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    McDonald, Edward 2012. Aristotle, Saussure, Kress on speech and writing: Language as paradigm for the semiotic?. Language & Communication, Vol. 32, Issue. 3, p. 205.


Getting over the Walls of Discourse: “Character Fetishization” in Chinese Studies


Debates on the nature of the Chinese writing system, particularly whether Chinese characters may or may not legitimately be called “ideographs,” continue to bedevil Chinese studies. This paper considers examples of what are referred to as “discourses of character fetishization,” whereby an inordinate status is discursively created for Chinese characters in the interpretation of Chinese language, thought, and culture. The author endeavors to analyze and critique the presuppositions and implications of such discourses, with the aim of defusing the passions that have been aroused by this issue, and showing the way toward a more comprehensive and grounded understanding of the nature of Chinese characters, both as a writing system and in relation to Chinese culture and thought.

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Robert S Bauer . 1988. “Written Cantonese of Hong Kong.” Cahiers de Linguistique Asie Orientale 17 (2): 245–93.

Peter A Boodberg . 1937. “Some Proleptical Remarks on the Evolution of Archaic Chinese.” Harvard Journal of Asian Studies 2 (3–4): 329–72.

Herrlee Glessner Creel . 1936. “On the Nature of Chinese Ideography.” T'oung Pao 32:85161.

Herrlee Glessner Creel . 1938. “On the Ideographic Element in Ancient Chinese.” T'oung Pao 34:265–94.

George A Kennedy . 1951. “The Monosyllabic Myth.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 71 (3). Repr., Selected Works of George A. Kennedy, ed. Tien-yi Li , 104–18. New Haven, Conn.: Far Eastern Publications, Yale University, 1964.

David B Lurie . 2006. “Language, Writing and Disciplinarity in the Critique of the ‘Ideographic Myth’: Some Proleptical Remarks.” Language and Communication 26 (3–4): 250–69.

Edward McDonald . 2002. “Humanistic Spirit or Scientism? Conflicting Ideologies in Modern Chinese Language Reform.” Histoire, épistémologie, langage 24 (2): 5174.

Unger J. Marshall. 1990. “The Very Idea: the Notion of Ideogram in China and Japan.” Monumenta Nipponica 45 (4): 391411.

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The Journal of Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9118
  • EISSN: 1752-0401
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-asian-studies
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