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November 17, 2009

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New museum sketches Chinese language roots

THE full range and history of Chinese characters, one of the world's oldest continuously used writing systems, came together yesterday at the opening of China's first museum for sinograms.

The Chinese Character Museum is located in Anyang City in central China's Henan Province, where oracle script, the country's earliest inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells dating back more than 3,000 years, was discovered in 1899.

The museum shows the evolution of Chinese characters, showcasing cultural relics, including rubbed stone inscriptions, bronze vessels of the Shang (1600-1046 BC) and Zhou (1066-256 BC) dynasties, Chinese seal engraving, ancient coins and calligraphy work.

In addition to Han characters, which are widely used by China's Han, Hui and Man ethnic groups, the museum also houses items bearing more than 40 other types of written languages used by other minority ethnic groups, including Tibetans, Uygurs and Kazaks.

"The Chinese characters used by all ethnic groups in China are the 'cultural genes' of Chinese civilization and history," said Wang Yunzhi, a professor at Zhengzhou University.

"They have a strong national cohesion," he said. "They have helped sustain ethnic unity between Han and other minority ethnic groups because the written languages of different ethnic groups kept interacting with and borrowing from each other."

In the exhibition hall, school textbooks written in languages of minorities such as Zhuang and Miao are displayed along with bronze tripods and silk scrolls with square-shaped Han characters.

"All the written languages of China's ethnic groups are equal just as they are equal in our daily lives," Zhang Gongjin, a professor at the Beijing-based Minzu University of China, said at the opening ceremony.

Twenty-two of China's 55 minority ethnic groups used 28 types of written language, of which 16 were developed or improved with the help of the central government.


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