I think I will dedicate this to commenter kjeff, who argued that most Koreans could understand Chinese characters, while I argued that most could not.

Sungkyunkwan University on Monday released the results of a test taken last week by 384 freshmen in a basic writing course. The results show that 78 students or 20 percent of the class could not write their names in Chinese. Some 83 percent of the class (317 students) could not write their mother’s name in Chinese, and 77 percent (295 students) were unable to write their father’s name in Chinese.

Few students were able to properly write common Chinese words. Only five students could write the Chinese characters for “lectures” (“gangeui” in Korean) and only nine could properly write the word “encyclopedia” (“baekgwasajeon” in Korean). In Korean both words are composed of Chinese characters.

Of course, Koreans do not use Chinese characters in their daily life, so it is no wonder they cannot understand them. Instead of using Chinese characters, most ordinary Korean writing only needs hangul, the native system of writing.

Posted by Matt, filed under Language. Date: March 12, 2007, 10:18 pm | 49 Comments »

49 Responses

  1. GarlicBreath Says:

    Why learn Chinese characters when you have “the worlds most scientific language” to use.

  2. Gerry-Bevers Says:

    What is more surprising is that Sungkyunkwan University is considered to be a good school in Korea, so the freshmen class should be some of Korea’s better students.

  3. kjeff Says:

    GarlicBreath,
    I don’t know why myself, perhaps we should follow our “brothers and sisters” in the North on this one.

    Matt..Matt…Matt…,
    I just can see the excitement when you found this article. Anyhow, I don’t really want to go the down this road of trying to defend the extend of Koreans’ knowledge of Chinese characters. Sort of defies the purpose of my bringing the subject up in the first place i.e. we don’t need them.
    But(there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t it?) The mere existence of the article kind of suggests that we should know them well, no? “Wow, it’s surprising” kind of reaction to it. I mean if we suppose to know only(what did you say before?) 20-50 characters, the article kind of doesn’t make any sense. Then again, I don’t, well I can’t, really believe the data unless I actually know the methodology which is lacking from this short article. From it, we know that the students were asked to write their names and their mom’s and dad’s. Automatically, I see a problem, actually problems, here; not everyone has a hanja-based name I think. So how many of these 78 students actually weren’t able to, or just plain couldn’t? Mom’s and Dad’s, same thing goes there. Moreover, parent’s wise, when they say they couldn’t, what does it ‘precisely’ mean? They really coudn’t or they couldn’t choose? The ‘U’ sound in my name’s first syllable has a different Chinese character than the rest of my generation.(bad luck stuff), so which is it? Couldn’t or couldn’t choose? Well, you could say, why not just guess? But, we won’t really know, will we?

    Few students were able to properly write common Chinese words.

    What’s common? How many?

    Only five students could write the Chinese characters for “lectures” (”gangeui” in Korean) and only nine could properly write the word “encyclopedia” (”baekgwasajeon” in Korean). In Korean both words are composed of Chinese characters.

    Key word here is “properly”. Since I don’t know many Chinese characters, I don’t really know how many ‘strokes’ there are in ‘encyclopedia.’ But, let’s say there are 40 strokes, how many pass as ‘proper’. Let’s say I got 39 right, is that ‘proper’? What’s the level of tolerance? You’re right, “Koreans do not use Chinese characters in their daily life, so it is no wonder they cannot understand them. Instead of using Chinese characters, most ordinary Korean writing only needs hangul, the native system of writing.” But, to “understand” and to write ‘properly’ sort of a big jump, no? I “understand” a couple of hundred Chinese characters(really?), but I don’t think I’ll be able to write a quarter of them “properly”, and the context of our previous discussion(it was about reading) was to “understand”, no?

  4. Matt Says:

    kjeff, whatever way you cut it, Koreans are just not familiar with Chinese characters. I don’t make a values judgment on it – if hangul is fine for Koreans, then it is fine for me. I just do not see these functionally Chinese character literate average Koreans you keep telling me about. I have met a few Koreans that know many characters, but they have been exceptional, and have been in character intensive fields like law and medicine, or were students of Japanese or Chinese.

  5. kjeff Says:

    kjeff, whatever way you cut it, Koreans are just not familiar with Chinese characters.

