Simplified Chinese characters being purged from Taiwan government sites

Taiwan’s government Web sites have begun removing versions of their content in simplified Chinese characters at the instruction of President Ma Ying-jeou (M? Y?ngji?).

This isn’t just a matter of, say, writing “??” (Taiwan) instead of “??” (which, yes, the government here is encouraging). This is much bigger. Entire pages, entire Web sites even, written in simplified Chinese characters are being eliminated.

The Tourism Bureau, for example, removed the version of its site in simplified Chinese characters from the Web on Wednesday. This comes at a time that the government’s further lifting of restrictions against individual Chinese tourists is aimed at bringing in more travelers from China.

The Presidential Office’s spokesman quoted Ma as saying “To maintain our role as the pioneer in Chinese culture, all government bodies should use traditional Chinese in official documents and on their Web sites, so that people around the world can learn about the beauty of traditional characters.” (Is that what pioneers do? I’ll try to find the original Mandarin-language quote later if I get a chance.)

It’s one thing to urge businesses not to remove traditional Chinese characters and replace them with simplified Chinese characters (as the government did on Tuesday). It’s quite another to remove alternate versions in another script — one that a very sizable target audience would have an easier time with.

During the administration of President Chen Shui-bian the government began adding versions in simplified Chinese characters of the Mandarin texts of official Web sites. The Office of the President was one such site. Now the simplified version is gone. That’s happening across government sites.

Here, for example, are some screen shots I took.

This was the language/script selection at the National Palace Museum‘s Web site as of Thursday morning. (Click to see an image of the entire front page.)
click to see image of entire front page
“????” (ji?nt? Zh?ngwén) is brighter because I had my mouse over it to highlight that text.

And here the language/script selection at the National Palace Museum’s Web site as of Thursday evening:
click to see image of entire front page
As you can see, the choice of viewing the site in simplified Chinese characters has been removed.

Here at Pinyin.Info I often have material in Hanyu Pinyin. So I’m certainly not unsympathetic to the idea that sometimes the medium really is a major part of the message. But I doubt that President Ma’s tough-love approach in this area will accomplish anything useful for Taiwan or the survival of traditional Chinese characters; indeed, I believe it will be counter-productive.

To be more blunt about this, this seems like a really, really bad idea.

some sources:

22 thoughts on “Simplified Chinese characters being purged from Taiwan government sites

  1. I disagree with M? Y?ngji?’s point of view. In what way can simplified Chinese characters not represent the Chinese culture? Many of the simplified Characters existed since Qin dynasty. Also, “the beauty of traditional characters” is not even an argument as beauty is different in everyone’s standard. I too think this decision is very counter productive. Mainland China made simplified the standard script but never eliminate the choice to use Traditional characters. For example, http://www.gov.cn/ has English and BOTH traditional and simplified on their sites.

  2. Such silly actions are just his style.
    He can’t help it.
    Doesn’t matter anyway because I bet he is about through as far as the next election is concerned.

  3. But I actually do wonder, why they should include simplified Chinese? Usually most countries stick to “their” language version, even in touristic places, don’t they? In Austria, they have Austrian German, in UK, they have British English, in US American English etc. Most of these places would not, just for the ease of some foreigners, add another style. This is even more the case, if the foreigerns can read this writing style without any problems.
    And I have never met any Chinese who could not read traditional Chinese.

  4. WOW. To be honest, I rather like this change.

    This might have been done for financial reasons, though. One less language to translate, a couple thousand less web pages to deal with. They might have looked at statistics and found fewer hits on the simplified pages. Using what one Garrit says above, Chinese (which I take to mean specifically people from China) can read traditional characters.

    Anon, I disagree. Traditional characters are indeed more aesthetically pleasing. There is less white space and fewer disjointed lines. There is more for the eye to look at.

    As for using “pioneer”, I take him to mean that they are leading the culture for the future. Pioneers do that. They take risks and hope to raise future generations based on their (isolated) choices and beliefs.

    Great find. Thanks for posting!

