Author Archives: Yajing Hu

Han Ideographs In The Unicode Standard


Nowadays the Internet environment has become multilingual so that one standard encoding system that enables the exchange of electronic text is necessary. The Unicode Standard is the basis of software that can function all around the world and it provides the underpinning for the World Wide Web and the global business environment of today. Chinese characters, which belong to Han Ideographs have utilized other encoding systems before the Unicode Standard. However, they have several disadvantages and they are not suitable in today’s multilingual world. The Unicode Standard not only solve these problems, but also help those non-English languages transmit online in the globalized environment.

Keywords: Unicode, multilingual Internet, Han Ideographs, globalization, Chinese characters


The Unicode Standard is the universal encoding and computing industry standard for written characters and text. Unicode solves the discontinuity of the multilingual Internet. It defines a consistent way of encoding multilingual text that enables the exchange of text data in the multilingual environment and creates the foundation for global software.

Unicode is the basis of the software that can be used and function all around the world and it is required in the new Internet protocols and implemented in all modern operating systems. As the universal standard, Unicode aims to unify many hundreds of conflicting ways to encode characters and replace them with a single and universal standard.

Compared to ASCII, abbreviated from American Standard Code for Information Interchange, Unicode characters are represented in one of three encoding forms: a 32-bit form(UTF-32), a 16-bit form(UTF-16) and an 8-bit form(UTF-8). The Unicode Standard is code-for-code identical with International Standard ISO-IEC 106-46.

The Unicode Standard has many advantages. With Unicode Standard, the information technology industry has replaced proliferating character sets with data stability, global interoperability and data interchange, simplified software and reduced costs. The Unicode character encoding treats alphabetic characters, ideographic characters and symbols equivalently, which means they can be used in any mixture and with equal facility. The universality of the Unicode Standard can also be reflected as it is sufficient not only for modern communication for the world’s language, but also to represent the classical forms of many languages. Also, the Unicode Standard is more efficient and flexible than previous encoding system and the new system would satisfy the needs of technical and multilingual computing and would encode a broad range of characters for all purposes, including worldwide publication.

However, at the same time, the Unicode Standard also has disadvantages. As the Internet was emerging as a global phenomenon, commentators often noted that it appeared to be a primarily English-language domain. It is often argued that while minority language are given an online voice by Unicode, the context is still one of western power. Besides, the Unicode Standard does not encode idiosyncratic, personal, novel or private-use characters, nor does it encode logos or graphics. Consequently, the Unicode Standard continues to respond to new and changing encoding and responds to scholarly needs. To preserve world cultural heritage, important archaic scripts are encoded as consensus about the encoding is developed.

2.The History of Chinese Encoding System

2.1 ASCII and Its Disadvantages for Chinese Characters

When computers store letters, they encode them into numbers which are in the binary form. If another computer wants to put these letters on the screen, it converts the numbers back into letters. The computer does it by consulting a map, which tells it, for example, the code number 97 represents the letter ‘a’. Originally based on the English alphabet, ASCII, which constructed in 7-bit code, encoded 128 specified characters into seven-bit integers as shown by the ASCII chart above. Ninety-five of the encoded characters are printable: these include the digits 0 to 9, lowercase letters a to z, uppercase letters A to Z, and punctuation symbols.

ASCII is plenty enough for writing text in English. However, this caused a problem for language with extra letters, symbols or accents. Therefore, different countries began exploiting their new encoding systems.

2.2 GB2312-80, GBK and GB18030

Chinese, as a non-Latin alphabet, is known as the problem of encoding. Before the existence of the Unicode Standard, there are three encoding standards which are used in different parts of China. The Chinese standard encoding system is called ‘GB2312-80’, which is mainly used in mainland and encodes about 6,763 Chinese simplified characters. The ‘Big5’ encoding system is used in Taiwan and encodes about 8,000 Chinese traditional characters which are used in Taiwan. The ‘HKSCS’ encoding system is used in Hong Kong and it also uses Chinese traditional characters. However, the ‘Big5’ and ‘HKSCS’ are two different encoding systems.

These three encoding systems all utilize and extend ASCII. In these systems, one Chinese character, no matter simplified or traditional, is represented by two ASCII characters. So they are compatible with ASCII. However, the three encoding systems are not compatible so that it is almost impossible to show GB and Big5 in the same system. Therefore, it is impossible to see Chinese simplified and traditional characters in the same screen.