    That’s a bit simplistic, no? I mean you did ‘dedicate’ the article to me.

    I don’t make a values judgment on it – if hangul is fine for Koreans, then it is fine for me.

    Well, it never was about “judment”. It was I’m right and you are wrong, or vice versa kind of thing, no?

    I just do not see these functionally Chinese character literate average Koreans you keep telling me about. I have met a few Koreans that know many characters, but they have been exceptional, and have been in character intensive fields like law and medicine, or were students of Japanese or Chinese.

    May I suggest that you simply don’t know enough “average” Koreans.

  6. Matt Says:

    That’s a bit simplistic, no? I mean you did ‘dedicate’ the article to me.

    Not really. Yes, the article is dedicated to you.

    May I suggest that you simply don’t know enough “average” Koreans.

    No, you may not. If you don’t believe me, just ask a Korean-Korean.

  7. kjeff Says:

    kjeff, whatever way you cut it…

    and

    Koreans are just not familiar with Chinese characters.

    That’s not simplistic? What the point of the article then? You should at least make excuses for it, no? Hint: Even Gerry managed to come up with one. I mean it should be more like… “Yeah, but the article blah…blah…blah….” A little effort, please…

    If you don’t believe me, just ask a Korean-Korean.

    I did. I married one(although a class president in her junior high doesn’t exactly makes her average), and her big big family. I ‘m affraid your Koreans are just not my Koreans. And given that hanja is actually formally taught for six years, unless you can show me a better study, your Koreans are ot average. Now, that’s really simple.
    I’d settle for 500, how about that? That’s 75%-80%, not good enough to understand complex texts. I mean 20-50 is just downright insulting.

  8. Matt Says:

    OK… I will settle for an agree to disagree then.

    Also… since you have asked me to defend it – 百科事典 is an extremely elementary set of characters. The Korean students would have been exposed to the characters because they are written on the cover of encyclopedias. Yet only 9 students out of 384 could actually write the characters. If things were as you say, more would have been able to. Furthermore, you cite “classes” in school for Koreans abilities in Chinese characters, and these classes would have included writing as well. In addition Koreans take many more classes in English, and where does that get them?

  9. HanComplex Says:

    The fact that Koreans don’t know Chinese characters isn’t news, really. Up until a few decades ago Hanja was still in use in newspapers, gov’t publications, etc. Because of ultra-nationalism their use significantly declined. Now, Koreans are pretty much illiterate with Chinese characters. As I’ve said before, a typical middle school Chinese or Japanese kid knows more characters than the average Korean adult. Kinda embarrassing, really, considering that Korea has been using it for over a thousand years and has been a integral part of their culture. The fact that they can’t even write their names in Chinese shows their illiteracy. I guess the need to distance and differentiate themselves from their fellow East Asian neighbors, hermit kingdom-style, is too strong and stems from their deeply rooted inferiority complex.

    Compare this Japan, who also developed their own writing system and yet, did NOT abandon kanji and instead use the two writing systems alongside one another. Korea could have done this as well, using hanja along with hangeul. I used to wonder why they don’t then I remembered that Japan doesn’t suffer from a collective inferiority complex and ultra-nationalistic streak unlike Korea.

    Because of the decline of Hanja use the current Korean generation is stuck with their simplistic sticks-and-eggs writing system (which scholars during King Sejong’s time derided as “characters that can be learned in a restroom“. They and can’t read simple Chinese classical texts or struggle with books written a half-century ago. I can just imagine Korean tourists travelling to HK or Japan and feeling frustrated not being able to read basic characters. They must feel dumb and incompetent. But oh well, cultural literacy takes a backseat to Korean pride. As long as you have KP, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know Chinese characters and all you know is a writing system fit to be learned in a restroom. Sad, really.

  10. GarlicBreath Says:

    Kjeff,
    I did. I married one (Korean /Korean woman)

    You are married Koreanjeff? I guessed you were about 17. I take it that no american Kyopo would have you? Right KoreanJeff?

    (I guess she was in for a big suprise when she found out that you wern’t a harvard laywer but went to community college for one year and work at the local korean qwik-e mart selling 40oz of old E.) No offence.

