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Fausto Ramondelli - Rome 21st June 2004

Answering the invitation of the Chinese Shorthand Association, headed by Mrs Han Zhu Xuan, on May 27 I took part, as Intersteno Vice President, in the celebration of the 90th birthday of  Dr. Tang Ya Wey, founder of modern Chinese shorthand. Together with me, Gregor Keller, the Honorary President of the Intersteno Federation, participated too. For the entire stay, Mr. Wang Long, son of Mrs Han, whom we met in Hannover at the 42d Intersteno Congress, took care of us.

According to the information provided to Gian Paolo Trivulzio by our Japanese friend Prof. Tsuguo Kaneko, Tang Ya Wey in 1938 developed the half cursive AI system, also called “Oval system,” based on Gregg system. Although it is not the first half cursive method in China, it gained large success, based on ease of reading, of writing, and of transcribing, and on its spreading throughout the nation, on its popularity and on its scientific structure. Tang Ya Wey has educated many stenographers and contributed to shorthand popularity in China for 66 years, helped by the successor, Mrs Han, President of the Shorthand Association of Beijing. More recently Tang Ya Wey has invented a shorthand machine for the Chinese language, and his sons have been working since as many as 15 years for distributing it in the country’s courtrooms.

The celebration of Dr. Tang took place in a wonderful resort located out of Beijing. As many as 300 people attended. The honor seats were reserved for Intersteno representatives and for those of the Party and Sciences National Academy, which has for long supported the Shorthand Association activities.

The speeches addressed have told about the long and farseeing career of Tang Ya Wey. Although he was emotional, he addressed a smart and funny speech, explaining how shorthand makes you live longer (we can trust him...). After giving gifts and diplomas of Intersteno and Accademia Italiana “Giuseppe Aliprandi,” three huge three-tiers-tall cakes were shared.

On May 28, after the party, a seminar took place where the shorthand experts from all of China participated. Tang Ke Liang, son of Tang Ya Wey, told us about the progress of producing and distributing the shorthand machines. In order to demonstrate the features, it was meaningful to have the subtitling of both the birthday party and the seminar, executed by two young professionals who do not feel uncomfortable posing machines on their knees rather than using the traditional tripods (every country you visit, different habits you find).

He also stated that China will take part in the 45th Intersteno Congress in Vienna and apologized for not being able to come to the Rome Congress, for which all was ready, due to the SARS troubles.

The Chinese shorthand machine (they gifted us one, complete with the interactive training course on CD-Rom, strictly in Chinese) is a perfect copy (though a little noisy) of the well-known Stenograph machine. The software has been duly adapted to the Chinese writing and language needs, but two main features have impressed me the most. The machine can operate without any physical link to the computer (wireless) and soon it will be able to work also with Bluetooth protocol (10-20 meters away from the PC); plus it is possible to work on the same file with two devices at the same time, so that while one stenographer digits the text a second one can access the file and correct mistakes or add words (scoping). As a matter of fact, while it seems there are not obstacles to reach speaking speeds, also in China people complain for less than adequate general knowledge, damaged by the technical one, what may bring professionals to awful errors giving shivers to the erudite shortand teachers.

It is useful to tell about the main features of the Chinese handwriting in order to understand what unique impact fast writing techniques can have for their people. It would be enough to think that earlier than the spreading of computers and to render Chinese characters as screen symbols, typewritng did not exist in China; in other words, no machine could reproduce those curvy signs. Consider that some 40,000 characters are available (though none could answer with precision to my repeated question) and that each syllable can be pronounced with four different tones, according to different meanings. This information, which should be accurately checked, indicates that we are meeting a completely different linguistic experience, compared with the Western one: writing is not only a means of communication, but it is also an art, a hobby. I have noticed people who relax in the park on Sunday afternoon writing Chinese characters on the ground with special paintbrushes.

Typewriting is nowadays practiced and taught, but with different methods: it depends on whether the user is a professional or not. The most simple method is digiting on the traditional QWERTY keyboard letters corresponding to the Chinese sound. At this step the computer proposes even 20-30 different Chinese characters which the user may choose, checking the one he intended to write.

Shorthand is a powerful means for shortening time of handwriting and note taking. The effectiveness of the shorthand sign, dry and linear, obtains results which demand a much longer time to obtain with ordinary handwriting, involved and elegant.

The decennial history of the Chinese shorthand machine, built as an imitation of the Western and Japanese ones, as same Tang Ke Liang says, has been favored by the support of the State, namely the Supreme Court, which in 1999 addressed a rule in order to adopt it in the national courtrooms of that huge country. Based on the experience of the use in local councils, courtrooms, television, and national yearly championships, the machine is constantly upgraded.

One machine costs about 280 euros, a price deemed competitive in the ambitious perspective of expanding the machine market abroad (Chinese machines with English or Italian software?). At the office of the company, located at the upper floor of a school building without lift, we met thirty sellers coming from various regions of China, who hope to increase their business thanks to a picture together with me and Gregor Keller. They take care of the education of stenographers as well.

The information provided by our host demonstrates the fast expansion of market and business opportunities offered to professionals who embrace the new technique. 120 euros is the daily fare for a stenographer. Two rooms are devoted to the training course (to be paid by attendees): 120 students work on the machines facing a computer which suggests contents and copying or reading exercises. Educational experiences have been started in professional schools and university too. Selling level has increased from 300 machines a year in 1994 up to 1000 machines a month today. And it seems that as many as 10.000-20.000 people are using shorthand machines for freelance jobs (in Beijing 600 stenographers and 20 companies work in the justice environment).

Let’s look forward to meeting our Chinese friends at the next Intersteno meeting, in Vienna in July 2005. They guarantee that some youths will take part in the contests, which will be held for the first time in an Eastern language. For sure Chinese participation in the activity of the International Federation is a good step for the new era of Intersteno, which aims to approach other experiences and open new horizons. Visiting Beijing allowed me to come closer to very different habits compared with ours, teaching us to look with optimism and trust at the future of writing and communication.


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