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“Letters”

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In early elementary school years, in Hong Kong, the Chinese-language curriculum comprised of a section known as “letters”. The textbook consists of sample passages and letters to be modeled after in various occasions. Today letters are a relic from the past. To learn how to write a letter, in the face of technological advent and decadence of social etiquette, is almost unheard-of. The texts aimed to help kids learn the parts of a letter and how to write their own letter. The format was rigidly formal and you are to address your father “Superior Father.” To show respect and politeness phrases like “on my knees” (equivalent to addressing the king “Majesty”) and “head bowed” (equivalent to “sincerely yours”) are used. Even letters between peers are to observe the basic format and abide by correct grammar usage. (No emoticons, sorry) The most difficult aspect to teach and to master is the appropriate tone of language. It’s important to use the right type of language, the right “register”. Most letters you write will need to be formal, but not overly so.

The text was called “Foot-Long Script”, because in the days of the dynasty letters were written on foot-long square bamboo scroll or silk.

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