National Geographic : 1960 Aug
Pig-tailed Schoolgirl Learns Her A B C's by Practicing With Alphabet Cutouts China's centuries-old and incredibly complex linguistic system is being changed. Written Chinese depends on about 40,000 word symbols, some re quiring more than 20 brush strokes. Every character carries the same meaning anywhere in China, but pro vincial dialect determines pronuncia tion. Convinced that the old writing retards education and hampers com munication, the new rulers want to replace it with the Latin alpha bet. Ultimately, the Communist gov ernment hopes, all China will read and write with letters instead of word symbols and speak the Mandarin dia lect of Peking. Some schools now teach romanized Chinese before taking up the tradi tional characters. The girl at left assembles cutout letters into the words pronounced by her teacher. Lunar landscape overhangs the in tent faces of students and workers at the Peking Planetarium. () NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY (Continued from page 198) rants, too. Within the high cool rooms of the dignified Peking Club they served a dessert called Peking Dust. Mention it to any old time resident and his mouth will water. It was a puree of chestnuts, slathered with whipped cream and dotted with preserved fruit. If it is true that overweight shortens life, Peking Dust must have killed more for eigners than the Boxer Rebellion. It was in the wide streets of Peking that I first decided that travel was to be my busi ness. I was walking early one morning near the West Straight Gate, when I heard the deep sound of a bell and looked up to see my first caravan: great two-humped Bactrian camels, marching sedately one behind the other, their padded feet making a curious shh-ing sound. To me, at that moment, they spoke all the mystery and adventure that lay in Central Asia, and I knew that I must see it. Caravans have come to Peking from the north and the west for thousands of years, and I am sure they still do. Invading armies have come from those directions, too, and this also may happen again. Brian Brake has 222 brought back a magnificent picture of China's Great Wall, taken not far from Peking, and it reminds, one of China's traditional fear and distrust of the tribes and nations that lie be yond its long reaches (page 199). China today, by the Communists' own sta tistics, is experiencing a population explosion unmatched in history. The state is forcing resettlement of great masses of people. The vast underdeveloped areas of Sinkiang and Inner Mongolia are being vigorously attacked. Thus far there has been room. But the day may come when China demands more room for more millions and moves north and west to find it. Food has always been China's greatest prob lem, but education is not far behind. The girl on this page, intent on her new Western style letters, may be more important to her nation than the marble and tile and jade mementos of the T'ang and Ming dynasties. She will not grow up to know the life I knew in Peking, nor that of my Chinese friends. But her industry, and the eager intentness of the students and workers on the opposite page, mirror a China not to be taken lightly.