Chinese characters that ruled 2014

Chinese characters that ruled 2014

People in Asian countries where Chinese characters are widely used, including Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and China, have been voting for the most representative characters of the year for the past few years.

The polls, normally organised by academics or the media are an interesting way of determining which events or incidents have affected the people most in a calendar year.

In 2014, Malaysia hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons: the crashing of two planes. And not surprisingly, Malaysians have chosen "hang" (or flight) as the character representing 2014. The scars and void left by the two flights (one with 239 people on board is still missing and the other went down in Ukraine with 298 people) have put Malaysia Airlines in a fix.

People, especially relatives and friends of the passengers, have criticised the airline for its failure to supervise the actions of its employees, particularly the flight captains, because one of them used to invite pretty female passengers to the cockpit while flying. These two accidents have also compromised Malaysia's appeal as a tourist destination.

The character that has had the greatest impact on Japanese people this year is "shui" (or tax), reflecting how much they detest the rise in consumption tax. In April, the Japanese government raised the consumption tax from 5 per cent to 8 per cent, the first in 17 years.

But the tax increase could not help revive the sagging Japanese economy. Instead, it has increased people's living costs and led to a sluggish consumption market. Perhaps the opposition to the tax increase forced Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo to defer another tax increase from October next year to April 2017.

Singaporeans surprisingly chose "luan" (or chaos) as the representative word for 2014. It is the only country where people choose the characters on the basis of both domestic and international situations.

Though they are citizens of a country known for its strict law enforcement and exemplary civic behaviour, Singaporeans feel that countries around the globe faced a turbulent year because of the Middle East and Ukraine crises, the territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea, and other volatile events.

Wu Xindi, editor-in-chief of Singapore Lianhe Zaobao, the Chinese-language newspaper that organised the poll, said any fluctuation on the international stage could affect a small country like Singapore, directly or indirectly. In China, the word "law" has garnered the most votes this year, reflecting the powerful impact of the central leadership's anti-corruption drive and the promotion of the rule of law. For the national leadership, the top priority is to "cage the tigers and swat the flies" - metaphors used by President Xi Jinping to describe high-ranking and lower-level corrupt officials.

The fact that people have chosen "fa" (or law) as the representative word for 2014 shows how much they appreciate the anti-corruption campaign. The huge number of applicants to take the civil service exam shows how sought-after and thus lucrative a government post is.

For some posts, which many believe offer "good chance" to gain decisive power, the ratio of candidates to vacancy is more than 1,000:1. The popular view seems to be that government posts mean light work and lots of money.

That's why the anti-corruption drive has come as a big relief to them. Throughout 2014, news about officials put under investigation or arrested for corruption kept hitting the headlines. More than 30 central government officials have either been put under investigation or arrested on corruption-related charges, and many mid- and low-ranking officials have been jailed.

Some people have termed the anti-corruption drive as a means adopted by the leadership to establish its authority. But the truth is far from it, because the trapping of another "tiger", Ling Jihua, former head of the General Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and of its United Front Work Department, shows how determined the leadership is to root out corruption.

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