Ancient Chinese VS Modern Chinese

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Jun 24, 2016 23:23
Speaking of the Chinese language, many non-Chinese speakers tend to think that it’s a language with a long history. Admittedly, the origins of the language can be traced back thousands of years. The creation of paper and Chinese characters enabled written texts from ancient times to be passed down from one generation to the next.

In actuality, standard Modern Chinese is a young language with a history of around 100 years. Until the early 1910s, what people wrote substantially differed from what they spoke in daily life. The written texts had to adhere to the ancient Chinese fashion, though the grammar and vocabulary were very different. The strict conformity to ancient Chinese curbed the spread of the language teaching and learning, and therefore resulted in widespread illiteracy. Only the well-educated were capable of writing.

During the 1910s and the 1920s, the New Culture Movement was launched, which aimed to free people from their fetish of traditional Chinese culture. One of the leaders was Hu Shi, a key advocate of the use for written vernacular Chinese. From then on, the pioneers endeavored to write books and publish newspapers in vernacular literature.

The impact of the movement was huge, and marked the first time Chinese people had come to know what science and democracy were. Many eminent, influential writers appeared in that period, such as Lu Xun, Hu shi, most of whom had received quality international schooling. However, I don’t recommend you learn Chinese using their literature, because the modern Chinese language has been evolving, and the language in those works in the embryonic stage seems unnatural now, and you’re very likely to be unable to notice that (distinguish the unnatural parts from the natural).

Over the past hundred years, the language reforms and development have never ceased. Some people think the language was tainted by the CR in terms of aesthetics, but in my eyes, it‘s still one of the most beautiful languages in the world. And, I’m also happy to see that China’s Millennials have been coining new words and even new Chinese characters, making it a living language.

An anecdote:
Mr. Hu Shi did his undergraduate studies at Cornell University and received his PhD from Columbia University. He was influenced by the philosophy of pragmatism proposed by his tutor, Mr. John Dewey. In the 1920s, when Mao worked at Peking University as a librarian, Hu was president of the university. Mao adored him, but Hu looked down on him. So, before the PRC was founded, Hu, who was always skeptical of Communism and knew what would happen to him in the years to come, fled to Taiwan, while his son remained in mainland China, and committed suicide under torture in the 1950s, because he was considered a bourgeois.