Another one of the problems for GB2312-80 is that there are so few Chinese characters that Chinese Ethnic Minorities’ characters are not included. Moreover, the bigger problem is that Chinese characters don’t have their own encoding system. Most computers have already had an ASCII to store English characters. Consequently, some softwares utilize it to draw symbols. However, when these softwares are applied in Chinese system, some symbols are mistaken for Chinese characters and this could cause trouble. Also, if the sentence combines both Chinese and English characters, the system would be confused whether it should belong to ASCII or GB2312-80.

The GBK character set was defined in 1993 as an extension of GB2312-80, while also including the characters of GB13000.1-93 through the unused codepoints available in GB2312. GBK can be used in operating systems such as Windows and Linux. GB18030 is the superset of GBK and includes more characters based on GBK. GB18030 includes thousand of characters of the Chinese Ethnic Minorities. However, nowadays no operating systems can directly utilized GB18030.

2.3 The Usage of The Unicode Standard

The consensual solution to the problem of encoding has been provided by the Unicode Consortium, whose website declares: ‘Unicode provides a unique number for every character, no matter what the platform, no matter what the program, no matter what the language.’ In other words, the Unicode Standard provides the universal and huge code sheet to include all the scripts and alphabets instead of requiring their own code sheet. The Unicode Standard offers a standardized way of encoding all documents in all language and provides a unified representation for every single character. That is to say, the Unicode Standard solved the above problems of GB2312-80 and provides the universal encoding system for all the Chinese characters, no matter simplified ones or traditional ones, no matter the characters used by Han people or Chinese Ethnic Minorities.

3.The History of Chinese Characters

Chinese characters, unlike the alphabetical language, are formed with no letters or combination of letters to represent the sounds of the Chinese language. Rather, they are symbols constructed and used to convey meanings as well as sounds that indicate meaning(Yin, 2006). According to the Chinese Legend, the Historian of Yellow Emperor called Cangjie created the original Chinese characters according to the shape of sun, moon and footprints of animals, etc. in 2650 BCE.

The history of Chinese characters can be divided into two major periods: ancient writing and modern writing. There are six major writing styles associated with these two periods.

Initially, in the Shang Dynasty(1711-1066 BC), oracle bone script was the form of Chinese characters inscribed on tortoise shells and animal bones.The oracle bone script of the late Shang appears pictographic, as does its contemporary, the Shang writing on bronzes. Later in Zhou Dynasty(1066-256 BC), characters were cast or inscribed on bronze bells and vessels and it was called bronze inscription. Oracle bone script is clearly greatly simplified, and rounded forms are often converted to rectilinear ones; this is thought to be due to the difficulty of engraving the hard, bony surfaces, compared with the ease of writing them in the wet clay of the molds the bronzes were cast from.

Towards the end of the Zhou Dynasty, the Qin State began to utilize bamboo strips and pieces of silk as the medium and create a new script called ‘Seal Script’. After the Qin State conquered the other six states and unified China and established the Qin Dynasty, the Seal Script was decreed as the official standard of the writing for the whole country. At this time, all the characters were roughly square in shape and positioning of characters and complexity of the forms become consistent. Small Seal Script has also been proposed for inclusion in Unicode.

However, the seal scripts were quite time-consuming and cumbersome, so a more concise and easier to write script was needed to save time. Therefore, in the Han Dynasty(206 BC – 220 AD), the ‘Clerical Script’ became the officially approved formal way of writing. The largest change between clerical script and seal script was that clerical script dropped the pictorial appearance of Chinese characters almost completely and established the foundation of the structures for modern Chinese characters.

Since the clerical script, the structure of Chinese characters have not changed. However, the strokes have undergone two major changes: regularization and normalization. From the late Han Dynasty to 1955, Chinese characters strokes were smoother and straighter than those clerical script. The regularized clerical scripts are clearer and easier to read and write and became widespread. They have become used for everyday communication and have been the standard of Chinese writing for more than 1,800 years. In the first three and half decades of the 20th, a special government organization first called the Committee for Chinese Language Reform and later the National Language Commission began to normalize Chinese characters to make them systematic, simplified and standardized. In 1955, to systemize Chinese characters, the ‘List of First Group of Standardized Form of Variant Characters’ was officially published and 1,027 character variants are eliminated. The number of strokes in 2,235 of the characters is systematically reduced. The forms of characters for printing type and the stroke order are standardized and normalized.

From oracle bone script to normalized clerical script, the Chinese characters are changing from visualization to symbolization. The graphics and meanings of Chinese characters correspond to signifier and signified according to Ferdinand De Saussure. For each Chinese character, its graphic could tell its specific meaning, and that’s how oracle bone script was developed initially. There are three forms of relationships between the signifier and signified, symbol/symbolic, icon/iconic, and index/indexical. Initially, the relationship between graphics and meanings of Chinese characters is icon/iconic. However, as time went on, Chinese characters have been so modified and normalized that their meanings became less and less similar to their graphics. Based on previous characters, the standardized and normalized Chinese characters also include abstract culture notion and embody more symbolized relationships between graphics and meanings.

