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When I was a kid (70s) I was told Chinese reads from top to bottom. Was that ever true?

当我还是个小孩的时候(70年代),有人告诉我中文是从上往下(竖向)阅读的。这是真的吗?

Kang-Lin Cheng, studied at University of California, Irvine (2012)
It’s pretty sad to see that many Mainland Chinese no longer know that Chinese is supposed to be read from top to bottom, right to left. This is because the CCP banned writing vertically and forced all publications to be written from left to right, top to bottom (the same as English). As a Taiwanese, I can forgive CCP for simplifying Chinese, but I can’t forgive them for writing Chinese horizontally. (This is the reason why I refuse to read books from Mainland China, not because they’re simplified, but because they are written horizontally.)

很遗憾看到许多中国大陆人已经忘了中文应该从上往下,从右往左阅读。这是因为中国禁止竖向文字排版,要求所有的出版物必须是从左往右,从上往下的文字排列方式(与英文相同)。 作为一个台湾人,我能原谅中国简化繁体字,但我无法原谅他们提倡横向书写中文。(这就是我拒绝阅读中国大陆出版的书籍的原因,不是因为其使用的是简体字,而是因为其的排列方式是横向的。)

Over in Taiwan, we were never forced to abandon reading and writing Chinese the traditional way, so we still write our books vertically:

在台湾这儿,我们从未被强行要求放弃使用传统的阅读和书写中文的方式,所以我们仍是竖向写字:



Even books with pictures can have the text written vertically:

即使是有插图的书籍,其文字内容也能采用竖向排版:



But it’s not just books, even newspapers are still written in the traditional fashion. Below is a United Daily Newspaper from 2016 that I bought:

不仅是书籍,连新闻报纸仍采用传统的排列方式。下图是我2016年购买的一份《联合报》报纸:



Unfortunately, even Taiwan ultimately was affected by this, although not nearly to the same extent. You may have noticed that in my examples, we do use horizontal writing for headlines, read from left to right. Actually, as recent as the 1990’s, when Chinese is written horizontally, we STILL read it from right to left. For example, I went to school in Taiwan during the 1990’s. Here’s my textbook that I still saved:

但不幸的是,连台湾最终也受到了这种排列方式的影响,尽管受影响的程度没那么大。从我提供的这些示例中,你可能已经注意到标题的话,我们确实会使用横向、从左往右阅读的排版。实际上,九十年代那会儿,当(中国大陆)采用文字横向排版的时候,我们仍旧是用从右往左的阅读方式。像1990年代左右我是在台湾上的学,而我还保存着的那些教科书如下图:



[Even though everything is written horizontally, you would still read the text from right to left. As such, this book is called 國語作業薄, and you would fill in the blanks from right to left, too. I didn’t fill it in, but for the first line, had I filled it in, it would have said: 陽明山國民小學, second line: 1年級2班三號; third line: 學生鄭康臨]

尽管所有的文字都是横向排版的,但你还是得从右往左才行。好比,这本是叫“国语作业簿”,你在写(班级姓名等)时也是从右往左填。我虽然没填写,但第一行若我要写的话,会是这样的:学小民国山明阳;第二行会这么填:号三班2级年1;第三行则是:临康郑生学。

There’s a long running joke among my dad and his colleagues (they were journalists) when they first visited Japan. Japan also uses Chinese characters, but the Japanese adopted reading horizontally from left to right a long time ago. Anyway, when my dad and his colleagues first visited Japan, they saw a notice on the mall saying: 本日大賣出 (Today’s Big Sale). However, because they were used to reading things from right to left (even horizontally), they read it as 出賣大日本 (To Sell Out the Empire of Japan)!

自我父亲和他同事(他们是记者)第一次去日本后,他们会常开这么一个玩笑。日本也使用汉字,但日本人很久以前就采用了从左往右的横向阅读方式。然后,当我父亲和他同事们第一次去日本时,他们在商场看到一告示上写着:本日大卖出(今天大甩卖)。但是,因为他们习惯了从右往左读文字(即使是横向排版也是如此),所以他们是这么读那则告示的:出卖大日本(出售日本帝国)!



[A plaque on Five Finger Mountain in Taipei, dedicated to all the dead KMT soldiers who participated in the Chinese Civil War in 1949 (my grandpa is buried here). Even though the characters are written horizontally, you have to read it from right to left. As such, this plaque reads: 五指名山埋俠骨, 雲蒸霞蔚穩忠靈]

台北五指名山上有一纪念石壁,是为缅怀纪念那些在1949年中国内战中死去的国民党军(我爷爷就葬在这里)。尽管这些字是横向排列的,你还是得从右往左读。因此,纪念石壁上的刻字是这么读的:五指名山埋侠骨,云蒸霞蔚隐忠灵。