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Students recommend ren as message to the world

By Cang Wei and Song Wenwe (China Daily)

08:12, March 06, 2013

Students show the characters that proved the most popular in the first round of voting on Saturday in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. The Chinese character ren, meaning "benevolence", was selected by 8.33 percent of the 3,000 respondents. Provided to China Daily

Poll to be repeated at other schools, to pick most popular characters

The Chinese character ren, a word that generally means "benevolence", has been selected by high school students in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in a poll to highlight Chinese culture around the world.

The character ren was selected by 8.33 percent of the 3,000 respondents who took part in the poll, according to Dai Yizhi, a student from Nanjing Foreign Language School and one of the organizers.

It was followed by the characters ai, yi, meng and xiao, which mean "love", "one", "dream" and "filial piety". Those characters ranked in the "top-20 most beautiful Chinese characters".

"We hold this activity to promote Chinese culture," Dai said. "For many foreigners, Chinese characters are very hard to accept and understand, so we want to choose some that can reflect the country's culture."

He added that similar polls will be launched in cities such as Xi'an and Guangzhou to collect more opinions from high school students.

The character ultimately chosen to recommend to the world will be announced in March next year, Dai said.

Chen Yi, a sophomore in the city's Xuanwu district, said the thought process involved in selecting the character also helped students better understand and appreciate Chinese culture.

"It's a pity that some of my classmates refused to participate." However, Chen added: "They said it was a waste of their time and might infringe on their study."

Some experts and teachers have also criticized the poll.

"The activity does have some advantages in promoting traditional Chinese culture among students," said Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing. "But it also conforms with a typical characteristic of most of the activities held by Chinese students - following social trends."

Since 2006, a character that best represents the whole year has been selected as the Chinese character of the year. Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia also hold similar polls each year.

A high school teacher named Zhang, who works in Nanjing's Qinhuai district, agreed with Xiong.

"It shows Chinese youths' increasing awareness of social affairs, but they need the ability for independent thinking when they enter society," Zhang said.

Some Chinese students must also consider whether they really value traditional Chinese culture, said Zhang, adding that many high school students have poor handwriting, and have to refer to their cellphones to find the right characters when they do their homework.

"Promoting Chinese culture to the world is important, but what is more important is mastering your country's culture," Xiong said.

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