Review Highlights on Chinese Characters: Five Millennia
In early March, 2009, Chinese Characters: Five Millennia, an eight- episode program produced by Hanban (the Confucius Institute Headquarters), was rebroadcast during prime time on CCTV 1 and CCTV 4. This was a response to the strong demand of the viewers after its debut during the Spring Festival. Presently, Hanban is planing to translate the documentary into 9 languages. The first documentary on the history of Chinese characters, Chinese Characters: Five Millennia, was an immediate success in both China and abroad.
Chinese Characters: Five Millennia offers a vivid exploration of the origin, development, evolution, and role of Chinese characters in the five-millennium-old Chinese culture, displaying the charm of traditional Chinese culture. With copious historical facts, the TV series expound the causes for evolution of Chinese characters and the interaction be- tween social development and Chinese characters. It is an attempt to locate the Chinese script and culture on the map of the world civilizations through a comparative study.
“I find the program fabulous. It is the first time that modern media have been used to explore the language symbols that are indis- pensible to the Chinese nation. It is an answer to the call of the time,”said Xu Jialu, Vice Chairman of the 9th and 10th NPC Standing Committees, President of the International Society for Chinese Language Teaching, and General Consultant for the documentary. Speaking highly of the program, he pointed out that behind each Chinese character there is a story. The genes of Chinese culture – the customs, rites, social structure, ethics, philoso- phy and aesthetics – that have been forged over tens and hundreds of years all find expressions in different characters, in their description, generalization, or beautification of the things concerned. Ignorant of the stories behind, we are likely to find the rich characters unfathom- able. He emphasized that we are determined to unravel the mystery with plain and scientific words and pictures, bringing out the dynamics and brilliance of Chinese characters.
In recent years, many countries across the world have experienced an increasingly strong demand for knowledge about Chinese language and culture. Interest in Chinese is not a fad, it's here to stay. By the end of April, 2009, there were 260 Con- fucius Institutes and 66 Confucius Class- rooms in 81 countries and regions. There are over 40 million Chinese learners outside China. However, lack of teachers, textbooks and methodology remain a bottleneck for promoting Chinese abroad. Confucius In- stitutes around the world are in urgent need of learning Chinese and understanding Chinese culture. As a result, the demand for popular and lively multimedia teaching ma- terials arises. Hence Chinese Characters: Five Millennia appeared at the right moment. As Madame Xu Lin, Director-General of Hanban, Chief Executive of Confucius Institute Headquarters, and producer of this program pointed out, this documentary is designed to be a feast of Chinese culture to viewers both in China and abroad, popularizing the history and evolution of Chinese characters. According to Madame Xu, this program is going to be broadcast in all Confucius Institutes, providing overseas students with a comprehensive perception of the Chinese language and culture.
The production team of Chinese Charac- ters: Five Millennia was the same as that of The Rise of Powers and The Merchants in Shanxi. Travelling to 12 countries in four continents and interviewing more than one hundred world renowned scholars, the team spent two years shooting the documentary. Through classical texts, archeological finds, and exten- sive interviews, the documentary probes into the origin of Chinese characters, displays the splendid, time-honored, and profound culture, and opens a window on the origin and core values of China, thereby exciting our fellow citizens’enthusiasm for the source of Chinese culture and setting off a trend to carry on and promote Chinese culture.
To make the documentary as objective and neutral as possible, the documentary is descriptive, according to Mai Tianshu, the mastermind of the program. It was difficult to narrate the rich history of Chinese char- acters, let alone visualize the concepts that abound in history. The production team employed cartoons to expound on the ori- gion and development of Chinese Scripts. Specially designed for this documentary, the music adds much to the primitive simplicity and elegance of the program.
The documentary includes eight episodes: "Unique Amid Ancient Scripts", "Brief His- tory", "Cultural Expansion", "Soul of Chinese Characters", "Calligraphy in China", "Chinese Characters and Politics", "Chinese Characters in Transition", and "Chinese Characters in the World". Taking as examples 32 typical Chinese characters, the program reveals the stories behind the characters, offering a grand picture of the five-thousand-year-old Chinese civilization. With reliable historical data, the documentary is both authoritative and enter- taining.