  11. Katz Says:

    Because of the decline of Hanja use the current Korean generation is stuck with their simplistic sticks-and-eggs writing system (which scholars during King Sejong’s time derided as “characters that can be learned in a restroom“. They and can’t read simple Chinese classical texts or struggle with books written a half-century ago. I can just imagine Korean tourists travelling to HK or Japan and feeling frustrated not being able to read basic characters. They must feel dumb and incompetent. But oh well, cultural literacy takes a backseat to Korean pride. As long as you have KP, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know Chinese characters and all you know is a writing system fit to be learned in a restroom. Sad, really.

    I don’t know what is that to you fact that Koreans don’t use Hanja? And since when not knowing chinese means illiteracy. Sorry, I think you have superiority complex for a thing that should be considered miserable and unfortunate.

  12. kjeff Says:

    I guess the need to distance and differentiate themselves from their fellow East Asian neighbors, hermit kingdom-style, is too strong and stems from their deeply rooted inferiority complex.

    Compare this Japan, who also developed their own writing system and yet, did NOT abandon kanji and instead use the two writing systems alongside one another. Korea could have done this as well, using hanja along with hangeul. I used to wonder why they don’t then I remembered that Japan doesn’t suffer from a collective inferiority complex and ultra-nationalistic streak unlike Korea.

    I guess if striving to have your own independent writing system is ultra-nationalistic, then so be it. I’m a little confused when you say “alongside”. I don’t know Japanese, but is it not true that you HAVE to know kanji to understand it? Hence, isn’t ‘dependent’ more correctly describe the relationship?

    Because of the decline of Hanja use the current Korean generation is stuck with their simplistic sticks-and-eggs writing system (which scholars during King Sejong’s time derided as “characters that can be learned in a restroom“. They and can’t read simple Chinese classical texts or struggle with books written a half-century ago. I can just imagine Korean tourists travelling to HK or Japan and feeling frustrated not being able to read basic characters. They must feel dumb and incompetent. But oh well, cultural literacy takes a backseat to Korean pride. As long as you have KP, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know Chinese characters and all you know is a writing system fit to be learned in a restroom. Sad, really.

    Ahhh, the popularly held misconception…The more complex it is, the better. Simple, and yet able to express complex thoughts versus complex, and able to express complex thoughts. I have the feeling I know which one you’re going to choose, and I have a ‘simple’ word for it, stupid. Sad, really.

  13. yago Says:

    In Japanese empire times they used hanja and hangul alongside, but it was gradually scrapped after the war. North Korea eliminated them completely from the curriculum, and South Korea just ended up doing it some 10-20 years ago, not sure.

    Koreans are simply not told characters in school as Chinese/Japanese are, and they don’t use them in daily life. How should they know them? If you’re not taught, and you don’t use them, it makes no sense. Vietnamese also scrapped characters centuries ago but nobody claims to be able to read them.

    About the propriety of the decision to scrap them, well, that is debatable. When well over 60% of your vocabulary is based on chinese, it does sound stupid to me. But it’s much easier and practical to use hangul, so if they prefer that to cultural continuity, it’s their choice.

  14. kjeff Says:

    yago,

    In Japanese empire times they used hanja and hangul alongside, but it was gradually scrapped after the war. North Korea eliminated them completely from the curriculum, and South Korea just ended up doing it some 10-20 years ago, not sure.

    “Empire”, interesting choice… It’s still in the curriculum.

    Koreans are simply not told characters in school as Chinese/Japanese are, and they don’t use them in daily life. How should they know them?

    Wrong, Right, and I learned Calculus in high school, never had to use it…

    About the propriety of the decision to scrap them, well, that is debatable. When well over 60% of your vocabulary is based on chinese, it does sound stupid to me.

    It’s called loan-word, and there are efforts to diminish their usage already.

    P.S. Why? Because I’m bored, and you’re wrong.

  15. Katz Says:

    If you’re not taught, and you don’t use them, it makes no sense.

    Lol, another troll. I don’t know what’s your position to say that but Chinese better mind on their own business rather than trying to impose what is right and wrong where he has nothing to do with.

  16. Richardson Says:

    I think it’s incorrect to say that Koreans – or most Koreans – are not familiar with Hanja. They may not be able to write the characters correctly, but most Koreans can read at least a few hundred characters. It probably would be correct to say that many, or perhaps most, Koreans cannot write Hanja correctly.

