井底之蛙

7/9/2010

Sweaty Traitors – Character Simplifications That Just Weren’t Meant to Be

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:01 am

I had an old instructor of Chinese language many years ago who took every opportunity to pick fun at the evil Reds on the mainland. I think he fled China in 1949 and never got over it. He loved to pick on their character simplification, saying things like, “Only the Communists would take the heart out of love.” (愛 -> 爱) Or, referring to the wings represented in the character 習 for “to learn; study” – and how this nicely gave us the image of taking flight, he would say, “Ask the Communists how you can fly with only one wing!” (習 -> 习)

I always thought his complaints were humorous but unfair, simplification will always result in such changes, and many (most?) were adopted from existing simplifications used widely in handwriting. The KMT dabbled with simplification as well, even if it never worked out. There are many fans of the simplification process and while I personally find simplified characters downright ugly to look at by comparison, I can’t really explain how I came to this aesthetic conclusion. Perhaps the old teacher brain-washed me, or the fewer simplifications of Japanese, which I studied first, made their mark?

Some simplifications already in circulation before the first round of the Chinese government mandated simplification in the mid 1950s, however, didn’t make the cut.

One that I have come across in the past couple of years and seen used in a wide range of hand written (or etched) documents of the Communist party is the simplification of the character for “Han” (漢) as in the Han people or more generally, Chinese, into the character 汗, which normally means “sweat” instead of the character which was ultimately chosen as the standard for simplified Chinese, 汉.

At one point I thought this might only be the case in documents which were “etched” in the age of pre-photocopy copies, where making curved lines is more difficult, but I have seen the same document use two of the three variations, 漢, 汗, and 汉.

I notice this more often than one might in my documents from the 1930s and 1940s since I study the punishment of traitors, or hanjian (漢奸). This word often appears in my documents as 汗奸. When I first saw it, I did a double take, wondering what horrible sins had been committed by the “sweaty traitors.”

Find the sweaty traitors in examples below the fold all taken from Public Security Bureau or more specifically “treason elimination” reports from 1939-1947 (some have a sweaty traitor, some have both regular and sweaty traitors, and one has the more common simplification):
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