For the form of Chinese characters, Chinese characters are monospaced ad each character takes the same vertical and horizontal space, regardless of how simple or complex its particular form is. This is relevant to the history of Chinese printing and typographical practice. The earliest Chinese printing is called Woodblock Printing invented in Tang Dynasty before 220 AD. Woodblock printing accelerated the transmission of words and knowledge, however, all the words in one page needed to be carved on one woodblock so that one little mistake could cause a big trouble. Based on this, Moveable Type was invented by Bi Sheng in the Song Dynasty and each character was placed in a square cell. For alphabetic scripts, movable-type page setting was quicker than woodblock printing. The metal type pieces were more durable and the lettering was more uniform, leading to typography and fonts. The types of glyphs used to depict characters in the Han ideographic repertoire of the Unicode Standard will provide users with the ability to select the font that is most appropriate for a given locale.

4.The Introduction of Han Ideographs

4.1 What Is Han Ideographs And The Necessity of Han Unification

The Unicode Standard contains a set of unified Han ideographic characters used in the written CJK languages.The term ‘CJK’, which means Chinese, Japan and Korea is used to describe the languages that currently use Han ideographic characters. The term Han, derived from the Chinese Han Dynasty, refers generally to Chinese traditional culture. Traditionally, the script was written vertically from right to left. However, in morden usage, the Han script is written horizontally from left to right. Han ideographs are logo-graphic characters, which means that each character represent a word, not just a sound. The Han characters developed from pictographic and ideographic principles. Also, they can be used phonetically.

The size of the full CJK Unicode character is so big and they are represented by different ideograms may approach or exceed 100,000. Apart from the shape of Chinese characters changed and used in other countries such as Japan and Korea, there are currently two main varieties of written Chinese: ‘simplified Chinese’, which is used in the mainland of China and Singapore, and ‘traditional Chinese’, which is used predominantly in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and other oversea Chinese communities. The interconverting between simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese is a complex process because a single simplified character may correspond to multiple traditional Chinese characters. For example, the simplified character U+53F0 台 corresponds to U+6AAF 檯, U+81FA 臺 and U+98B1 颱.

Moreover, vocabulary differences have arisen between Mandarin as spoken in Mainland China and Taiwan. For example, both 旅游(lǚ yóu) in Mainland China and 观光(guān guāng) in Taiwan mean tourism in English. Consequently, merely converting the character content of a text from simplified Chinese to the appropriate traditional Chinese is insufficient, or vice versa. Traditional to Simplified characters is not a one-to-one relationship. However, the vast majority of Chinese characters are the same in both simplified and traditional Chinese.

The character repertoires of the simplified and traditional Chinese are the same. And the Chinese official encoding standard regulates that each had unique coding. There are two national standards in the mainland of China, GB2312-80 and GB12345-90. The former one is used to represent simplified Chinese while the latter one is used to represent traditional Chinese. Similarly, the Unicode Standard contains a number of distinct simplifications for characters, such as U+8AAC 説(shuō) and U+8BF4 说(shuō). Where the simplified and traditional forms exist as different encoded characters in the Unicode Standard, each should be used as appropriate.

Besides Mandarin, Chinese is a language which has different spoken forms that share a single written form. Those different spoken forms besides Mandarin are called dialect. Some dialects are actually mutually unintelligible and distinct languages. For example, Cantonese which is used in Hong Kong and Macau are different spoken forms from Mandarin, although they share the same written form. Apart from dialects, the standard form of written Chinese which was derived from classical Chinese is called literary Chinese. Although they are not used to speak everyday, they can still be seen in the printed form or online. Based on the complexity of Chinese characters, the ideographic repertoire of the Unicode Standard is sufficient for all but the most specialized texts of modern Chinese, literary Chinese and classical Chinese. For the dialects, the current ideographic repertoire of the Unicode Standard should be adequate for many–but not all–written texts.

4.2 The Unicode Standard Defined How Characters Are Interpreted Based On Context

The difference between identifying a character and rendering it on screen or paper is crucial for understanding the Unicode Standard role in text processing. The character identified by a Unicode code point is an abstract entity. Here it is important to figure out the differences between the notion ‘character’, ‘glyph’ and ‘grapheme’.

