A people can be destroyed through annihilation of their culture. How is that done? Take their history, identity and especially their language. How about tolerance of unwarranted use of an enemy’s language in your territory? It would be detrimental to your unique national identity if you are similar to your enemy in culture and language.
The open display of simplified Chinese characters in Taiwan — for example, those printed on medication packages or medical test kits dispensed by clinics and hospitals, and those displayed on buses and vans — should not be left unnoticed.
The national identity of the Republic of China, widely known as Taiwan, is embodied in Taiwan’s official language, ie, Chinese written in traditional Chinese characters. By contrast, the People’s Republic of China has its official language, written in simplified Chinese characters.
It is no secret that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is preparing for a military operation — like the one Russian President Vladimir Putin began on Feb. 24 — against Taiwan in an attempt to occupy the nation. Undeniably, China is Taiwan’s enemy on the grounds of Taiwan’s existential interests.
One might be rich enough to commute by car or taxi in Taiwan, and thereby have a lower chance of seeing China’s simplified characters, but few residents can go without medication, which comes from all over the world nowadays. Given how simplified characters are being shown unsolicited to patients and passengers, Taiwanese should be excused for believing that Taiwan and China constitute a nation, at least culturally. Talk of a war, a war that China might wage against Taiwan, is regarded as a vestige of the unfinished Chinese Civil War.
Experts warn that Taiwan might one day be defeated in such a war, not because Taiwanese troops are using ineffective weapons or are inadequately trained, but because Taiwanese soldiers and civilians are confused about their national identity, and thus have low morale.
Washington, despite its willingness and ability to come to Taiwan’s defense, lacks the legal justification, or at least loses the moral high ground when US troops intervene in a civil war fought between two Chinese-speaking peoples across the Taiwan Strait, as pro-Beijing Taiwanese politicians vociferously call for peace talks.
Luckily, the written Chinese language, with its traditional form used in Taiwan and its simplified form in China, separates Taiwan from China, in addition to the Taiwan Strait.
Nonetheless, this linguistic advantage leaves no room for complacency, as the appearance of simplified Chinese characters in Taiwan has the potential to infiltrate national identity. For example, although it cannot force Taiwanese to write in simplified Chinese characters, China requires that all Taiwanese patent applications filed with its patent authority use the Chinese style, meaning Chinese terminology and expressions, and “Taiwan, China” instead of “Taiwan” or “Republic of China.”
It is informative to evaluate Taiwan’s suffering by comparing it with another victim. Compared with Hong Kong, Taiwan is linguistically disadvantaged due to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Mandarin and its close communist variant, Putonghua, are spoken widely and recognized as the official spoken languages in Taiwan and China respectively. The duo, both having originated in Peking, bridge the Taiwan Strait from the grassroots to entrepreneurs, as substantiated by an ongoing run of cross-strait marriages and trade deals.
However, there is no mutual intelligibility between Putonghua (which has been taught at Hong Kong schools since the 1997 handover) and Cantonese (the predominant spoken language in Hong Kong). Because of this, as far as the preservation of national identity is concerned, Hong Kong under China’s control is not necessarily gloomier than self-ruled Taiwan.
As a Hong Konger watching Taiwan closely, I will be keeping my fingers crossed that Taiwan’s traditional Chinese characters will survive and serve as a moat working in conjunction with the tangible Taiwan Strait.
It would be unwise for a government to prohibit its people from speaking their languages.
However, it is reasonable and necessary for a country to ban, in its territory, the open display of its enemy’s written characters.
The government has turned a blind eye to the open display of simplified Chinese characters in Taiwan, which is understandable considering China’s economic power, but unforgivable from the perspective of national security.
The government’s tolerance of simplified Chinese characters might be deemed negligent rather than nice by numerous young people in Hong Kong, who, before and after the 1997 handover, openly refer to China’s — but not Malaysia’s or Singapore’s — simplified Chinese as “spoiled Chinese characters” (殘體字).
This not only expresses their contempt for the Beijing regime that rolled out simplified Chinese characters in the 1950s, but is also a sign of distancing themselves from China. The helpless yet unyielding youths’ outspoken attitude toward simplified Chinese characters might be frivolous, but is certainly more fearless than Taipei’s attitude, given Hong Kong’s and Taiwan’s political situations.
Regan Chong is a Hong Konger advocating for Hong Kong’s independence from China and a contact person for the Hong Konger Front.
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