Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Mon Oct 2 17:25:10 UTC 2000

>To what degree has the  post-revolutionary project of rewriting Chinese in
>Roman letters been carried out?  I understood it to be proposed as a means
>of extending  a higher level of literacy more widely than was  (is)
>possible with characters. Did this die with the Cultural Revolution?

I'm no expert but I can give the short answer: it has not been carried out.
(Neither have the much less drastic spelling reforms often proposed for

There has been a standard simplification of many characters in the People's
Republic. In many cases the simplified forms are ones which were
conventionally used previously (as casual forms or 'abbreviations'). Many
are very ugly (IMHO). Some are similar to those conventionally used in
Japanese. In some cases two words have become confused.

In Taiwan at least there is a current 'alphabet' called 'bopomofo' (after
the first 4 consonants) which is used to transcribe Chinese. It's not used
in general writing AFAIK, but it's used for teaching children. This has a
1-to-1 correspondence with some conventional Romanizations (which are
generally used by outsiders more than by Chinese).

Obviously one doesn't speak in ideograms. Anything one can understand over
the telephone in Chinese he can read in Romanized Chinese. There are many
textbooks in which Chinese conversation is taught without the characters.
However the written Chinese language tends to be divergent/independent from
the spoken, so that it would be awkward to transcribe much of the Chinese
written material in phonetic form.

Similar but not identical considerations pertain to Japanese. There are
repeated crusades for Romanization in both languages, but I wouldn't hold
my breath.

These are just my primitive observations. There is a lot of information on
this subject, but I can't give a good reference right now.

-- Doug Wilson

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