A proposal of the Education Ministry to readjust the font of 44 Chinese characters has triggered controversy in the country on whether the traditional way of writing should be altered.
After eight years of efforts, the Education Ministry unveiled a list of 8,300 standardized Chinese characters in common usage to solicit public opinion 10 days ago in hopes to regulate the way of characters writing.
Ministry officials and some experts said the revisions would only target 44 characters printed in the Song typeface on publications, in other words, the revised characters would only be used by computers and printing machines.
But they soon gave rise to disputes and as the public suddenly found the characters look different from what they used to be, which means they have to change their former way of identifying them.
An online survey conducted by major Internet portal Sina.com showed 90.2 percent of more than 340,000 respondents opposed the revisions as of Saturday, while only 5.1 percent voted for them.
"The characters printed in our textbooks adopt the Kai typeface, and we don't need any change. But students would be easily confused by the revised characters on other publications," said Wang Jiayu, a Chinese language teacher at a primary school in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Many of the 44 characters are used frequently, which would undoubtedly pose challenges to people's habits of reading and writing, she said.
"The change is only a slight change of one stroke for a character, but if a pupil asks me which one of the same character is correctly written, I don't know how to reply," she said. "There will be much confusion if different ways of writing the same character exists, especially for children."
To Tang Yunlai, chairman of the Tianjin Municipal Calligraphers' Association, it is needless to make such revisions.
"The way of writing characters should better remain in a stable state within a long period of time," he said.
Objections also emerged as the costs of the revisions would be huge.
"The revisions of the 44 characters would lead to amendments on books, dictionaries, signboards, company names, ID cards and others," said Prof. Wang Laihua, of the Tianjin Municipal Academy of Social Sciences. "That will cost lots of money and time."
As a syllabic and ideographic writing, the Chinese written history is 3,400 years old -- one of the oldest languages in the world.
Today, there is two ways of writing Chinese characters: traditional Chinese characters that usually contain many strokes are still in use in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan; and simplified Chinese characters that are used on the Chinese mainland since the People's Republic of China was founded.
"The readjustment is made against the backdrop of the information age and for the sake of facilitating information storage, management and exchange," said Li Yuming, deputy director of the State Language Work Committee.
"Slight amendments will not affect the lives of ordinary people, and it will do good to the standardization of the printing," he said.
Experts revised the characters while taking into consideration the calligraphy of traditional Chinese, such as those still in use in Taiwan, said Prof. Wang Ning, of the Beijing Normal University.
"Minute changes would not affect people's habits of reading. The 44 characters account for no more than six per thousand of the total in the list, so it would not force the public to learn all the Chinese characters again," said Wang, also one of the experts who attended the revision work.
"Whether to make a readjustment for a character does not depend on the votes, but on whether it is reasonable to do so," she said.
"Of course, we are not against the public. We are listening to the public sincerely," she added.
The solicitation of opinions will end on Aug. 31.