So it’s finals time, and I’ve been studying for my upcoming 文字学 Chinese Graphology exam, to be held Wednesday morning, and so naturally my attention has been wandering to things unrelated to Graphology (e.g. cake, my upcoming birthday, the grievous lack of good, cheap coffee machines in Beijing, the question of whether or not penguins might be taught to serve as butlers).
In <<现代汉字学纲要>> (An Overview of Modern Chinese Graphology), I came across this passage:
“Chinese characters have a strong timeless quality to them. While a modern-day English person reading 600 year-old poems by ‘Qiaosou’ [Geoffrey Chaucer] would find them difficult, almost foreign, and hard to understand in many places, modern-day Chinese can read Confucius and Mencius with no problem.”
This is bullshit, plain and simple. Even leaving aside the archaic, highly formal language of Confucius and Mencius, the written texts – which are after all what this guy was talking about – pose a problem: modern-day Chinese read Confucius, if they read him at all, in the 楷书 forms of the characters, as they are written today. On top of that, they’re almost certainly reading a version that uses the simplified forms of the characters, and has footnoted explanations in modern Chinese of what, exactly, the Master is saying. By contrast, ‘The Canterbury Tales’ are left with Chaucer’s original spelling intact.
So it’s a lousy, unfair analogy. In order to make it a bit more fair, I’ve written out a passage of the Analects of Confucius in small-seal script (strictly speaking, I guess it should be in Zhou script, but my 汉字源流字典 Dictionary of Character Etymologies doesn’t have enough samples of that), and am setting it side-by-side with a section of the Canterbury Tales, and we’ll just see which one’s easier to understand.
–Cast your votes for which is the harder in the comments.
Anyway, I don’t really have any point here, other than that Graphology was a pretty cool class, and I’m sorry it’s over. It’s the only exam I’m taking; when I turned in my roster at the start of the semester, I opted not to take exams in <<老>><<庄>>导读 Guided Readings in Laozi and Zhuangzi (a pity, as it was my favourite class, and I think I’d have done well on the exam) and 现代汉语 Linguistics of Modern Chinese (probably just as well).
The semester’s drawing to a close, and so is my time in China. After a couple months of fruitless, inconclusive inquiries, it turns out that transferring to Beida would require me to start over as a freshman, and, like, fuck that.
I was surprised when I heard this, not so much at the university’s policy as at how non-bummed -out I was by it, and at how relieved I was not to have a choice in the matter after all.
So I’ll go back to Philadelphia, back to Temple, and take courses until I get my goddamn stupid B.A.. Right now, I’m thinking that Classical Greek and Film could be fun, but we’ll see.
I wrote on here before about what a wonderful feeling it is to know that there’s nothing you’d rather be doing, and nowhere else you’d rather be, and I think a kind of corollary to that is that sometimes there’s a great comfort in knowing where you need to be, and what you need to be doing, and that there’s just no getting around it.