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Do you think its really worth remembering how to write characters?

Jaxx Morton

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I recently read a fascinating book from a few years ago called Brushes with Power, about Chinese handwriting and its importance both culturally and politically. It was written in 1991 so before pinyin inputs on computers changed things so much. So it's probably more relevant to the past than the present.

It talks about how handwriting/calligraphy was a constant reminder of the length of the Chinese culture shared by everyone as they read and wrote. And how people would judge you to some extent by the appearance of handwriting.

For "power", one thing it mentions is how Mao's calligraphy was everywhere in China, and how his successor tried to achieve the same thing by spreading his own calligraphy wherever he could. And how recognising people's handwriting was an important skill in government: everyone knew how the very top leaders wrote, but for others: if you received a policy document with some writing in the margins, and couldn't tell whose comments those were, you wouldn't know whether the view expressed was coming from someone "in" or currently holding big power, or if it was from someone you could safely disagree with.

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There was a blog post recently (can't remember where) that argued for changing the traditional speaking/listening/reading/writing dichotomy to speaking/listening/reading/writing/typing for Chinese. It was an argument that resonated with me and might lend something to this discussion, if somebody remembers where it was written and links to it.

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I agree with everyone else: not essential, but useful, especially if you're inclined towards writing anyway.



I've talked to my Chinese friends and they tell me that they very rarely write characters because of computers these days.


This does however highlight that native speakers aren't always the best guides for language learning, as "these days" means only after years and years of schooling where they had to write every day.

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I dont think that knowing stroke order is the same as knowing how to write characters. Obviously, stroke order is a pretty basic skill but writing characters into Pleco using the character writing input method isnt the only way to find an unknown word i.e radical dictionary. Its probably alot slower but still in a study session it works.


People have mentioned learning characters to be able to differentiate simliar characters. I think that the best way to do this would be to learn radicals, which maybe could be considered the same as learning characters.


I just really think that the ability to see and retain the meaning of characters is more important that being able to write them out on paper. 


My plan for my Chinese is to use it for business with China in the future so I think that in my situation communication may be the most important; however, impressing future Chinese business partners with impressive handwriting might be a plus.

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the traditional speaking/listening/reading/writing dichotomy

Sorry to nitpick, but dichotomies have two prongs, not four.


On the whole though, I agree. With Chinese, typing is essentially a combination of pinyin + character recognition, so in a sense it's more akin to reading than it is to handwriting.

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