A character is the smallest component of written language that has semantic value. It is an abstract concept rather than a particular way of drawing the thing. So, letters are characters, so are numbers, punctuations and many symbols. The mark made on the screen or paper is called a glyph. Glyph is the visual representation of the character. Generally most or all of them are mapped to characters via a table in the font. Grapheme is the smallest abstract unit of meaning in a writing system. A grapheme is anything that functions as a character in a specific languages’ written tradition.

The Unicode Standard does not define glyph images. That is to say, the Unicode Standard defined how characters are interpreted rather than how glyphs are rendered. Of course, there are the certain softwares or hardwares rendering engine of the computer to be responsible for the appearance of the characters on the screen. The Unicode Standard does not specify the precise shape, size or orientation of on-screen characters. Consequently, the successful encoding, processing and interpretation of text requires appropriate definition of useful elements of the text and the basic rules for interpreting text.

For many centuries, written Chinese was accepted as written standard throughout East Asia. The influence of the Chinese characters on other modern East Asian languages is similar to the influence of Latin on other Western languages. However, as time went on, the evolution of character shapes and semantic drift over the centuries has resulted in changes to the original forms and meanings. For example, the Chinese character ‘汤’ (tāng) originally meant ‘hot water’. It now means ‘soup’ in Chinese. However, ‘hot water’ remains the primary meaning in Japanese and Korean, whereas ‘soup’ appears in more recent borrowings from Chinese, such as ‘soup noodles’. Still, the identical appearance and similarities in meaning are dramatic and more than justify the concept of a unified Han script that transcends language.

There is some concern that different meanings of the same character used in different countries will lead to confusion. However, computationally, Han characters are often combined to ‘spell’ words and their encoding process depends on the context. It is neither practical nor productive to encode each character separately. There are two reasons to explain it.

First, Han characters’ meaning may not be evident from the constituent characters. Instead, they need to combine characters to explain words. For example, the character ‘矛’(máo) means spear

and the character ‘盾’(dùn) means shield. However, the compound ‘矛盾’(máo dùn)means confliction in Chinese(see Figure 4-1).

Figure 4-1. Han Spelling

Second, the computer requires context to distinguish the meanings of the words represented by coded characters. One word may have different meanings in different context. For example, the word ‘杜鹃’(dù juān)may refer to Rhododendron, which is a kind of plant or Cuckoo, which is a kind of bird depending on its context(see Figure 4-2).

Figure 4-2. Semantic Context for Han Characters

4.3 The Rationales of Han Unification

Han unification is an effort to map multiple character sets of CJK languages into a single set of unified characters. The same Han root character may have different visual representation in Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Japanese and Korean. For example, the first stroke of ‘户‘ (hù) has three different visual representation. These three characters with different visual representation can be unified with the same code since they share the same root character.

So, one important necessity of Han unification is the desire to limit the size of the Unicode character set. However, before Unicode Standard, different countries use different encoding systems and these encoding systems are not compatible with each other. Characters which evolved from the same root character cannot correspond with each other. Consequently, the Unicode Standard is responsible to solve this problem.

According to the Unicode Consortium, the rationale of Han Unification is Source Separation Rule. If two ideographs are distinct in a primary source standard, then they are not unified. That is to say, the Unicode separate characters in different code whenever the abstract meaning changes. For Han Unification, the characters are not unified by their appearance, but by their definition or meaning. Also, in general, if two ideographs are unrelated in historical derivation, then they are not unified. For example, ‘日‘ and ‘曰’ have two different codes because they are historically unrelated, although they might look similar.

To deal with the use of different graphemes for the same Han unification sememe, Unicode has relied on several mechanisms. First is that to treat it as simply a font issue so that different fonts might be used to render Chinese, Japanese or Korean depending on the users’ environment settings to determine which glyph to use. However, this might cause confusion in the multilingual text. The second mechanism is that Unicode added the concept of variation selectors which are treated as combining characters with no associated diacritic or mark. Instead, by combining with a base character, they signal the two character sequence selects a grapheme variation or a variation of the base abstract character. Such two-character sequence can be mapped to a separate single glyph easily. Since the Unicode Standard has assigned 256 separate variation selectors, it can assign 256 variations for any Han ideograph and it is sufficient for variations to be specific to one language or another and enable the encoding the plain text that includes such grapheme variations.

Han unification has caused considerable controversy, particularly among the Japanese public, who, with the nation’s literati, have a long history of protesting the culling of historically and culturally significant variants. This is because Small differences in graphical representation are also problematic when they affect legibility or belong to the wrong cultural tradition. The widespread use of Unicode would make it difficult to preserve small distinction. Much of the controversy surrounding Han unification is based on the distinction between glyphs, as defined in Unicode, and the related but distinct idea of graphemes. Unicode assigns abstract characters(graphemes), as opposed to glyphs, which are a particular visual representations of a character in a specific typeface.

