NANNING, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) -- A national dictation contest in China has brought out strong nostalgia for traditional Chinese culture in the country now dominated by computers and mobile phones.
The Chinese Character Dictation Competition, which requires contestants to write Chinese characters upon hearing the words, is shown every weekend on China Central Television (CCTV), China's state broadcaster. Linguistic authorities serve as judges while CCTV hosts read the characters to the contestants. In the end, one competitor from an initial 32 teams will be crowned champion.
The program became an instant hit after its debut in early August, and its ratings have rocketed to three times more than other shows during the same period, driving a national fervor for writing Chinese characters.
There have been a staggering 420,000 searches for the show on Baidu.com, China's top search engine. The program has also become a trendy topic on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, with more than 180,000 hits and many netizens saying their Chinese writing has "degenerated."
Zhang Lei, like many Internet addicts in modern China, has grown used to electronic character input, and she finds it hard to actually write characters by hand with paper and pen. After watching the show, the 32-year-old woman realized that she cannot recall some characters that even students are able to write.
"I feel an urgent need to pick up my Chinese," she said.
Zhang said that the show has reignited her passion for writing, and that revisiting characters is a great opportunity to understand Chinese culture better, as each Chinese character has a specific a cultural connotation.
Zhang is not alone. The national fervor for writing Chinese characters has spread to many parts of China thanks to the program. Some schools and residential communities in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, for example, are now holding similar contests to enhance Chinese writing.
Zhou Keda, deputy director of the Institute of Social Sciences at the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences, said that the competition is a breath of fresh air on TV, which usually airs celebrity-focused entertainment.
Zhou said that the program, which is airing its finale this Friday night, is more than just a television show. He said the show bears responsibility for spreading traditional Chinese culture among the Chinese people, especially the ever-growing population of netizens and mobile phone users.
China's Internet user base, the world's largest, reached 591 million at the end of June, according to the country's network information center. Meanwhile, the number of mobile phone users in China reached 1.11 billion at the end of 2012, according to China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
In a country where people are constantly typing electronic characters on computers and mobile phones, the contest serves as a reminder that it is time for people to write down the characters with a pen and feel the cultural charm within the character strokes, Zhou said.
Chinese characters embody nuggets of wisdom from the ancient Chinese people as well as China's long history, and writing the characters is a process for better understanding traditional culture, Zhou added.