Beautiful Chinese and the Story of Pinyin

As another tribute to Valentine’s Day, I will be summarizing an article that captures the love for one’s culture and language. To start, a quote from the article:

“In language, as in love, the heart is often the master of the head.”

In 1949, when the civil war in mainland China had ended, Mao Zedong proposed a clean break from the traditional Chinese writing system. Mao Zedong and other Chinese figures felt as though in order for the country to progress, a more efficient system must be implemented. However, in the same year it was Josef Stalin who convinced Mao not to completely give up on tradition, proposing a nationalistic strategy for unifying and strengthening China. Thus it was decided that instead of substituting Chinese characters with a westernized writing system, a new system would be created to complement the existing one. With the help of Zhou Enlai, Mao’s premiere, pinyin was born.

Pinyin is a system of transliteration, allowing Chinese words to be written with the roman alphabet, with accents indicating whether the tone is rising, dipping, or falling. Pinyin has vastly permeated the lives of not just foreign Chinese learners, but also native Chinese speakers who use it to input Chinese text into their phones or computers. Simply enter the roman letters, such as ai, and watch them transform automatically into 愛 (love). In the case where two different symbols have the same sound, a menu of options is displayed and the user chooses the correct one. Pinyin is truly the face of Chinese language efficiency, so why has it not yet come out on top as the country’s dominant linguistic system?

There is a major practical reason why isolating pinyin just won’t work. There are thousands of dialects of Chinese, and while the characters overlap, the phonetic quality of words within each dialect change drastically. In other words, pinyin is simply romanized Mandarin, and traditional Chinese characters are actually acting as the unifying agent in China’s expansive linguistic community. Without them, these language differences would be much more apparent. However, another important reason why pinyin stays in the background is that China’s traditional writing system, in addition to its artistic value, represents more than just a form of communication, but also a long history of culture, tradition, and values. It has a strong nationalistic and emotional quality that outsiders simply cannot understand, while native speakers deeply value. So Chinese characters are here to stay, and through studying them we can also come to appreciate and understand Chinese culture better than we would if they did not exist.

Happy Valentines Day! Take a moment to appreciate yourself, where you come from, and the people around you.


To view the original article please click here.


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.