  5. Why is this a bad idea? I think it’s a very logical and good decision. Why should a country, where everything is written in traditional characters, offer also the simplified versions? Every educated Chinese in the world is able to understand traditional characters.

  6. I can’t see this as anything but a foolish attempt by the Ma administration to win the votes of people they see simply as “anti-China.” Only a fool could fall for such a ploy.

  7. “Mainland China made simplified the standard script but never eliminate the choice to use Traditional characters.”

    This is untrue, there are specific laws limiting where the traditional script is permitted in China. So they do eliminate choice.

    Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Standard Spoken and Written Chinese Language ???????????????? (you can find this on many sites, in Chinese and English) This was passed in 2000, here are some extracts:

    Article 13 The standardized* Chinese characters shall be used as the basic characters in the service trade. Where both a foreign language and the Chinese language are used in signboards, advertisements, bulletins, signs, etc., as is needed by the trade, the standardized Chinese characters shall be used as far as the Chinese Language is concerned.

    [standardized = simplified]

    Article 17 Where by the relevant provisions of this Chapter are concerned, the original complex or the variant forms of Chinese characters may be retained or used under the following circumstances:

    ??(1) in cultural relics and historic sites;

    ??(2) the variant forms used in surnames;

    ??(3) in works of art such as calligraphy and seal cutting;

    ??(4) handwritten inscriptions and signboards;

    ??(5) where their use is required in the publishing, teaching and research; and

    ??(6) other special circumstances where their use is approved by the relevant departments under the State Council.

    So…a rather limited set of places, and the gov.cn site is breaking its own law (no surprise there).

  8. @HP “Why is this a bad idea? I think it’s a very logical and good decision. Why should a country, where everything is written in traditional characters, offer also the simplified versions? Every educated Chinese in the world is able to understand traditional characters.”

    But “translating” from Traditional Chinese to Simplified Chinese takes literally one-click. Modern operating systems allow you to convert back and forth very easily. It isn’t like translating between two different languages.

    Also the Simplified Chinese version obviously isn’t meant for those in Taiwan but those from mainland China.

  9. And what then do those mainland Chinese, who cannot read any traditional Chinese, in Taiwan? Oh surprise, all the stuff in the NPM (and everywhere else) is only in traditional Chinese (yes, I know, the pamphlets are also in Simplified Chinese, but this is rather few).

    Also, I guess most Chinese who come to Taiwan are _not_ peasants from Anhui or whatever. I guess it is likely that they will be able to read traditional Chinese.
    To repeat myself: I have never encountered any Chinese who cannot read traditional Chinese (of course, I didn’t talk to “lower educated” Chinese, but they most likely won’t come to Taiwan).

  10. @Gerrit

    This is a website we’re talking about here. You know, something that you can access just about anywhere in the world? Who said that this website is for mainland Chinese in Taiwan. How many Russians or Arabs are actually in Taiwan yet there is a Russian and Arabic version of the website.

    Also again, it takes almost no effort to translate Traditional Chinese into Simplified Chinese so it doesn’t make sense not to do it considering the benefits of the result.

    The only reason I can think of not to do it is to gain support from those who are anti-China as this move is a spit in the face to those from mainland China, whether they can read Traditional Chinese or not.

  11. While I agree that this is probably not a move that will boost MYJ’s popularity in any way, I also find the severity of it implied here in some comments funny. I agree with Gerrit, this should not be any problem for somehow educated people. Even less so when they use a browser (naturally, if one wants to see a website) and can have text switched automagically into the other character set.

    Remember, this is supposed to be the same language, so if the computer can take care of “weird characters”, the rest should not cause any trouble at all. Slightly different vocabulary and grammar are things other people can live with, so why not Chinese? Austrians and Germans have been mentioned here, but also UK and US are a good example. Or has anyone ever seen a Canadian website with an en_AU version?

    This does spell political trouble, yes, but linguistically it is nothing really…

  12. I think what probably happened is President Ma went blabbing without first consulting with his consultants like he is usually supposed to.

