Love Simplified: 愛 vs. 爱

Love missing a heart 爱缺一个心 àiquēyīgexīnWhat’s up with Simplified Chinese character of 爱 (ài- love) missing the 心 (xīn – heart) radical?

I’d much rather see a heart in love (心) as in the Traditional character for love (愛).

The history of character simplification is quite interesting. It started with the New Culture Movement (xīnwénhuàyùndòng – 新文化运动) in the beginning of the 20th century. Already at this time there were proponents of total eradication of Chinese characters suggesting the use of the western alphabet as had happened in Vietnam (with help from the French in the 17th century).

The Nationalist then introduced some 300+ simplified characters in the 1930’s. These was further expanded by the Communists in the 50’s and 60’s for the purpose of making it easier to learn how to read and write and thereby raising the literacy level (and a failed second-round simplified characters attempt in the 70’s also knows as èrjiǎn or 二简).

The Japanese also simplified some of their Kanji in the 40’s (for example 國 became 国) which may have also influences the simplification rounds in the 50’s and the 60’s.

I thought about a little more about the history of the character simplification might have meant to the development of the Chinese society. Yuehping Yen argues in Calligraphy and Power in Contemporary Chinese Society (2005) that the traditional characters actually hindered the masses from effectively learning to read and write Chinese and were therefore partly to blame for the economic development problems that China faced in that the power was limited to the educated few. Yen suggests that character simplification meant that more people could become literate and therefore contribute more to the economic development.

With that in mind, I suppose simplification made sense at the time. These days however, the educational system is functioning well and with the help of technological advances, an overall raised quality (sùzhì – 素质) of the population and the general need to reinforce the Chinese cultural values; perhaps it is time to consider a re-introduction of the traditional characters?
 This argument is based on my belief that the Chinese language AND culture is extremely tied to its characters. When simplifying characters then there is a risk of losing the identity of both language and culture. Just play with the thought of hanzi (汉字) being totally discarded and everyone was only using pinyin these days. What a disaster that would be.

When I first studied Chinese in Taiwan in the early 90’s, I was introduced to the traditional characters. The character for noodle  (麵) had the  the important radical of 麥 (relating the character to grain). Also, the 麵 character is used for bread (as in 麵包). To have  麵 blended into the character 面 (meaning face) totally makes it lose it’s original meaning.

Similarly, the simplified character 鬧 (nào – to quarrel or fuss) is simplified as 闹, where the new radical 门 (relating to door) has nothing to do with the traditional radical 鬥 related to fight.

And finally, the characters 游 (yóu – swim) and 遊 (yóu – travel) were merged into 游 when in both cases it is the radicals that give the words its meaning (氵for water and 廴 for walking long distances).

For a start, could we all start using the Traditional character (愛) instead of the Simplified (爱) one to make a point that love comes from the heart and that without a heart (心) there can’t be love (愛)?

5 comments to Love Simplified: 愛 vs. 爱

  • Albert Sim

    Whether it is traditional or simplified Chinese, it is still recognized as 汉字today. As long as you don’t romanized it like the Vietnamese language, you don’t lose the culture. The Chinese word itself is already culture itself irrespective of traditional or simplified, period!

    Today, I type (using pinyin) and write Chinese everyday. I was born in Singapore of Chinese ethnic origin (third generation). My parents are not educated (文盲). I have an English education background. Because I always make the effort to read and write Chinese, I realize that I have not lost my Chinese culture because the books that I read influence my outlook. Although I write in simplified Chinese, I used to sing Karoeke that have words printed in traditional Chinese because the songs were originated from Taiwan. Over time, I read both simplified and traditional Chinese characters effortless and recognize them both as the same.

    • David Petersson

      Thanks Albert for sharing your experience.

      I started out studying Chinese in Taiwan and was therefore first exposed to the traditional characters. In the past 15 years I have lived and worked in Mainland China and therefore been exposed to the simplified characters.

      I remember my teachers in Taiwan often pointing out radicals in the traditional characters that would help explain its meaning or origin and that helped me to better remember the character as well as gaining a deeper understanding of the Chinese culture. I believe has helped me a lot.

      Do you have the same experience and if so, has it helped you in the same way as it has helped me? And do you think being exposed to traditional has helped you in similar ways?

      • Albert Sim

        Hi David, in fact I find simplified Chinese (简体字)easier to master, and also comparatively more practical. However, it is good if one knows traditional Chinese (繁体字). Let me give you an example that I often used especially when I do training in listening skills (Covey’s seek first to understand than to be understood). The simplified character for listen is 听. One cannot see much just from this character. However, in the traditional character is made up of 耳(大的)、王、十、目、一、心。


        Well the above capture the essence of listening. In this case, the traditional form is much better than the simplified form of writing.

        Having said this, I don’t think it will make it less culturally Chinese if we choose to use 简体字today. If someone among us is really interested to study deeper into the Chinese original character, he or she is at liberty to do so if it benefits the person.

        简体字is Chinese and it is culturally Chinese, period. It looks like the Chinese character of old except that it is simpler to write compared to traditional Chinese. In fact, people of old already practised the use of simplified Chinese in everyday life. The main reason was that it is really a bit unproductive to write every stroke in every character (too many, but useful for calligraphy). As such, the simplified form was evolved over time from what was already market practice during the olden times.

  • Chinese boi

    Oi you guys don’t talk about Chinese like that just because you think that the new symbol is gay doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the same meaning. We are doing this so the Chinese characters are easier to learn for the next generation duh

  • JF Tan

    Doesn’t Traditional Chinese also evolve from Ancient scripts and pictorial? Evolution is inevitable, changes are made usually for the future in mind. I personally feel Traditional Chinese should be preserved however being a Singaporean Chinese, I myself find it so much easier to learn Simplified Characters. If using Simplified Chinese’s aim is to get people to learn, I guess it’s working, at least for me.

    Cheers.. ^_^

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