Further to yesterday's post about the excellent talk by Jane Choy-Thurlow about the wonderful painter Vermeer, as a former Hong Kong dweller I was naturally interested in her surname, Choy. I had the chance to talk to her and her husband afterwards, and it turned out she had taken her husband's surname. His father had been born in Shenzhen, nowadays paradise of tailors and foot massage but probably not when the family got the hell out of there and settled in The Netherlands where the father married a local woman.
Unfortunately mr. Choy couldn't speak Cantonese and couldn't read Chinese characters, but he showed me his name in Chinese. Of a sort. For somehow, although the family escaped before Communism had had a chance to ruin the Chinese written language, his name is now recorded in simplified characters.
I can't tell you how much I hate simplified characters, or 'crippled characters' as some Hong Kong people sensibly call them.
Here is mister Choy's real name: 蔡雲燦 but in simplified characters it's (oh, how it hurts to even let a machine write this) 蔡云灿
The communists' excuse for murdering the language was that there were so many illiterates in China and they wanted to make it easier for them to read. An admirable gesture, to be sure. But seeing how their main plan was to destroy Chinese history and society, I think simplified characters were rather invented to break the link with the past - the written word - and to enable peasants to read the 'Big Character' propaganda posters the Maoists put up everywhere and which are still a blight on the Chinese landscape today. Write it big enough and often enough and the people will comply, was the idea.
Here is what I think about simplified characters:
Normal characters are like a painting by Vermeer and simplified characters are like a badly drawn cartoon on a packet of over-sweetened cereals.
By the way, I'm sure you're interested to know what the characters mean and to take Cantonese lessons from me, live or on Skype? Here's a free lesson!
蔡 Choi. Chinese surname, name of a dukedom in the Zhou dynasty, also tortoise shell used for divination.
雲 Wan. Cloud. Yes, I know mister Choy's family called him Wang - perhaps they thought it easier for a Western audience? We have seen in Hong Kong that the Romanisation of characters is not a thing they take very seriously, resulting in many a hilarious taxi ride. I mean, how did 九龍 (Gau Long) suddenly become "Kow Loon"?
燦 Chaan. Brilliant, splendid, dazzling.