Calling all you Sinophiles

Hi there,

I am writing a book on Chinese culture, shall we say, and I need to find out specifics regarding reading from left to right vs. right to left. I know both are done, but what I’d like to know is:

  1. Is there a breakdown? 40/60 or something like that?

  2. Some kind of classification, i.e. comic books are L to R, while, say, legal tomes are R to L?

  3. In the past was it exclusively right to left?

  4. What about top to bottom?

Generally, what’s the deal?

Any and all info would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Edward Lakewood

Based on extensive but random reading since 1986, I’ve never seen anything set R to L.

  1. No idea on the breakdown. It seems to be idiosyncratic. Each publication decides how they want to lay out their text. The China Times, for example, prints vertically on their paper edition but horizontally L to R in their online edition. That could be HTML though. Magazines come both ways. In Mainland China my impression is that more things are typeset horizontally L to R than vertically these days, but I haven’t spent that much time there either so that observation is probably of limited value. I’ve seen legal documents and speeches typed or typeset both L to R and vertically (but not within the same document). And Word will produce texts either L to R or vertically (there are some choices within the vertical orientation for which direction the Western letters face, but the characters all run the same way).

  2. Novels tend to be typeset vertically, but again not all of them! I guess I don’t even really pay attention to which way the type runs. Books translated from Western languages seem to run horizontally (again, impressionistic evidence only). Maybe it’s to accomodate figures or photos in the original layout? The comic books I can remember were vertical with pages running right to left (i.e., you start from the “back” of the book for a Westerner, as is the case with most vertical-style typesetting).

  3. I can’t remember…the only R to L stuff I’ve seen horizontally was the subtitles for one Hong Kong movie years ago, which switched R to L and then L to R almost randomly. Kind of scary.

  4. Top to bottom is what I mean by “vertically”. I’ve never seen a book written with horizontal lines running right to left. Only thing I’ve ever seen that way were parts of the above-mentioned Hong Kong movie. That was in the 80s, too.

Maybe someone still in Taiwan can just step into a bookstore and do an informal survey?

Hang on, didn;t the ROC government formalise the L to R approach quite recently?

I’m sure the ROC official docs - beautiful semi-classical beasts that they be - flow Lto R . . oh, I see that’s vertical in your description … . hmmm, scarry HK movies that run all over the show … . yeah … . but I’m sure the odd madly laid out cheap newspaper or leafet too.

HG

I’ve seen plenty of signs written R-L horizontally, but never a book. On the other hand, I have a bookcase full of books written top-to-bottom, with the column order being R-L. In other words, page starts top right and finishes bottom left.

I think most modern novels are published top-to-bottom L-R now. Newspapers are still printed T-B R-L, the Apple Daily being a good example. I much prefer T-B L-R.

I think as part of their language control policy, the PRC has mandated T-B L-R. Mind you, it also mandated short-form characters and there’s long form all over the place in Shanghai now. And a bloody good thing to IMHO.

Hey guys,

Thanks for the info. One of the reasons I was asking (well, actually the reason I’m asking) is that the Taipei City gov. sent me a survey that’s in English (atrocious English) and is written from R to L; not the text itself, but where the “back cover” is the “front cover” and vice versa. Of course, I’ve seen signs in from both R to L and L to R but I also thought I’d seen something (I can’t remember what) written horizontally and from R to L, but maybe I’m imagining things. It’s all the Whisby, no doubt.

Thank you again,

Ed

[quote=“Ed Lakewood”]Hey guys,

Thanks for the info. One of the reasons I was asking (well, actually the reason I’m asking) is that the Taipei City gov. sent me a survey that’s in English (atrocious English) and is written from R to L; not the text itself, but where the “back cover” is the “front cover” and vice versa. Of course, I’ve seen signs in from both R to L and L to R but I also thought I’d seen something (I can’t remember what) written horizontally and from R to L, but maybe I’m imagining things. It’s all the Whisby, no doubt.

Thank you again,

Ed[/quote]Ed -
Probably the result of some drunken waiguoren translating.
Seasons Cheer!

[quote=“Ed Lakewood”]Hi there,

I am writing a book on Chinese culture, shall we say…[/quote]

I thought you were writing a book on bad Foreign Office service.
:ohreally: