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Chinese Made Simple

In response to:

Oliver Stone's USA from the February 17, 1994 issue

To The Editors:

Much as I enjoyed reading Robert Stone’s analysis of Oliver Stone’s films [“Oliver Stone’s USA,” NYR, February 17], I feel compelled to write with regard to a short paragraph about China contained in his article.

When he writes about the intention of the Chinese Communist government to “replace the traditional Chinese ideographical system with a ‘Big Character’ writing,” Mr. Robert Stone has obviously confused two movements in recent Chinese history: 1) the successive attempts that began in the early days of Chinese communits movement in the 1920s to simplify the written Chinese language in an effort to further literacy, which in itself has nothing to do with the “Big Character” writings (dazibao) that came in vogue during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s as a convenient way of denouncing one’s enemies. While it is true that most “Big Character” writings are simplistic and reductive in their arguments, it must be pointed out that the most sophisticated political discussions at that time were also conducted in this very medium.

About the vulgarization of reality by popular media, however, I am in total agreement with Mr. Stone.

King-fai Tam
Department of Languages
The University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah

Robert Stone replies:

My reference to “Big Character’ writing” did compound the two movements, incorrectly it seems, and was based on criticisms of the Cultural Revolution made at the time. I thank Professor King-fai Tam for his letter and appreciate his response.

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