Why didn't China adopt an alphabet?

As I understand it, alphabets were developed and came into use c1800-1000 BC, and spread throughout the literate old world (some languages use abugidas, which are near enough). Except for China, which stuck to pictograms. Why? Had China developed the Middle Kingdom complex that early on?

China did adopt the Latin alphabet (Pinyin) in the late 50’s. Now I ask you, why the west hasn’t adopted a pointed Abjad system? The best, in my opinion.

I remember reading somewhere that although there are a number of different languages and dialects in China, the written language is the same for all. That is a definite advantage, if true.

The Chinese written language hasn’t changed in thousands of years; if Confucius traveled in time to 2012, he would be able to read any Chinese newspaper (though the pronunciations might be difficult for him).

As to why they didn’t change: it worked for them and they didn’t have any examples of other alphabets for thousands of years. In addition, the bureaucrats of Imperial China didn’t want to change; their job security was based, in part, on the fact that only they knew how to access their files. Everyone had their own system, and fathers would teach it to their sons so that the job would stay in the family.

China had already established a long tradition of using it’s own system of writing before being exposed to the alphabet, and being a very insular country, probably chose not to adopt that barbarian practice.

Not sure you’re going to get a better factual answer than that.

In 1800-1000 BC? I’m not sure that’s correct.

From what I understand (do not quote me on this), they, and other China influenced nearby smaller country folks who used Chinese(probably under insistence of China), considered the difficulty of tens of thousand individual characters, beautiful and superior in their ability to express individualized and in depth meanings. There were political pressures to suppress easier languages and characters developments for very long time from Kings, scholars and politicians in and out of China for very long time as that would cause power shift from ruling class of people who’s mastered and used the Chinese characters. Lower class and uneducated folks had none or limited knowledge of the extended characters and that was a way to keep the status quo of ruling class power over them. Kinda like Early Bibles written in latin.

Someone will have to provide cite about this.

Well, Mandarin and Cantonese do write the same. Then again, many mainland Chinese people use simplified Chinese, which differs from traditional Chinese(which is, indeed, way more complicated).

I believe that the adoption of Pinyin as the official written language was discussed in the 1970’s by China’s government. Ultimately, it went nowhere.

Honestly, everyone is just really used to Chinese and they appreciate the beauty of the language too much to move entirely over to an alphabet based written language. As hard as it may seem to us, educated Chinese folks do manage to master the language and they are the ones making the decisions.

I only lived there for 2 years, never seriously studied, and even I can write about 50 characters and can read over 100. Obviously, it’s a very small percentage of the language, but imagine how much more naturally the learning would occur if:

  1. A person did study.

  2. They actually spoke Chinese.

They don’t need an alphabet, basically.

Oh, and here is simplified vs. traditional. You can see the difference immediately:

Turtle in simlified: 乌龟

Turtle in traditional: 烏龜

Enlarge those on your screen and notice the difference.

Yes, it is. But I’m not sure why you think China would have been exposed to the Phoenician alphabet the moment it was invented.

There were developments of Phoenician alphabetical languages, in great secrecy not to get caught by Chinese and the ruling classes, from the countries like Korea that inevitably travelled to China, I would assume.

I don’t know how you can look at that example and still say the Chinese are concerned with “the beauty of the language” :wink:

Best pictogram ever. Look! It’s actually a turtle!

I think this is a fairly widespread belief, but it’s not actually true. Classical Chinese remained as an ossified prestige written language only until the founding of the Republic of China. It’s been replaced by a written form closer to the spoken vernacular.

Each Chinese pictogram characters are like an individual drawing/painting/poetry: You can decipher deeper, different perspectives or interpretations or story to the meaning of the word if you are well knowledge person, like understanding a series of paintings put next to each other to form a word or poetry.

So was written Chinese only used by the civil service and the intellectual elite (much like written latin in medieval Europe)? Or did the easy recognition of common pictograms mean that even illiterates could recognize the basics - “Beer here” or “beware of snapping 烏龜” ?

I could see why a civilization with an established writing system would not see the need to change. The impetus seems to have come from outliers in the mediterranean. The Egyptians had heiroglyphics, but were overrun by barbarian legions who had learned an alphabetic system. Few places replaced their writing system so much as had someone else’s imposed on them, whether by force or the need to communicate with a richer nation. Or, had to deal with a lot of foreigners who would find phonetic or syllabic writing easier to decipher than rote memory. (Interesting that the best early development of this would be the wide-trading Phoenicians.) China was less subject to that force, until the 1900’s.

OTOH, it seems the Japanese writing options seem to point to a civilaization that was slowly finding the syllabic writing system more efficient than the heroglyphic.

Well, yes, they’re pictograms, “writing in pictures”. I imagine people who don’t see beauty in pictograms (for real, not like cc who was kidding) won’t see it either in the capitals of a Gothic cloister, whose sculptures also tell stories in pictures.

[quote=“md2000, post:16, topic:609272”]

So was written Chinese only used by the civil service and the intellectual elite (much like written latin in medieval Europe)? Or did the easy recognition of common pictograms mean that even illiterates could recognize the basics - “Beer here” or “beware of snapping 烏龜” ?/QUOTE]

Common folks only knew simplest few characters and in fact, they were forbidden to learn the characters in depth often to prevent them from getting too smart for their servitude/peasant status and become learnid to defy the masters and/or cause revolution. Eventually that came in the form of communism.

Many common folks intentionally avoided learning as that meant getting in trouble with the master class. They simply didn’t see much good could come from learning. It was a system of master class and servitude class.

From wiki:
“An abjad is a type of writing system where each symbol always or usually stands for a consonant, leaving the reader to supply the appropriate vowel.” They give as the derivation of the name, "In Arabic, “A” (ʾAlif), “B” (Bāʾ), “Ǧ” (Ǧīm), “D” (Dāl) make the word “abjad” which means “alphabet.” And of course that first letter does represent a vowel. A bit strange even though they did say usually.