President Ma Ying-jeou announced on December 26 that he has asked the Executive Yuan to begin the application process for placing traditional Chinese characters on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Speaking at the Ninth International Conference on Chinese Language Teaching organized by the World Chinese Language Association, the president referred to traditional Chinese as the oldest and most beautiful written language in the world.
As the culture with the longest history, richest content and widest influence, Chinese culture has been able to survive and thrive for thousands of years mainly because of its use of a beautiful writing system to pass down traditions, Ma said. In recent times, growing economic and cultural exchanges between Taiwan and mainland China as well as the shifting balance of power in the world economy have sparked an enormous interest in Chinese-language learning. Increasing numbers of people around the world are studying Chinese in order to better understand the culture.
As President Ma emphasized, language determines culture and culture determines people’s identity. For instance, mainland China has also seen a social shift over the past decades, departing from Marxism-Leninism and returning to Chinese culture. Although this shift has been largely limited to linguistics, it still signifies an important development.
More than 1.3 billion people throughout the world today use simplified Chinese characters, while only about 40 million people use the traditional form, mostly in Taiwan, Hong Kong and overseas communities. This represents a margin of one to 33 users of the simplified system. However, as Taiwan accounts for more than half of the 40 million users, it occupies a critical position in the development of traditional Chinese characters. Therefore, President Ma urged the people of Taiwan not to discount themselves or overlook this great responsibility of preserving Chinese culture.