In an earlier piece, I commented on the struggle over ‘traditional’ and simplified’ script in China, noting that Taiwan’s decision to keep the traditional script was a deeply anti-communist move. The same could be said of Hong Kong and some older overseas Chinese communities. To add to this, it is worth noting that the DPRK (North Korea) immediately fostered the hangul script (they call it Chosŏn’gŭl), which was first designed in the fifteenth century. By contrast, South Korea for a long time continued to use the elite hanja system (based on Chinese characters). Why? The southerners saw it as an anti-communist move.

But I am interested here in another feature of the politics of script. In traditional Chinese practice, it was the custom for a married woman to be called taitai, madam. Her full name would have her husband’s family name and then the title, as in Wang taitai or Zhang taitai. A husband would call his wife Wo taitai, ‘my madam’ or perhaps ‘my Mrs’. This practice is still common in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and older overseas Chinese communities. However, in mainland China the practice was eradicated after 1949. You do not call a married woman taitai, indeed you do not call her by her husband’s name at all. She has her own name. Guess why.

 

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