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No 'Chinese character divide' in Korea

Posted November. 25, 2016 07:17,   

Updated November. 25, 2016 07:24

한국어

When I went to Osaka for a trip, I took a taxi to go to Osaka Castle. Even though I said "Osaka Castle" to the taxi driver several times, he did not understand my speaking. Therefore, I wrote down a Chinese character 城, meaning a castle in Chinese, and the driver understood it right away. If you can read and write Chinese characters, it will be convenient when travelling Japan and China where Chinese characters are used.

Since Korea's liberation from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, our language policy has moved back and forth between using both the Korean alphabet and Chinese characters and using the Korean alphabet only. While older generations are familiar with Chinese characters because they learned them at school, younger generations are almost illiterate when it comes to Chinese characters. With the enforcement of the Framework Act on Korean Language in 2005, all textbooks and public documents are required to be written in the Korean alphabet, and Chinese character education became a selective. As 333 parents and professors filed a petition to the Constitutional Court in 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday, "The Education Ministry’s notice that defined Chinese character education as a selective subject at primary and secondary schools is not unconstitutional." It was a five to four ruling.

Despite the Constitutional Court’s ruling, a tug of war over Chinese character education is expected to continue. Those who are against making Chinese character education mandatory argue that there is no reason to put academic pressure on elementary school students and it is early enough to teach Chinese characters at middle school. In contrast, those who are in favor of teaching Chinese characters say that it is essential to learn Chinese characters as they are not only the alphabet of the Chinese language and but also helpful in teaching Korean language.

Once “English divide” – meaning English capabilities determine one’s social status and income – was very popular. With the change of time and the emergence of China as a global power, "Chinese divide" was coined, replacing English. Some say that a delay in teaching Chinese characters at schools would leave children from low income families behind. The rich in Western countries teach Chinese to their children, just as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s granddaughter who recites a poem of the Tang Dynasty even before going to an elementary school. Public education should ensure that there should be no "Chinese character divide."



mskoh119@donga.com