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THE WRITING ON THE WALL
顯而易见 - 中文语言危害人的创造力想象力
Chinese Language - Only an Ancient Art, Not a Modern Tool
"Free Beings" vs. "Chinese" Series
A Language That Belongs to The Past, Not Present and Future -
(On the Harmful Effect of Chinese Language in Perceiving Reality and Achieving Objectivity and Progress)
By Kai Chen 陈凯 (Written 3/20/2006, Reprint 9/11/2011)
Watching a contortionist perform on stage is probably one of the most amusing, amazing, yet one of most painful and excruciating experience in one’s life. An adult, full-sized human being, in a self-torturing fashion, can somehow fit himself into a tiny square box, with his body twisted and warped to an unshapely and unrecognizable condition. Yet, this is exactly what the Chinese character-based syllabic language does to a human mind, with a distorted reality and helpless sense of imprisonment and slavery, and all the side-effects that come with this condition.
William C. Hannas, an American linguist, in his 2005 book “THE WRITING ON THE WALL” detailed, with empirical and scientific evidence and proof, the ill and harmful effect of Chinese language (speaking, listening, reading and writing) on human mind. It impedes the development of human abstract thinking, analytical faculties, and creative expressions. He pointed out that the most important invention in human history is not as some Chinese nationalists allege: the so called four big inventions in China - gun power, compass, paper and printing. The single most important invention in human progressive history is Alphabetic Language, initiated by the Greeks more than 2000 years ago. Only after the Greeks invented the alphabet, the concept of abstract thinking with the progressive effect it brought to human mind started to appear and flourish. It was never coincidental that the Greeks were the ones that first came up with concepts such as “logic, reason, analysis, reality, objective and subjective, deductive and inductive, abstract and concrete, meaning, progress, debate, dialogue, freedom, democracy, etc.” I will leave the scientific analysis and proof, such as how human brain functions with its two hemispheres, how biological make-up of humans determines how they perceive reality, to the readers of Hannas‘ book.
As a long time interpreter and translator between Chinese and English, I can not agree with the author more.
When I was in China, as I had thought about many things and tried to analyze them to make sense and meaning from them, a sense of helplessness and frustration had always plagued me and my thoughts could never dwell deeper into the depth of phenomena that I had expected I would. And I failed to find the reason why. Now I am very certain that the single syllable, square-shaped Chinese character-based language had greatly hampered my effort to know truth, the essence, the substance and the meaning of many apparent occurrences. What can you do if you have to put so much meaning into only one syllable? What can you do if you have to fit so much substance into a square box that represents the four-sided Chinese written language? All the characteristics of Chinese language point toward one reality - Limitation, Restriction, Stagnation, Destruction of Logic and Reality, Distortion of Reality, Warping of Reason, Castration of Essence, Destruction of Progress, Demeaning of Soul and Spirit, Belittling Individuals and render them impotent and helpless eunuchs.
This harsh indictment would no doubt infuriate many of my dear fellow countrymen with their intense nationalistic feelings. Yet truth is truth and can only be in the making of God and nature, not the product of some sentimental feelings based on one’s skin color, cultural heritage, hatred of the West, or their ability to deny. For the Chinese to progress out of the devastating vicious Dynastic Cycle they never seem to extract themselves from, one must face truth. Truth can only be discovered, observed, and expressed, and can never be manufactured, imagined and propagated.
It always seems that anything that the Chinese want to adopt from West via borrowing and translating the Western works end up in distorting of truth and reality, from the era of Kingdom of Heavenly Peace, to the Reforms of Kang Yuwei and Liang Qichao, to many others with good intention but ill ending. Some intellectuals in China had blamed the Chinese traditional institutions, oppressive regimes and the ignorance and prejudice of the masses. Yet they were missing the crucial culprit in all the Chinese failures - the very language the Chinese use to describe and interpret the world and universe. It is a taboo subject, much like the tradition of Chinese ancestor-worshipping. Many took the form of Chinese character-based language not as a handicap, but as a source of pride and identity. And they want their children to take it as such.
Chinese children are perhaps the biggest victim of this perversion of Chinese language. Most children in the West can read and write at age three, the Chinese children cannot achieve the simple comprehension in reading till they are six or seven. All of them have to memorize enough characters just to read, even more ridiculously, they have to copy with outrageous numbers of repetition, the different style of calligraphy from ancient Chinese. Spending hours each day just to master the “correct” proportion of a character is the daunting, yet normal practice of all the Chinese children. What a waste of time and energy! It is equivalent of one spending a good portion of his life manufacturing elaborate chains and shackles to enslave one’s own mind, and mastering the art of castrating one‘s originality and creativity.
