K Chang asked:
Possible topic for Prof Mair: Any one know what is this "Wang ts Joa" writing system, allegedly a topolect writing system for Chinese?
Here's a specimen of the script in question, from imgur:
They come full of harmony;
They are here, in all gravity….
A quick glance at the writing on the right side makes clear that it is not a transcription of the lines on the left side. Although they both have eight units, the writing on the right side lacks a pair of repeated syllables that stands out at the end of each line of the text on the left side. Therefore, if the writing on the right side conveys the same meaning as the writing on the left side, it must be a translation or paraphrase rather than a transcription.
The name of the script and indeed the shapes of its letters seemed vaguely familiar to me. Although the spelling Wang-ts joa is very strange, it triggered the name Wang Zhao in my memory. Wang Zhao 王照 (1859-1933) was one of the important early script reformers at the end of the imperial period and the beginning of the Republican period (late 19th-early 20th century). I wrote a section (pp. 307-308) about him in "Advocates of Script Reform" (pp. 302-308) in Wm. Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano, comp., Sources of Chinese Tradition, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000). There I observed:
As a boy, he liked to read translated books that were popular in China at the time. This penchant was one of the reasons his relatives and neighbors said that he was possessed by strange spirits. Nonetheless, he became a high-ranking scholar and official in the Qing government, and in 1897 he founded the first modern primary school at the district level in China. After the failure of the 1898 reforms, in which he had taken part, he fled to Japan.
He stayed there for two years, during which he created a sort of kana-like syllabary for Chinese in imitation of the native Japanese syllabic writing system. It was called Mandarin Letters (Guanhua zimu).
Here is a chart of the 1900 version of Wang Zhao's Mandarin Letters:
This is taken from Zhōu Yǒuguāng 周有光, Hànzì gǎigé gàilùn《漢字改革概論》(Introduction to the reform of Chinese characters), p. 59.
While some of the symbols in the Wang-ts joa script pictured near the beginning of this post are not to be found among the symbols in the chart of the 1900 version of Wang Zhao's Mandarin Letters in Zhou Youguang's book, there is enough overlap to determine that the so-called "Wang-ts joa script" must be another version of Wang Zhao's Mandarin Letters (he did issue several versions of his proposed Mandarin Letters).
From founding the first modern district level primary school in China to proposing an alphabet for Mandarin, even before it had become China's national language, we see that Wang Zhao was a prescient activist who had a great influence on language teaching and usage at the end of the 19th century. But something he did during the first part of the 20th century was to have more immediate and monumental impact, namely, he — more than any other individual — was responsible for making Mandarin China's national language, rather than Shanghainese, Cantonese, or some other southern variety of Chinese.
This came about in his capacity as Vice Chairman of the Conference on the Unification of Pronunciation that was convened in Peking on February 15, 1913. As S. Robert Ramsey tells it in his lively account of the proceedings:
Few of the delegates at the 1913 conference on pronunciation seem to have had any idea of what they were up against. The negotiations were marked by frustratingly naïve arguments. “Germany is strong,” it was said, “because its language contains many voiced sounds and China is weak because Mandarin lacks them.” But if linguistic knowledge was in short supply, commitment to position was not. Passions were hot, and frustrations grew. Finally, after months of no progress, Wang Zhao, the leader of the Mandarin faction, called for a new system of voting in which each province would have one and only one vote, knowing full well that the numerically superior Mandarin-speaking area would then automatically dominate. Delegates in other areas were incensed. The situation became explosive. Then, as tempers flared, Wang Rongbao, one of the leaders of the Southern faction, happened to use the colloquial Shanghai expression for ‘ricksha,’ wangbo ts’o. Wang Zhao misheard it for the Mandarin curse wángba dàn ‘son of a bitch [literally turtle’s egg],’ and flew into a rage. He bared his arms and attacked Wang Rongbao, chasing him out of the assembly hall. Wang Rangbao never returned to the meetings. Wang Zhao’s suggestion to change the voting procedure was adopted, and after three months of bitter struggling, the Mandarin faction had its way. The conference adopted a resolution recommending that the sounds of Mandarin become the national standard.
The Languages of China (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), pp. 7-8.
Thus was Mandarin established as China's national language. If it hadn't been for Wang Zhao's fisticuffs, Chinese today might be speaking one of the southern topolects as their national tongue rather than Mandarin. But Wang's willingness to fight for Mandarin wasn't the result of sheer hooliganism. His fierce commitment to Mandarin reflected that same determined dedication to language advancement as his earlier devotion to the causes of primary school education and script reform.
[Thanks to Yao Dehuai]