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Department of Cultural Affairs

News & Activities

“Bopomofo” (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) turns 100 years old

Rewritten by Leo R. Maliksi
On December 20, at the Sunshine Hall of the Da-an Forest Park MRT station, DOCA Commissioner Chung Yung-feng and members of the Taipei City Street Artists Association (台北市街頭藝人協會) celebrated the 100th birthday of the Chinese phonetic alphabet (注音符號), also known as “Bopomofo” (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ).
During the celebration, street artist Xu Kaixuan (徐開炫) performed magic tricks and juggling and used cardboard boxes with phonetic alphabets on their surfaces to express their importance. Wei Yamin (魏亞民), another street artist, created music by beating on hollow water pipes as sound speakers beside him emitted the sounds of Bopomofo.

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Photo from DOCA
DOCA Commissioner Chung Yung-feng (center) with members of the
Taipei City Street Artists Association.

“The Department of Cultural Affairs promotes greater understanding of Chinese characters,” said Commissioner Chung. “In summer, we published the book ‘Hanzi and its Glorious Regenerations.’”
The book compiles essays and articles that express the profound meanings of Chinese characters and also the evolution of their written form. In 2017, DOCA and Locus Publishing drafted a year-long plan to publish books about the Chinese character. They gave the plan the name “Hanzi and its Glorious Regenerations” (漢字的華麗轉身).
Learning to read Chinese starts with knowing how to pronounce the phonetic symbols that vocalize the names of the Chinese characters. They consist of 37 characters and 4 tone marks.

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Photo from DOCA
Shake the pillows and you hear the sounds of “Bopomofo” (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ).

The symbols were created by the Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation under the Republican Government in China towards the end of the Qing Dynasty in the 1910s. It was a period of educational reform and after much discussion, the government announced it as the official phonetic alphabet in 1918.
The culture created by the Chinese character is an important intangible cultural asset in Asia. When phonetic symbols are placed beside Chinese characters, they become the unique cultural vocabulary of Taiwan.
PIMIYA, a new artistic group used interactive technology to create what they called the 「ㄉㄅㄉㄌㄅㄌ」 installation art at the MRT station. It was meant to entertain children and their parents with the phonetic symbols that is so much a part of their culture.