This morning, brought out a calligraphy brush pen she had recently acquired. She takes a moment to write her Chinese name, ??? Bai Li Ya, and the characters are utterly beautiful. Suddenly, my own memories of hours spent practicing calligraphy in Japan came rushing forth and I grabbed the pen from her and wrote my Chinese name ???, Ben Jie Ming. Hmmm, not bad, but obviously out of practice. I decided to do my favorite character from my erstwhile Japan days, when I seemed to have so much more time to devote to calligraphy, the character for love, ? ai. Ah, now that’s better!

then wrote out Ellie’s Chinese name, ?? Ai Li, which has the character ? ai in it. ?This brings to light that in the PRC, there is a fundamental difference between the way I wrote ai and the way that ai is written with the simplified characters used in mainland China. Blysse was watching us and waiting for her turn with the “brush” and I said to her, “Isn’t it ironic that when they simplified the character for love, they took the heart out it?” , ever on the lookout for conspiracies replies, “That isn’t ironic at all!” They had taken out the entire radical representing heart/mind ? xin and made a slight adjustment to the remaining radical and replaced it with the radical representing friend ? you instead. A different kind of love, perhaps, but I have to hand it to them for meeting the objective of reducing stroke count while maintaining as close to the original meaning as possible. My kids are learning the simplified characters at school here, and have occasionally encountered the traditional versus simplified characters debate before, but this seemed to drive the point home.

Generally, I approve of the notion of simplified characters, because they do require much fewer strokes, and therefore save a lot of time and effort over time. On the other hand, as I learned the Japanese version of Chinese characters first, which were based on the traditional characters, and spent a year in Taiwan, which still uses traditional characters, I appreciate that it is easier to see how and why a character came to mean what it does if you have all of the components in place, although this can lead to some mighty complex characters. I’ve met some people here in the mainland who are very disapproving of the practice, usually people who love the traditional Chinese ways and see the practice of simplified characters as a slight on ancient traditions. I even know a few who blog in traditional characters!

I went out for the day and when I came back, I saw that both Blysse and Salomae had been practicing the traditional character for “ai”, with the heart back in love. Reddit Slashdot Digg Facebook Technorati Google StumbleUpon Furl Yahoo Ask Mister Wong China Newsvine Simpy Spurl Wink Rawsugar Squidoo Fark