It may seem bizarre but since 2007, when I started teaching Chinese Calligraphy, I’ve had students who come to class regularly without learning anything, and some of them had informed me of their intention to learn nothing from the beginning.
One student sat alone at the back of the room and did her own thing at every class when I was teaching for the University of the Third Age. We’ve kept in touch since and we’re still friends. She was a competent calligrapher who just wanted the company of others as motivation for her own projects. Now she’s learning French from another of my calligraphy student who was inspired to go back to university and learn Mandarin and become a volunteer tutor in French.
Some students turn up with skills and preconceived ideas that are impossible to unlearn, leaving no room for new input.
So I was not surprised when yet another student said to me, “I don’t want to learn…”. For me, phew, one less student to worry about. But what she actually said was: “I don’t want to learn simplified Chinese”.
Now for the record, I do not teach simplified Chinese. The student had mistaken some characters from a Tang dynasty script for simplified Chinese. That is understandable, as some of the new Simplified Chinese characters are a step backward in the evolution of our language. An earlier reform of some characters was discarded to reduce the number of strokes as a dumbing down was deemed necessary to increase literacy.
However, the change is inconsistent. For example, they’ve taken the ‘rain’ out of ‘cloud’ （云 now instead of 雲) but they can’t do the same to frost 霜 or dew 露 or thunder 雷 or hail 雹 and many other characters because without the ‘rain’ portion of the word, they would have lost their meaning and become different words: 相 （mutual）路 （road）田 （field）and 包 （wrap）. The simplified 云 came from ☁️, yes, a drawing of a cloud so it was adopted as Simplified Chinese though it had since been made to mean ‘said’. Now the character 云 means both ‘cloud’ and ‘said’ in Simplified Chinese. However, I am sticking to 雲 for ‘cloud’ and 云 for ‘said’. Call me backward. I don’t particularly want to learn Simplified Chinese either but I’ve had to do so for academic reasons. It’s harder to explain it all to students who learnt Traditional Chinese and not the history of Chinese language. Confusing? You bet; but for the new generation of school children, they wouldn’t know any better; how blessed are they.