December 17th, 2011
I don’t know why, it’s a Saturday morning, my wife has gone off to inform Father Christmas of what gifts to bring my daughter, my daughter is taking a nap (life is simple when you’re not yet nine months old), I’m feeling a bit ragged in that ‘almost the end of semester’ kind of way, I’m still caffeinating and had just started reading this when I suddenly thought, wouldn’t the relative sparseness and general lack of pollysyllabic words make Classical Chinese ideal for microblogging?
Now, that’s not even close to hypothesis quality. Not even a random thought, barely makes it to random thot level. Really, it’s just a thotikin. But how to test this wee thotikin? Being the least diligent student of Chinese in all of recorded history, legend and myth, I’m certainly not going to embarrass myself by attempting to actually write anything in Classical Chinese. But glancing at the shelf above me, I see a few bilingual – Classical and Modern Chinese – editions of a few of the Chinese classics. Surely the obvious method would be to find one or two passages of about microbloggable length and compare the original Classical text with the Modern translation for length. A glance in the Hanfeizi reveals a lot of rather long passages, not really microbloggable. Ah, but the Shanhai Jing – surely there’s a book that should have been published on Weibo! So here it is:
And putting that into Weibo, including the title and a colon to distinguish it from the text, leaves me 72 characters spare, so I only used 68.
Now, the modern Chinese translation by, er, somebody not me. Can’t find the translator’s name in the book:
And that, with the same 3 character title and colon, leaves me with only 26 characters, so that’s 114 characters all up. So the Classical Chinese uses only 60% of the characters of the Modern Chinese version.
So how does it compare with English? I’m not the only one to have gotten the impression that one can squeeze a lot more information into 140 Chinese characters than 140 English characters – although it must be said that’s not necessarily true. I was sure I had a trilingual (Classical and Modern Chinese and English) copy of the Daode Jing lying around, but I guess it must be helping clutter up my parents’ house in New Zealand. And in any case, like the Hanfeizi it’s not really a microbloggable book. I do have a similarly trilingual copy of the Zhuangzi with me, but again, not really microbloggable. But I do have a bilingual Classical Chinese and English copy of the Analects. So let’s try some randomly chosen passage.
Book 2, 1:
A mere 24 characters, punctuation included.
Arthur Waley’s translation:
The Master said, He who rules by moral force is like the pole-star, which remains in its place while all the lesser stars do homage to it.
75 69 (I misread my own handwriting, would you believe. Thanks, Jean, for catching that error) characters, and that’s with the little translators note (te) removed. The original needs only 32 35% of the number of characters of the translation.
So there you go, through what is obviously two super rigorous experiments of great scientific virtue I have proved that in fact, one could, by using Classical Chinese, squeeze into one’s microblog of choice almost twice as much information than by using Modern Chinese and over three times as much information than by using English. Therefore, because verbosity is a virtue, we must all rebel against the character limits imposed on us by the likes of Weibo and Twitter and do all our microblogging in Classical Chinese.