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Peh-oe-ji, a Childish Writing?

Wi-vun Taiffalo Chiung
University of Texas at Arlington

Tai-oan-hu-sian Kau-hoe-po (Taiwan Prefectural City Church News; TPCCN), the first newspaper of Taiwan was published in the romanized Peh-oe-ji writing system in 1885. The editor and publisher of TPCCN, Rev. Thomas Barclay, mentioned about the Peh-oe-ji in the first issue of TPCCN “do not look down the Peh-oe-ji, do not regard it as a childish writing…” Barclay’s comment on Peh-oe-ji has pointed out the general people’s bias against the romanization in the Han character dominated society of Taiwan.

Peh-oe-ji means the scripts of vernacular speech in contrast to the complicated Han characters of wenyen (classical Han writing). Peh-oe-ji was introduced to Taiwan by Western missionaries in the second half of nineteenth century. Peh-oe-ji was originally devised and promoted for the purpose of religious sermons, and it was widely used among the church people prior to 1970s. Among its users, women were the majority. Those women did not command any literacy except Peh-oe-ji. This phenomenon reflects the fact that the traditional women with lower social status were not likely to be educated with Han characters, and they had to choose the ‘childish’ but easily learned Peh-oe-ji if they wished to be able to read and write.

This paper examines the relationships among the literacy, society, and orthographic users in the case of Taiwan. Interviews with Peh-oe-ji users as well as literature review were conducted for this paper. This study reveals the impact of Peh-oe-ji on Taiwanese writing as well as women’s role in the traditional Han society.