exam completed in Pinyin

This season is the thirty-first anniversary of the reinstatement of China’s national college entrance examinations after the end of the disastrous Cultural Revolution. Here’s the story of something that happened the year of the reinstatement (1977), when Zhang Huiming, a professor in the Chinese department of Xianyang Normal College, grading exams from Xianyang, Shaanxi, and its surrounding areas.

That year, after the start of the third day of work grading the exams had begun, one of the teachers on the grading team suddenly shouted in amazement, “Come look at this exam!” There before all of us was a language exam that had been answered completely in Hanyu Pinyin. Facing this situation, everyone discussed it. Right away, some said, “This is simply horsing around, putting on a show. Give it a zero!” The head of the grading team was inclined toward this idea. But Zhang Huiming insisted on first putting the exam into Chinese characters. “Who wouldn’t allow such an exam? There’s no rule against it. And Chairman Mao long ago indicted, ‘Writing should follow the world’s common Pinyin trend [i.e., use an alphabet like everyone else].'”

Everyone fell silent. Zhang Huiming took about half an hour to annotate the Hanyu Pinyin with Chinese characters. It turned out that the exam was nearly without errors in spelling or tone marks. The score, to everyone’s surprise, was 88. The teachers who corrected the exams were all convinced by this examinee of the soundness of training in Hanyu Pinyin.

A nice story. But I can’t help but note sadly that a bunch of well-educated people didn’t simply read the essay as it was written. Such are the prejudices against it. What I’d really like is a story that doesn’t treat Pinyin as if it were merely a set of training wheels.

“G?ok?o hu?fù 30 nián” zh?tí bàodào tu?ch? hòu, h?n du? dúzh? f? lái diànz? yóujiàn, ji?ngshù d?ngnián de g?ok?o gùshi. Xiányáng Sh?fàn Xuéyuàn Zh?ngwénxì jiàoshòu Zh?ng Huìmín, shì 1977 nián Xiányáng dìq? y?wén yuèjuàn l?osh? zh?y?. D?ngnián, y? fèn wánquán yòng Hàny? P?ny?n wánchéng de y?wén dájuàn ràng t? zhìj?n nánwàng.

D?ngnián, yuèjuàn g?ngzuò k?ish? hòu de dì-s?n ti?n, yuèjuànz? y? l?osh? t?rán j?ngyà de shu?: “Kuài kàn, zhè fèn shìjuàn!” Y? pi?n wánquán yòng Hàny? P?ny?n zuòdá de y?wén shìjuàn chéngxiàn zài dàji? miànqián. Suíhòu, zhè fèn tèsh? de shìjuàn zài quánt? l?osh? zh?ngji?n k?ish? chuányuè. Miànduì zhè y? qíngkuàng, dàji? yìlùnf?nf?n. Y?urén d?ngch?ng bi?oshì: “Ji?nzhí jiùshì húnào, bi?ox?nlìyì, g?i língf?n!” Yuèjuànz? z?zh?ng y? q?ngxiàng g?i yìjian. Dàn Zh?ng Huìmín ji?nchí y?ng xi?n ji?ng k?ojuàn f?nyì chéng Hànzì. “Shuí bù ràng t? zhèyàng dájuàn? G?ok?o bìng méiy?u bùy?n x?yòng Hàny? P?ny?n zuò dá’àn de gu?dìng, kuàngqi? Máo zh?xí z?ojiù zh?shì: ‘Wénzì yào z?u shìjiè gòngtóng P?ny?n de f?ngxiàng.'”

Chénmò le y?huìr zh?hòu, Zh?ng Huìmín yòng jìn bàn ge xi?oshí de shíji?n, g?i zh?ng fèn dájuàn shàng de Hàny? P?ny?n bi?ozhù le Hànzì. Ràng Zh?ng Huìmín nány? wàngjì de shì, nà fèn k?ojuàn, y?njié, sh?ngdiào j?h? méiy?u cuòwù. Jiégu?, zhè fèn fèijìn zh?uzhé de y?wén dájuàn j?ng g? fùzé l?osh? píngyuè hòu, z?ng f?n jìngrán shì 88 f?n. Quánt? yuèjuàn l?osh? d?u bèi zhè wèi k?osh?ng zh?shi de Hàn y?yán g?ngd? su? zhéfú.

source: Y? fèn yòng p?ny?n wánchéng de y?wén shìjuàn (????????????), Huash.com, March 27, 2007

7 thoughts on “exam completed in Pinyin

  1. Ai toutely ehgree. Ai ken’t andrstend wuay Ai ken’t pass singl Yinglish eksam. Eye envy Chainys for dhis. Styupid Yinglish teachrs, dhey insist on sem spelink. Ai wontu wright as Ai speek.

  2. Jan: That’s because English spelling isn’t really phonemic, it’s etymologic, meaning it is more important to be able to see where a word comes from than how it is pronounced. So, for example the spelling of a word is mostly kept when it is imported from another language. And because these other language have other spelling rules, all these differenent spellings end up being in English and make it so inconsistent.

    And because there’s no central institution which could mandate a spelling reform and because variants of English pronunciation (English, Scottish, Australian, American) would be difficult to unite under a common phonemic spelling, the situation won’t change in the near future. There you have it :).

  3. In other words, Engish speakers operate under a lot of the same constraints as speakers of Chinese languages, with a premium on ‘meaning’ over pronunciation (and all the problems that brings with it).

    The difference is that there’s no established alternate writing system for English (unfortunately) while pinyin is (in theory) a fully functional writing system.

  4. Pingback: David on Formosa » Links 18 February 2008

  5. “But I can’t help but note sadly that a bunch of well-educated people didn’t simply read the essay as it was written. Such are the prejudices against it.”? ?? ???? ? ??? ??? ?? ??????? ?? ??? ?????? ?????? ??? ?????? ?? ?????? ?????? ???? ???, ?? ? ?????? ? ?? ??? ??? ???

    In 1956, South Koreans read mixed-script faster than pure hangul. By 1977, they read pure hangul faster. (Taylor and Taylor 1983, “The Psychology of Reading”: 90; I’m sure you’ve seen this one cited before). Reading in a way you’re not used to is hard — this is due to training, not prejudice. If you have to read pages and pages of stuff, you’d rather it be in the writing system you’re used to.

  6. I wouldn’t really call it prejudice.

    Fact is, one of the two purposes of Hanyu Pinyin IS being an educational “training wheel”. The other is to romanize Chinese for various other purposes such as translating names.

  7. What Eric said. When you’re used to characters, pinyin is rather difficult to read in my opinion, and it becomes actually easier to just put it into characters (or perhaps better, read it aloud).

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