Protecting Chinese characters in the digital era

09:52, November 26, 2010      

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As young Chinese increasingly forget how to write characters because they don't have to using keyboards, touch screen technology on mobile phones is reversing the drift.

For Yin Liang, a 26-year-old purchasing agent at a Shanghai-based State-owned company, his embarrassment over forgetting how to write characters has gradually disappeared since he started to use the handwriting input method on his iPhone 4 a month ago.

"When you write on the touch screen, you use your finger, instead of a mouse or keyboard," Yin says.

"Actually, your finger is like a pen, scribbling down the complicated strokes that have long been under siege by pinyin, a Romanized alphabet-based input system."

Whether typing on computers or texting on phones, most users in China type by phonetically spelling out the sounds of the characters and the software then gives a menu of characters that fit the pronunciation, so users only need to recognize the character.

Handwriting technology on a mobile phone touch screen has been around for years and became popular with the iPhone, which recognizes the input and offers a wide selection of characters.

"It's efficient and accurate," Yin says.

Dating back several millennia, Chinese characters are the oldest continuously used system of writing in the world, but as pinyin-based typing has become more widespread youths have started forgetting how to write out characters.

This was one of the main topics for debate at the first Cross-Straits Chinese Character Art Festival, held recently in Beijing, that attracted experts from Taiwan and the mainland.

Attendee Chen Kun-i, a consultant to National Taiwan Arts Education Center, said the handwriting input system was one of the strategies taken up in Taiwan to help protect Chinese characters in the digital era.

Calligraphy contests are held every spring and autumn in Taiwan, he says, but more importantly, the Taiwan region promotes handwriting on touch screens so the problem of forgetting how to write is not as severe as on the mainland.

"On the touch screen, handwriting input is quite natural," says Niu Xingyu, a researcher at Hanvon Technology Co Ltd, a leader in global intelligent character recognition technology.

"With this input method, the problem with writing Chinese characters disappears. It's important to guide people to use handwriting input, which will be prevalent on computers someday," he says.

According to Zhang Zikang, president of the Culture and Art Publishing House, writing with a stylus pen on the touch screen brings calligraphy into the digital age.

It is even better when you write with your finger, feeling the flow of the cursive script and the grace and artistry of Chinese characters, he says.

"Smart gadgets don't take life from the square-shaped characters, instead they offer a new and advanced platform to show the glamour of Chinese characters, which are always evolving," Zhang says.

Source: China Daily(By Sun Li)


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