I recall that in the 1970’s and 1980’s I saw some telegrams between some Chinese people in Southeast Asia and the USA, and they were all in numbers, such as
AB09 CX14 DR11 CC12 AA43 JU18 CX29 FE07
I was told that there was a code-book of Chinese characters, and that the sender (of the intended telegram transmission) had to laboriously transcibe their message into this code, so that it could be transmitted by telegram. Then the receiving party would decode it at their end into a readable Chinese message.
I am wondering if any such system is still in existence today? If so, it seems to me that with the help of the appropriate computer program, the work of transcribing a Chinese character message into code numbers, and then decoding it, would be greatly simplified. (Of course I realize that in the world today we have FAX machines, and scanners, which make the task of transferring Chinese character data over long distances considerably easier.)
Nevertheless, I bring this entire subject up because I still find that I am frequently perplexed about how to communicate an exact Chinese character, by email or in English language text (such as on an English language website), to persons who have the desire to know what that exact Chinese character is. For example, Chinese people living overseas in many cases do not have Chinese systems on their computers. Some foreigners have pretty good Chinese skills, but don’t have Chinese system on their current computer setup. And on the other side of the coin, for those foreigners without any Chinese skills, who wanted to communicate a small amount of Chinese information, by referencing a comprehensive code system, they could still effectively communicate the exact Chinese characters (used in an address for example) to other people.
So, say, a person a Kaohsiung could write to me and say “Please send the catalog to me as soon as possible. My address is 2nd Fl., No. 115 Hsin Ya Er Lu, Sec. 2, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan 801. The four Chinese characters in that address are AC45 DF67 GH14 EE11.”
Hence, I feel that such a coding system could very much still be of use in the world today. However, in order to use such a system, it would also appear to require that a large organization (perhaps a government agency) place all the Chinese characters (over 50,000 at last count, correct?) on-line somewhere for easy reference, and hopefully in not only Big-5 and simplified versons, but in GIF format as well, for those who do not have Chinese system on their computer.
Without such a coding system, how can we effectively communicate these small groups of Chinese characters inside roman alphabet correspondence?
Can anyone offer some insight into the issues which I have raised here? I am stumped.