9 June 2009

Typographic Diplomacy

simplify-taiwan.pngAFP reports that the President of Taiwan today suggested that Taiwan adopt the simplified character set used in mainland China. The choice of script is clear political signal to Beijing towards reconciliation. The pro-Independence party is none too pleased. The Taiwanese-government funded Central News Agency is less alarmist, reporting that the President really encouraged learning simplified characters along side traditional characters.

In last summer’s article on Typography and Nationalism about countries switching scripts, I included this bit about the simplified script:

Chinese script reform has its roots in the 19th century, but Mao Zedong gave it the force of law. (Mao, a calligrapher himself, must have been keenly aware of the power of type.) A month after taking power in 1949, the Communist Party established the Language Reform Committee to simplify written Chinese. The move was intended to promote literacy and unify the nation, but it also worked to crush the many local languages within China’s borders.

The Nationalist-led government of Taiwan, however, never adopted the simplified characters preferring instead to continue using the traditional script. The choice of type has since marked a key cultural wedge between Taiwan and China.