When it comes to understanding the differences between Western and Chinese cultures, the written language is a good place to start. Chinese writing is completely different from the alphabet structure we are used to in the West. Chinese is one of the world’s oldest writing systems, and its origins can be traced back to the reign of the Shang Dynasty king, We Ding, (1250-1192 BC). By the seventh century AD, the Chinese alphabet had already been defined, and it has always played an important role in the country’s culture. One of the evaluation criteria in the admittance exam to join China’s Civil Service is the accuracy of a candidate's handwriting.
In China, writing has influenced the entire civilisation. Chinese writing is logographic, which means that every symbol either represents a word, or a minimal unit of meaning. The logograms that make up the language hold the key to another world. There are 85,000 symbols in total; knowing three or four thousand of them is enough to be able to read a book or a newspaper, and only intellectuals go beyond 6,000. Each logogram expresses a concept, and works like a sort of Lego brick whose meaning changes depending on which other logogram it is connected to. Nowadays, there are three different types of logograms: those that represent a concept or an object by stylising them, those that merge the previous ones, and the "phonetic-semantic" ones. Most words consist of two juxtaposed signs.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Chinese government considered abandoning logograms altogether, to avoid further isolating themselves from a rapidly evolving world that was exploring new trade routes and diplomatic relations. After the Second World War, however, the system was simplified, and Standard Mandarin was declared the national language as part of the Communist Party’s attempt to increase the literacy rate.
The second challenge arose at the end of the 1970s, when it became clear that Chinese writing risked becoming an obstacle to the progressive introduction of information technology in the country. The problem (which had already presented itself when the typewriter was invented) was how to write Chinese with a keyboard.