A simply analogy would demonstrate how inept the Chinese language in developing human mind. If one wants to perform surgery to cure disease, all he has is a hammer. There is no scalpel. How will the task be accomplished? Helplessness is the only feeling and result one can think of in this situation. This is exactly how inept and incapable a Chinese language using person feels when he faces a modern world, with immense information to be absorbed and digested. It is no surprise that there has never been applicable and enforceable law in China, and there has never been any theoretical scientist emerged in Chinese history. Much like many Chinese musical instruments, with bows stuck in between the strings, the expression of their musical scope is tremendously limited and not surprisingly, no such thing as symphony has ever appeared in Chinese traditional performing art. As one undeniable fact presented to many of us - reasonable and freedom-loving individuals with spiritual yearning for fulfillment in life, the Chinese masses appear often absent-minded, ignorance of such things as logic, rationality, meaning and essence of existence. They too often are money-worshipping and power-worshipping. I often termed them the “walking dead” and “soulless“. It seems that physical survival, to the Chinese, is much more important than mental and spiritual fulfillment. Safety, security and false sense of certainty are the preoccupations of most Chinese, not freedom and liberty, not meaning of life, not pursuit of happiness. Flesh and blood has taken over, since God knows how long ago, as the most important aspect of human life. Even the Chinese National Anthem extols such an idea - “Using the Chinese Flesh and Blood to Build a New Great Wall.”
In a negative fashion, the Chinese characters not only failed to appeal and assist in human reasoning and rationality, they often appeals to the worst of human psyche - the sensational, the descriptive, the emotional, the primitive impulses, the demeaning and belittling of others, much due to its pictorial appearance and none-precise nature in conveying meaning and communication. All the Big-Character Posters during the Cultural Revolution had never appealed to reason, conscience, and human decency. All one could get from them was violence, twisted facts, spin in logic to confuse and suppress, blood-boiling slogans aimed at only destruction, blind following and conformity, and passive waiting for the fate for fall on one’s head. I had been through it all and I know how it was and felt like.
Many attributed this negative characteristics of Chinese existence to the oppressive governments and institutions. Some even dwelled deeper into blaming the Chinese culture. Yet, till today, no one has seriously taken a look at the very tool the Chinese use to input and output information - the Chinese character-based, single syllable language. It is so telling that even the very book that analyzes this ill phenomenon is written in English, by an American. Yet it is very logical, for only the person with the tool - an alphabetic language can truly decipher, analyze and depict reality. Nonetheless, I thank the author and applaud his effort to tell the world the undeniable truth - as obvious as WRITING ON THE WALL, oblivious and resisted only by the victims and victimizers of the Chinese language users - the Chinese themselves.
Due to this serious handicap of the Chinese population, with no tools to accurately depict reality and analyze existing world, logic, rationality, reason - the indispensable prerequisites to establish a truthful, just and free society, the Chinese have found themselves incapable of coming up with scientific papers, and written, definable laws. With the Chinese characters’ undeniable trait (many characters of same meaning and many meanings with same character,) the very imprecise nature of such language impedes the Chinese ability to compose understandable science papers and enforceable laws.
With many eastern European countries abandoning communism and abolishing communist parties, a curious phenomenon of lasting Chinese communist party puzzles many. Even with the Chinese communist party openly advocates private property rights and open market, contrary to the communist doctrine, symbolized by the official motto: “One Country, Two Systems,” the party itself seems secure in its ruling position, though still oppressive and suppressive of freedom of expression and basic human rights. Anti-matter and matter seem combined together without explosion, oil and water seem percolated in the same engine and still able to power it. These phenomena exist all thanks to the illogical Chinese mind fostered by the contortionist Chinese character-based language. Somehow the despotic regimes are able to sell the narcotics to the Chinese population without much resistance. This phenomenon will never occur and has never occurred in a society with alphabetic language, such as Russia. The very first thing the Russian people want to get rid of, after they abandoned communism, is the communist party itself.
Yet, the Chinese want to fit everything from the universe, neatly and squarely, in their little square boxes, in their single string instrument, in their single syllable tones. Moral, spiritual, intellectual and philosophical components of human mind seemed missing, and the existence of the collective, the nation, the yellow race, the stagnant order of things had to come first, before the individuals, before rationality, before progress, before freedom.
With all the empirical evidences presented here and in Hannas’ book, one cannot but marvel how the simple little magic box - the Chinese character has been so omnipotent in keeping the Chinese in the dark for centuries, and the darkness lasts even today. Thanks for many overseas Chinese with their mastering of alphabetic language, largely English, they can contribute to the world of science and human progress. It is no wonder why the Chinese societies out of the mainland have all progressed along with the rest of humanity, such as those in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and North America. All the Chinese leaders in those societies have been educated in the West, in an environment dominated by alphabetic language.
It is paramount and crucial, if China is to progress, to introduce (NOT to reform or alphabetize the Chinese characters) alphabetic language, in the best case, English, into the mainstream Chinese society on the mainland, and to educate the country’s elite in English speaking countries. Then and only then, meaningful human endeavor can be possible, pursuit of freedom and happiness can be possible, creative scientific achievement can be possible, law and order can be possible, understandable and meaningful constitution and laws can be written and enforced.
Chinese character-based language belongs only to the past, to the realm of archeological linguistic studies, not present and future, absolutely NOT as a tool we can rely on to build a free, democratic, progressive and meaningful society.
Let’s make an effort: The official Chinese language must be English.