China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
No one would deny that the written Chinese language underwent an enormous change over the first half of the last century, first in acceptable forms of writing and then in the graphs themselves. Aside from textbook-level generalizations, however, little research has been done on what those reforms actually entailed. Our four papers engage this large topic from four specific angles. Ji Jianqing seeks to explain why Lu Xun, China’s most famous writer of the prewar era, took so long to switch to using the vernacular in his prose. He actually preferred archaic Chinese to either the vernacular or the literary language. Elisabeth Kaske examines the little-known 1913 initiative of the Ministry of Education to assemble writers from varied realms to standardize the spoken forms of Chinese characters. She argues this corresponds to Joshua Fishman’s “first conference” phenomenon in language-planning, found in many other modernizing cultures. Joshua Fogel looks at the Esperanto movement in China, in a sense the ultimate language reform which aimed at either dislodging Chinese altogether or placing it next to this international vernacular. He also offers ideas on why Esperanto gained any traction at all in China. Yurou Zhang examines the waves of script reform in socialist China and the intense debates surrounding them—in light of world politics surrounding early postwar China. She focuses on two central figures in the controversies: Chen Mengjia and Tang Lan. We are men and women, representing four nationalities (China, Germany, Canada, United States), junior and senior scholars, five different institutions.