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Language, Literacy, and Nationalism in Han Sphere

 Wi-vun Taiffalo Chiung
The University of Texas at Arlington


The Han character sphere, including Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and China, adopted Han characters and classical Han writing as the official written language before the 20th century. However, great changes came with the advent of the 20th century. After World War II, Han characters in Vietnam and Korea were officially replaced by the romanized Chu Quoc Ngu and phonemic Hangul, respectively. In Japan, the number of Han characters in use decreased and the syllabary Kana system was promoted to a national status. In Taiwan, although romanization has developed centuries ago, Han characters remain the dominant orthography in current Taiwanese society. As for China, simplification of Han characters seems the only harvest after Chinas efforts at reforming characters for over a century. This paper examines the orthographic transition within the Han sphere. Both internal and external factors have contributed to the different outcomes of orthographic reform in these countries. Internal factors include the general publics demand for literacy and anti-feudal hierarchy. External factors include the political relationships between these countries and the origin of Han characters (i.e. China).