    This goes to defining what is “familiar” with Hanja. The Chosun article speaks of being unable to write and knowing less than before, not about being unfamiliar with Hanja, which are two different things.

    Also, I would not equate being able to write Hanja for names (except ones own name) as being unfamiliar with characters in general, since those characters are not generally used outside names. It would be like asking Westerners the meaning of names (Matthew, Paul, Martin, Jason, etc.), and then saying they must not be familiar with Western names since they don’t know the meaning of these names, which is essentially what you get with Chinese characters used in names.

  17. yago Says:

    Hey, Korean kids are not taught as much, nor as systematically as Japanese or Chinese kids. That’s fact. Ever been to a Jpn/Chn shool?

    Being able to read a few hundreds is useless. 10 year olds in Japan or China can do more than that. Fluency is over 2000 characters.

    Anyone of you actually knows what they’re talking about? It takes decades to master the whole thing.

    It’s called loan-word, and there are efforts to diminish their usage already.

    Sure, but those are well over half of the total vocabulary. Korea (and Japan) has been aping Chinese culture for centuries, no way to deny that. It’ll not be easy to reverse 2 thousand years of constant cultural submission.

  18. Ken Says:

    Korean leaders have erased the influence of China, the suzerain of several thousands years.
    But the vocaburary is mainly from Chinese.
    There are lots of homonyms in Chinese.
    Hangul of phonetic characters cannot distinguish those homonyms.
    So Hangul is producing poor scholarship people as follows though ancient Korean king made it for poor scholarship people originally.
    http://japanese.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2006/09/25/20060925000036.html
    http://japanese.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2006/09/26/20060926000020.html

  19. SuikaDorobo Says:

    Kjeff (#3),

    Key word here is “properly”. Since I don’t know many Chinese characters, I don’t really know how many ’strokes’ there are in ‘encyclopedia.’ But, let’s say there are 40 strokes, how many pass as ‘proper’. Let’s say I got 39 right, is that ‘proper’?

    Absolutely not. Be it 39 or 41, improper is improper. Of course, even if the case the number of “strokes” is correct, it’s improper to write “太極旗” as “犬極旗”, like a student of Yunsay univ did.

    Sort of defies the purpose of my bringing the subject up in the first place i.e. we don’t need them.

    You can feel free to insist “Koreans know Chinese characters” in one place and “we don’t need them” in another: I’ll just give you an interesting example. There’s a well-known Korean woman currently living in Japan. She says that it was not until she went to study in Japan and learned some Chinese characters, that she learned that the Korean word “수소” is written as “水素” and is originally a Japanese translation of “hydrogen”. Those Koreans who don’t know how to write it in Chinese character is, in a word, as illiteral as a native English speaker who only knows the word “hydrogen” and doesn’t know “hydro-” comes from a Greek word which means water.

    Another example: is there any Korean reader who can read this letter? I guess it was written shortly after the end of Japan’s rule of the Korean peninsula (and probably before the establishment of ROK govt). Even a Japanese who doesn’t know how to read Korean could see what it says, thanks to Chinese characters used in it.

  20. SuikaDorobo Says:

    (illiteral –> illiterate, sorry)

  21. Richardson Says:

    Anyone of you actually knows what they’re talking about?

    I’ll have to turn that around on you, as you’re not addressing the same context; several hundred characters is actually quite useful in South Korea, and “literacy” in Hanja is very much different from being “familiar” with the characters.

  22. empraptor Says:

    My elementary school had its students memorize a few hundred Hanja. Not that I remember much now.

    I don’t see how the woman that SuikaDorobo mentions lived her life nor realizing that su means water written in Hanja. It’s used in so many places. She must have been pretty oblivious to such things.

    So… let me get this straight.

    When the topic is Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, it’s the Japanese who started promoting Hangul over Hanja in order to foster Korean independence/language.

    When the topic is how Koreans now can’t write Chinese, it’s Korean leaders who started the whole don’t-use-Hanja thing?

  23. kjeff Says:

    Absolutely not. Be it 39 or 41, improper is improper. Of course, even if the case the number of “strokes” is correct, it’s improper to write “太極旗” as “犬極旗”, like a student of Yunsay univ did.

