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Hong Kong’s Voluntary Obsolescence

Updated: Jun 12

Telling the same stories in two fundamentally different languages has shown me that cross-cultural interpretation takes a lot more than literal translation.

It also makes me realise the opportunities Hong Kong has missed.

Given our history, Hong Kong could have been a valuable cultural interpreter between China and the English speaking world. Unfortunately, we have undecidedly remained neither here nor there, becoming erratic nationalists with a slavish colonial psyche instead. Many still see China through the eyes of BBC or CNN only, then turn around and tell the Gweilos about it in Chinglish. That’s not much of a service to either side is it?

The pigheaded perpetuation of obsolete Chinese characters is another example of a lost mind.

I write in simplified characters for pragmatic reasons. Firstly, they are easier, and more rational. Secondly, this is what nearly everyone outside big Hong Kong and Taiwan learns.

Diehard traditionalists cry that the Chinese civilisation faces imminent collapse because a few superfluous strokes have been removed from some characters. They’ve forgotten that the convoluted forms they’re hanging on to came from even more sinuous predecessors. In the name of cultural preservation, why not revert to Zhuan Shu or Li Shu? What about the oracle bones?

While a colony, Hong Kong did not learn its English very well. Perplexingly, now that Chinese is gaining international popularity, we yearn to be pointlessly different. If that helps to soothe an insecurity complex, so be it. Perhaps it’s just bad karma.

But what about the kids?

Is it not irresponsible for us to handicap them with a dead-end version of their native language, a language that’s growing in importance? Ironically, international schools seem to be the only ones in Hong Kong teaching simplified characters to the students.

The future generation of Hong Kong Chinese would find themselves competing and collaborating internationally with many more mainlanders who have better English, and foreigners who understand modern Chinese better.

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