Illiteracy in China
According to an article in the China Daily, the number of people in China who are unable to read or write increased by over 30 million between 2000 and 2005, inspite of government campaigns to eradicate illiteracy. Part of this increase is possibly a result of previous under-reporting.
In rural areas the ability to read and write 1,500 characters is sufficient to be considered literate, while urban dwellers are expected to master at least 2,000 characters. However, to read a Chinese newspaper you need to know at least 3,000 characters. Even with the bar for literacy set so low, many don’t make the grade.
An article in the Washington Post about this suggests that official figures on literacy in China are unreliable, and that local officials are pressured to inflate the statistics. All those who have graduated from primary school are counted as literate, even if they aren’t.
There’s some commentary on this article on Language Log, by Victor Mair, who believes that the number of illiterates in China is actually much higher than the Chinese government admits. He also suggests that China problems of illiteracy would disappear in a decade or two if China were to adopt a policy of digraphia using both characters and pinyin. There’s quite a bit of discussion about this on languagehat as well.