A Hong Kong TV station’s use of a Chinese script associated with the mainland has sparked a public outcry amid concerns Beijing is eroding the city's identity.
More than 10,000 people wrote to TVB, Hong Kong’s largest television station, criticizing its decision to use simplified Chinese characters during its newscast. Hong Kong uses "traditional Chinese," a more complex set of characters, whereas "simplified Chinese" is more popular on the mainland.
The station started using simplified characters for its subtitles, graphics and other elements in its newscasts Monday when it switched to the HD Jade channel, renamed J5. The station maintains that under the terms of its license it is required to use subtitles in simplified characters.
Language has become an increasingly sensitive issue as concern grows that Beijing is trying to stamp out local culture in the semi-autonomous city.
“I think that by changing the language, they are changing the culture. So I am definitely against it,” said 29-year-old Kiwi Lau, who works for an education company in Hong Kong.
The decision sparked online criticism. One Internet user said, “Way to go TVB for being a tool to help push for mainlandization.”
Lawmaker Claudia Mo of the Civic Party wrote a letter to TVB, asking the network to provide viewers with a choice between traditional and simplified characters.
“This TV station using Mao Tse-Tung script for subtitles is actually to us, part of a major trend in Hong Kong, to mainlandize Hong Kong. By mainlandization of Hong Kong, I mean they are trying to assimilate Hong Kong into the vast hinterlands of mainland China, and towards the end of the day, we will become just another third-rate Chinese city,” she said.
In addition to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau also still use traditional characters. China’s Communist Party introduced simplified characters as part of a literary campaign throughout China, and they are now used widely on the mainland.
This is the second controversy in Hong Kong this month over the use of simplified characters. Earlier in February some education officials suggested incorporating simplified characters into the local curriculum. That also prompted widespread criticism among activists, lawmakers and Internet users.
The state-run People’s Daily newspaper ran an editorial this week accusing “Hong Kong radicals” of attempting to assert “cultural superiority” through the debate over traditional versus simplified characters.
“Why is Hong Kong, as a special administrative region, so sensitive towards simplified characters?” the paper asked. The editorial also addressed the use of simplified characters in Hong Kong’s education system. “From an education point of view, for Hong Kong students learning simplified characters, not only will they be able to access wider reading materials,” the article said, “They will also get more opportunities in the future.”
Ip Kin-yuen, a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong for Education constituency and a chief executive for Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, said there are no immediate plans to use simplified characters in Hong Kong schools.
“I think there is no need to introduce simplified writing into formal curriculum in school. If people need to acquire that knowledge they can easily do it by themselves in an informal way,” he said.
The debate over simplified versus traditional characters comes weeks after violent riots in the neighborhood of Mong Kok, where protesters said an effort by police to shut down illegal food stalls was an example of erosion of local culture.