The Future of Chinese Orthography

Yu Rongfu in China Now.

“Either Chinese characters die or China is doomed.”

The author of these words-penned in the same ideographic text he wished to see scrapped—was none other than the writer and rebel Lu Hsun. Lu was one of China’s greatest 20th century writers, its most influential promoter of vernacular fiction, and a key proponent of the New Writing movement of the 1930s.

Although often remembered for donning multiple hats-medical student, artist, activist and political icon-few would associate the author of The Diary of a Madman with the proposed eradication of China’s most unique contribution to the world’s linguistic heritage–the more than 55,000 ideographs (hanzi) that make up the Chinese written language…

Like other reformers, Lu Hsun therefore called for a “Latinized” vernacular phonetic system to replace hanzi entirely, thus expediting a system whose goal was to effect a crucial expansion in literacy and a leveling of the unfair linguistic advantage of the undemocratic literati.