    I think you’re missing the context of our discussion here. If you read on(that same paragraph), you’ll see that my point was that being able to write characters ‘properly’ is different(a big jump) from being able to understand them. And that a study that examined whether or not one can write characters “properly” is not a valid measure of one’s ability to understand them. A more proper analogy is I’m able to recognize and understand ‘encyclopedia’, but won’t be able to reproduce/spell it “properly”.

    Those Koreans who don’t know how to write it in Chinese character is, in a word, as illiteral as a native English speaker who only knows the word “hydrogen” and doesn’t know “hydro-” comes from a Greek word which means water.

    I think you got things a little mixed up here. My understanding is that an English learner will usually know ‘hydrogen’ first before knowing what ‘hydro’ is, if ever. Chinese learner however will learn indivual characters first, 水 and 素, before learning the compound character 水素. Again the context, between Matt and I, was limited to recognizing characters. The woman that you mentioned didn’t know that the Korean word “수소” was written as “水素” , but I’m guessing if she had been asked what “水素” is, she might have been able to guess that it’s ‘hydrogen’.

    Another example: is there any Korean reader who can read this letter? I guess it was written shortly after the end of Japan’s rule of the Korean peninsula (and probably before the establishment of ROK govt). Even a Japanese who doesn’t know how to read Korean could see what it says, thanks to Chinese characters used in it.

    Well I don’t, then again I wasn’t educated in Korea.

    You can feel free to insist “Koreans know Chinese characters” in one place and “we don’t need them” in another:

    I blame it on the fact that I’m bored and you’re, in context, wrong.

  24. HanComplex Says:

    Koreans are simply not told characters in school as Chinese/Japanese are, and they don’t use them in daily life. How should they know them? If you’re not taught, and you don’t use them, it makes no sense.

    True. That’s why the claim that Koreans know Chinese characters is laughable. The older people might still be able to recognize quite a few, but with continued non-use of hanja in daily life it’s inevitable that they forget most of them. The majority of Koreans are practically illiterate in hanja.

    About the propriety of the decision to scrap them, well, that is debatable. When well over 60% of your vocabulary is based on chinese, it does sound stupid to me. But it’s much easier and practical to use hangul, so if they prefer that to cultural continuity, it’s their choice.

    Good point. I think Korea wants to do away with things that reminds them of the past, e.g., being a vassal state of China for thousands of years and being a colony of Japan in the last century. I guess it must embarrass them to no end knowing they’ve always stood in the shadows of those two cultures and wants no reminder of that. Hence, the emphasis of Korea’s recent history, as in now when their economy is doing well. However, they forget that as recent as 30-40 some-odd years ago hanja was still fairly used; even movies from the 60′s had end credits with the director and cast names in Chinese characters. This hangeul-only vogue only started in the last 10-20 years whereas hanja has been part of Korean culture for over a thousand years. So why abandon it? Why now? The argument that Koreans (mostly hanja-illiterate ones) like to put forth for hangeul-only is that it’s “simple” and “easy” (few ever say they’re lazy). What they don’t realize is that by dumbing down their writing system they actually lose a part of their (writing) culture and sense of tradition. But if that’s how they want their culture to proceed, then they’ve made their own beds.

    Korean leaders have erased the influence of China, the suzerain of several thousands years.
    But the vocaburary is mainly from Chinese.
    There are lots of homonyms in Chinese.
    Hangul of phonetic characters cannot distinguish those homonyms.
    So Hangul is producing poor scholarship people as follows though ancient Korean king made it for poor scholarship people originally.
    http://japanese.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2006/09/25/20060925000036.html
    http://japanese.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2006/09/26/20060926000020.html

    Thanks for the links. My point exactly with what I’ve written above. It should be noted that up until recently in Korean high schools, 1,800 characters were mandatory in the curriculum (now non-compulsory). This is even considerably less than the 1,945 being taught in Japanese high schools. So Koreans were already learning less, and now that it’s non-compulsory in school they’re pretty much illiterate. This is a result of dumbing down their writing system.

    Absolutely not. Be it 39 or 41, improper is improper. Of course, even if the case the number of “strokes” is correct, it’s improper to write “太極旗” as “犬極旗”, like a student of Yunsay univ did.

    LOL! Maybe what he really wanted to write was 太犬. Perhaps haven’t had 食事 yet.^^ Thanks, that was a good one.

