Feb 12, 2013

Chinese Characters: De Facto Standard Language for Two Thousands Years in East Asia

Yesterday my wife and I went to Tokyo National Museum to see the exhibition "Wang Xizhi: Master Calligrapher."

Wang Xizhi (王羲之) lived in the forth century, but I didn't find it difficult to read the Chinese characters which he wrote at all. It is really incredible. Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs haven't been able to read for many years, although descendant of people who wrote these hieroglyphs still have been living around the remains where these glyphs were discovered.

Why can I read Chinese characters that were written in the fourth century?

Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs were used mainly for keeping kings' achievements, on the contrary Chinese characters has been used for communication between multiple languages.

Chinese characters were used not only in China but also in the country around China: Viet num, Korea, Japan, and so on. And more, in China many different languages have been spoken. Mandarin is now the standard Chinese language, but in each region each language has been spoken. It is important that they haven't had their own characters. In China and countries around China, although they have been speaking different languages, they have been using common Chinese characters.

Chinese characters are ideographic, so we can read them with our own language. For example, the name "王羲之" was read in Mandarin as Wang Xizhi, but I, Japanese, read it in Japanese as Oh Gishi. In the area of Chinese civilization, we have been sharing the common culture with Chinese characters, even if we couldn't speak Mandarin.

Now, English is de facto standard language all over the world. Chinese characters had been de facto standard language in East Asia for two thousands years.

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