses feelings. However, nothing should be taken too far. Too much argument is like a mouthful of wax; too much emotion is like choking on words.Also: These two forms, with their short sentences and frequent paragraph changes, belong to the sprinters. Clever sentences cluster so thickly it’s fatiguing, and these end up sounding long-winded if they get too long. They usually shouldn’t exceed 1,500 characters.
  3. The Eileen (爱玲体). Similar to the Shu Yi, but there’s a little more body to the writing. Arguments are layered, and articles are usually divided into parts. Qiqi’s early criticism was a little like a relaxed version of the Eileen: leisurely and lucid without giving offense. I quite liked it. This style of writing is trenchant, rich in information, and can be extended to more than 2,000 characters.
  4. The Cartoon (卡通体). Sarcasm delivered in a childish tone. Simple, short language with few adjectives and adverbs but lots of “Yee,” “Yow,” and “Oh.” Certain individuals have found great success with this form. The greatest difficulty with baby-faced writing is the same as when a child actor attempts an image change. It’s innocent and cute when you’re twenty, but if you’re still affecting the intonation of a child when you’re thirty, people begin to suspect that you’re simply childish. So when I saw Annie Inoh’s relationship problems I felt I could relax a bit, because it felt much more natural than seeing her in a tiered dress at thirty-six.
  5. (more…)