    You can feel free to insist “Koreans know Chinese characters” in one place and “we don’t need them” in another: I’ll just give you an interesting example. There’s a well-known Korean woman currently living in Japan. She says that it was not until she went to study in Japan and learned some Chinese characters, that she learned that the Korean word “수소” is written as “水素” and is originally a Japanese translation of “hydrogen”. Those Koreans who don’t know how to write it in Chinese character is, in a word, as illiteral as a native English speaker who only knows the word “hydrogen” and doesn’t know “hydro-” comes from a Greek word which means water.

    Another proof of the Chinese character illiteracy of Koreans. Actually, if we were transported like 50 years back in time, many Koreans would still be fairly proficient in hanja. It’s just these modern times that’s caused the current generation of hanja-illiterate Koreans. Actually, many words in Korean came from Japanese, one of them being “kumdo” from “kendo.” You’ll find a good list here. Many Koreans don’t know it or even if they did, refuse to acknowledge it.

    Another example: is there any Korean reader who can read this letter? I guess it was written shortly after the end of Japan’s rule of the Korean peninsula (and probably before the establishment of ROK govt). Even a Japanese who doesn’t know how to read Korean could see what it says, thanks to Chinese characters used in it.

    This is actually one of the indirect benefits of having something similar in writing: it’s conducive to cross-cultural understanding. Kind of like back when Latin was prevalent in Europe during the middle ages (even now among Romance languages cognates are prevalent.) Incidentally, Japanese and Korean also have a similar grammatical structure, belonging to the same language family.

  25. Katz Says:

    When this disgusting stalking of chinks will stop? Too miserable and despicable that interfere in things not of their business. Self-flattering based in miserable things like chink characters and confucianism. These exactly things were making Korea completely miserable in a certain period. And with these things they continue to bug us. Too miserable that they use things to boast and self-flatter themselves. Indescribably pitiful and disgusting.

  26. empraptor Says:

    Katz,

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to say but I’d like to point out that “chink” is an offensive word, at least for Asian Americans. While the word itself refers to Chinese in a deragatory way, in practice it is used to refer to any Asian.

  27. Katz Says:

    Well, at least not Koreans or Japanese.

  28. Matt Says:

    Katz, stop the racial language.

  29. lirelou Says:

    I wonder how many entering U.S. university students could respond to the Latin equivalent of this test? Or even give the Latin word forming the root of many common English terms? Hangul, however hollow the “most scientific” claim, suffices to capture the sounds of Korean, and had the added benefit being far simpler than either Chinese or Hanju. Yes, in a perfect world educated Koreans would be able to read and write “x” number of Chinese characters. But in that same world, the educated Westerner would have studied both Greek and Latin. I agree with Gerry that the exam results belie claims that the average Mr. Kim can recognize a respectable number of Chinese characters. But I have run into Korean military officers who could dash off Chinese characters for military terms (i.e., songun) and explain them to me.

  30. Matt Says:

    I wonder how many entering U.S. university students could respond to the Latin equivalent of this test? Or even give the Latin word forming the root of many common English terms?

    Not many. Even I am not so confident. Learning Latin is one of my many unfulfilled goals.

  31. lirelou Says:

    Then I guess we should “lead, follow, or get out of the way”? (I must confess I had to think that one through a bit. Most of my Latin was of the “Ad Deum qui le tificat, juventudem meu” variety. Dominus Vos Biscum? Father Jean must be rolling over in his hospice.)

  32. kjeff Says:

    I’m trying to find out more about hangul’s “most scientific” claim, linguistically, can anyone explain what it means?

  33. empraptor Says:

    The most scientific label might be from the way Hangul was supposedly created. Something to do with following the shape of the tongue while speaking the particular elements of the language. I don’t know if there’s any other basis for the claim.

  34. Pinyin news » Blog Archive » Korean university students show little knowledge of Chinese characters Says:

    [...] See also Occidentalism’s thread on this, which already has more than thirty comments. [...]

  35. Matt Says:

    The most scientific label might be from the way Hangul was supposedly created. Something to do with following the shape of the tongue while speaking the particular elements of the language. I don’t know if there’s any other basis for the claim.