    Throwing away or making things difficult for your audience is a stupid thing to do no matter if you are a website or business or government. As dumb as raiding all the MRT stations to confiscate all the Simplified Chinese translations of the official guide pamphlet.

    And a good translation for PROC readers involves more than just character conversion.

    Why can’t they just treat PROC as just another foreign country and provide a translation for them too?

    Wouldn’t that be the correct way ???????????? (ones who really understand the spirit of Taiwan Independence) would think? No?

  13. Some fringe green groups are also calling for a return to Tongyong Pinyin on the basis that if “we reject China’s simplified characters, we should also reject their Hanyu Pinyin”.
    Hope there is no chance of a return to Tongyong if Tsai wins next year. Unfortunately the debate on romanization is still highly politicized, which doesn’t bode well.

  14. But you except from foreigners learning Chinese to read simplified Chinese, so the other way round, you can expect from everyone to learn Traditional Chinese. Even more, because it is not a hard thing.

    These two are no different languages, but just slightly different writing styles, which anyone with 3 minutes training can both master. Do you also want to create a different version for all the grammar and vocabulary, which is different?

  15. I’ve come to hate mentioning simplified vs. traditional Chinese characters because of the comments that often arise from some quarters.

    As cynical as I can be about the motivations of the PRC elite and so-called simplified characters, I do not think the Communist authorities would have made such a wide-reaching script reform when an additional three minutes of work on anyone’s part supposedly could eliminate the need for any changes at all.

    While a few things such as ?= ? might seem easy enough; there are usually exceptions even for such seemingly straightforward conversions. And that’s without even starting to get into the many, many significant changes.

    Much more training is needed for someone trained in China in simplified Chinese characters to read a text written in Taiwan in traditional Chinese characters than for, say, an American to read something written in a London newspaper. Some of that can be taken care of by computers; but that’s not the same thing as people being able to read — and read fluently — by themselves.

    Ma’s actions remind me a bit of one of the more absurd claims of the pro-Tongyong crowd: that if foreigners came to Taiwan and saw Hanyu Pinyin being used here they would believe that Taiwan was part of the PRC.

    I don’t think the provision of the choice of simplified Chinese characters at some government Web sites had put PRC citizens at much risk of becoming convinced that Taiwan has abandoned traditional Chinese characters. (On the other hand, if Ma wants to insist that .gov.tw sites not automatically redirect visitors from PRC IP addresses to versions in simplified characters, that’s fine with me. I hate auto redirects anyway. But I don’t think any government sites were doing that.)

    What Ma is doing by eliminating this choice is like hiring a schoolmarm to follow around PRC citizens who are interested in learning more about Taiwan (or even visiting here) to rap them on the knuckles every time they would like to see some information in a script they’re used to. It’s petty and antagonistic.

    I believe that Taiwan has more valuable lessons it could be providing.

  16. What a d*ckhead that Ma is. Looking Wayback five years ago the
    previous President (hide the silverware and towels) Chen had a
    Simplified Chinese version on the Presidential web site. Proof:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20060616023616/http://www.president.gov.tw/index_s.html
    but not anymore with Ma, who by the way really ought to also announce
    that everybody should now go back to writing right to left, so we can
    now have a Wu-Ma ticket, much more sense than Ma-Wu for the coming election.

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  18. What exactly is Ma’s motive behind this move? Ma has spent much of his presidency improving the relationship between the two sides. This move goes against everything him, and to a certain extend, the blue camp, stands for.

    Is Ma turning green and becoming a second Lee Teng-hui?

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  20. HI~I’m come from hk,
    my english is not very good,but I hope you understand what I mean.

    In hk, many peoples does not know that simplified Characters are come from ancient writings ,it is reason to why they don’t accept simplified Characters,but they agree that simplified Characters is an important step for china.

    For me,I’m welcome to the simplified Characters which is came from ancient ,just like (?),however, there are some simplified Characters part of word was been deleted for no reason,such as(?) has been change to (?) ,I think :why the (?) had disappeared!!

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