    As far as I know, the “most scientific” talk stems from the way hangul was created. The king gathered knowledgeable men to create hangul. The orders were that hangul would have to accurately represent the pronunciation of the Korean language. Hangul actually does this, and there are few irregular forms of pronunciation that differ from the way it is written.

  36. Koreans cant read Chinese characters » Occidentalism Says:

    [...] Here is a follow up article to Koreans not being able to write Chinese characters. Professor Lee Myung-Hak of the Dept. of Korean Literature in Classical Chinese at Sungkyunkwan University tested the literacy level in Chinese characters of 384 freshmen, and 78 of them couldn’t even write their own names. That’s 20 percent. Moreover, 77 percent of them couldn’t write their mother’s name in Chinese characters, while 83 percent couldn’t write their father’s name. Two out of 10 college freshmen cannot write their own names, while eight out of ten cannot write their parents’ names. The situation must be similar at other universities. It’s not even surprising that only 7 percent of them were able to read the word “ambition,” 4 percent could read “honor,” while only 1 percent could read “compromise.” The situation was no different when it came to writing in Chinese characters, with 71 percent unable to write “new student,” 96 percent unable to write “economy” and 98 percent unable to write “encyclopedia.” Some wrote “bamboo mat” instead of “university.” [...]

  37. buvery Says:

    In conclusion, Koreans (North and South) are losing Chinese character heritage, and making their language isolated both from the otherwise related languages (Chinese and Japanese) and from the history of their own.

    In my opinion, this is necessary for the creation of new Korean identity after WWII, since Koreans had so much Japanese under Japanese administration. They had to create the new self-image and tried to purge the influence of the former Japanese rule.

    This was in part achieved by injection of newly created history into younger generations (both in North and South Koreas), and linguistic separation from the neighbor. In a sense, this is an Owellian new speak in action. IMHO, all those pathetic “Korea uriginal” arguments regarding Karate, Kendo, Kado, Sado, or numerous other things originates from this linguistic isolation, meaning that they can no longer read prewar documents or Chinese/Japanese documents any more.

    I also think the classic “East Sea” story comes form the same root cause: they have already become blind to their own history, simply because what the Korean new generations can read and interpret are always doctored and sanitized to suit their purpose through the history invention.

  38. crom80 Says:

    this to korean people is the same as english speaking people not being able to read or write latin.
    just because the language was based off another doesn’t mean it’s the same language nor does it require the speaker of the language to retain the ancient version of the language
    the article’s main point (atleast in the KOREAN version) is that the new generation does not use chinese characters as much as the older generation. (which in my personal view is due to the fact that japanese colonists forced the older generations to adapt the japanese language and was FORCED to know chinese characters) since korea is an independent nation they do not require the need to learn or know chinese characters, since it is now a foreign language

  39. tomato Says:

    which in my personal view is due to the fact that japanese colonists forced the older generations to adapt the japanese language and was FORCED to know chinese characters

    Are you paranoid or is this the common stance taken by your kinsmen?

  40. buvery Says:

    This post by crom80 has reinforced my idea: Hangul-centric policy is a core of newly invented postwar Korean identity. This way they can conveniently erase the inconvenient history they have.

    For example, the poster thinks that the older generation was “FORCED” to learn Chinese characters because of Japanese rule. Wrong. If one goes back a little bit further, Chinese letters were the only letters Koreans publicly used. All the official documents of Li dynasty were written in Chinese, not in Hangul. Actually, Hangul did not become widely used until the Japanese instituted modern schools in Korea. What do you think they used when they taught Confucian texts in old-fashioned schools in Korea? Chinese letters, of course.

  41. picard Says:

    oops, time for crom80 to change screen names.

  42. HanComplex Says:

    This was in part achieved by injection of newly created history into younger generations (both in North and South Koreas), and linguistic separation from the neighbor. In a sense, this is an Orwellian new speak in action. IMHO, all those pathetic “Korea uriginal” arguments regarding Karate, Kendo, Kado, Sado, or numerous other things originates from this linguistic isolation, meaning that they can no longer read prewar documents or Chinese/Japanese documents any more.

    You hit the nail on the head. Many Koreans do not know any better simply because that’s what they’ve been fed all this time. Lacking the ability to read hanja, they can’t read old Korean documents, nor cross-reference with Japanese and Chinese texts to form their own objective opinions. Thus, by default they accept the standard government interpretation of historical accounts without question.

    Put another way it must be like being plugged into the hangeul-only Matrix, where their view of reality is constrained by what they are able to read and understand. The government controls and feeds the information, as if wires were jacked into the back of their craniums. The idea of an alternate viewpoint or mode of thinking has never occurred to them, much less the acceptance of one, simply because they are unaware of its existence. To break free of the Matrix takes a leap of faith. But once they do, it’ll open a whole new world for them.

    So what will it be: the blue pill? red pill? Kim jong-il?

  43. Katz Says:

    To hancomplexed,

    Reason why Koreans don’t want to use chink characters?

    1. Don’t want to be infested.
    2. There a lot of chink trolls
    3. Chinks are a burden to Koreans
    4. Chinks are obsessive about Korea.
    5. Chinks are disgusting
    6. Chinks meddle in things not their business
    7. Chinks are stalkers
    8. Among other things.

    I hope that makes you understand better.

  44. Katz Says:

    Let me add more.

    9. Chinks are ugly.
    10. They have big nose holes.
    11. Eat all sort of things
    12. They eat babies
    13. They are uncivilized

  45. Matt Says:

    I warned you about the racial comments, Katz. I have to give you a early retirement.

  46. empraptor Says:

    This post by crom80 has reinforced my idea: Hangul-centric policy is a core of newly invented postwar Korean identity. This way they can conveniently erase the inconvenient history they have.

    I think crom80 might be an outlier rather than the norm. If crom80 is Korean and he would think a bit, he’d remember all that you have said. It’s not as if you can ignore the fact that Koreans used Chinese previously. You will run into this in any account of life back then or if you tune into a TV show set in times before Hangul became the default writing.

    And at least when I was in Korea newspapers and magazines used Hanja.

  47. HanComplex Says:

    Hahah The funny thing is I’m not even Chinese.
    Just where did he get that idea lol
    Use of racial epithets… typical knee-jerk response from Koreans who can’t argue. Funny.

  48. tomato Says:

    So what’s the big deal about Japan banning the Korean language back in WWII? The Korean language survived anyhow, no?

    I guess speakers of English have to make the Norman-French apologize for almost causing the beloved English language go extinct! Or maybe for causing the English language to be diverged from Dutch and Flemish! Aren’t there any better things to do than be crazed and angry about an “evil” empire that was destroyed more than half a century ago?

  49. asmodai Says:

    Personally I would like to point out James Marshall Unger’s excellent work called “Literacy and Script Reform in Occupation Japan” (http://www.amazon.com/Literacy-Script-Reform-Occupation-Japan/dp/0195101669/http://www.amazon.com/Literacy-Script-Reform-Occupation-Japan/dp/0195101669/).
    Professor Unger clearly explains, based on facts from experiments with teaching Japanese school children only romaji in order to write their language that Chinese characters are highly overrated.

    Based on my own experiences as a novice learner of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean I can attest that the idea that using hanzi/kanji/hanja is somehow better at expressing thoughts is a myth.

    All current writings in Korea are based on jamo and hardly any hanja is used, if at all. What would be the use of learning hanja? Only to decypher the goryeo tripitaka?

    And the logical fallacy that Koreans should know hanja to interpret Chinese or Japanese texts to form their own opinion is just silly. Just knowing hanja will not get you much in, say, Japanese unless you understand more of the grammar and use of okurigana to form complete sentences.

    I don’t know what the point is. People can read and write in Korea. They can understand one another perfectly well without any need to learn (advanced) hanja. The amount of strokes they need to learn to write their own language is considerably less than compared to Chinese or Japanese.

    In my humble opinion the Koreans actually did the sensible thing in the end. Not to diminish Chinese writing, but the PRC did not push through simplification reform if the forms were not already easy to read/write. Picking up Hangul by writing jamo is very easy as opposed to learning Chinese or Japanese (with the exception of using almost only hiragana or katakana).

    This is all, of course, leaving aside the literacy rate of ~97% in South Korea as opposed to ~90% in China (of which, according to a 2004 survey close to 47% did not even know standard Mandarin) and ~99% in Japan.

    So the whole argument seems silly in my opinion.