4.4 CJK Unified Ideographs Blocks

The Han script includes 87,882 unified ideographic characters defined by national, international and industry standards of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Singapore. Because of the large size of the Han ideographic character repertoire, and because of the particular problems that the characters pose for standardizing their coding, this character block description is more extended than that for other scripts and is divided into several subsection. The block is the result of the Han unification.

Table 4-1. Blocks Containing Han Ideographs

Block Range Comment
CJK Unified Ideographs 4E00-9FFF Common
CJK Unified Ideographs Extension A 3400-4DBF Rare
CJK Unified Ideographs Extension B 20000-2A6DF Rare, historic
CJK Unified Ideographs Extension C 2A700-2B73F Rare, historic
CJK Unified Ideographs Extension D 2B740-2B81F Uncommon, some in current use
CJK Unified Ideographs Extension E 2B820-2CEAF Rare, historic
CJK Unified Ideographs Extension F 2CEB0-2EBE0 Rare, historic
CJK Compatibility Ideographs F900-FAFF Duplicates, unifable variants, corporate characters
CJK Compatibility Ideographs Supplement 2F800-2FA1F Unifiable variants


The Unicode Standard has many advantages compared to previous encoding systems and it plays an important role in the globalized environment. The Unicode Standard takes the history of Chinese characters into consideration and contains a set of unified Han ideographic characters used in the written Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages. Because of the large size of the Han ideographic character repertoire, the Han ideograph is divided into several blocks according to the rule of the Han unification. Consequently, the Unicode Standard and the Han ideographs help a lot in the communication of Chinese culture in the multilingual and globalized environment.


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Art’s Extension of Interface to Social Culture

Google Art Project employs “street view’ 360-degree simulation to give users the chances to wander virtually through galleries as they are installed and zoom in on selected works to an almost microscopic level and combines high-resolution reproductions. It turns Malarux’s musee imaginaire, namely museum without walls into reality and makes the image of an abstract cultural encyclopedia visible.

Tactile and optical reception

Before Malarux’s imagine, Benjamin inaugurated an idea about transmitting representations of art and culture in the context of the modern technical reproducibility of images. The technological reproducibility of the artwork changes the relation of the masses to the art(Benjamin, 1936). Compared to painting, the existence of photography is more influenced by social impact and provides an object of simultaneous collective reception. Human apparatus of perception cannot be performed solely by either optical or tactile. Optical reception is through contemplation while tactile reception is through habit, which is about casual noticing rather than attention. If the audiences can sense the art in a casual way, which requires no attention, even the audiences are distracted, they can still form the habit. Google Art Project as well as the musee imaginaire provides the platform for users to form the above habit, in a digital way. Digital-beings are not physical objects, however, with advanced technologies they can have several thing-like features that have been long regarded as unique to the nature of physical things(Agostino, 2015).

Gigapixel reproduction and high resolution

Museum has its cultural functions and it is the interface to the whole social system. The Google Art Project gives the audience the chance to go to the museums without leaving their houses. That not only brings much convenience, but also extend people’s abilities to sense the world of art. That is to say, with the use of the gigapixel reproduction, which enables arts with seven billion pixels, users can magnify parts of the paintings as much as they want to notice parts that are difficult or impossible to be seen with naked eyes. Also, new technologies allow users to see works of art differently because uses in culturally and historically distinct situations can understand the same pictures in different ways. They are influenced by their own cultural context and background.

However, not everyone thinks that Google Art Project is 100% beneficial. Some hold the view that visual texts are merely windows into content rather than significant actors in their own right, therefore reproductions of them hold less and less ontological value the more they are removed in interface and affordances from the real thing(Mitchell, 1995).

Invisible meaning embedded in arts

Google Art Project creates an encyclopedic interface to art or cultural history and provides system and encyclopedia of meanings and values. For the paintings in the Google Art Project, a painting is designed to be an interface to what is not visible in the painting but presupposed as the ground of its possibility and meaning. Like the mirror in Maids of Honor, with gigapixel reproduction and high resolution, it’s easier and clearer to sense its invisible meaning. Since artworks are as interface to social culture, the existence and development of Google  Art Project extends individuals’ sense and enhances artworks’ influence as social construction.


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  3. Benjamin, W., & Underwood, J. A. (2008). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (Vol. 10). London: Penguin.
  4. Proctor, N. (2011). The Google Art Project: A new generation of museums on the web?. Curator: The Museum Journal54(2), 215-221.


Photoshop and Micro-Management

First we need to think about: if micro-management of software kills creativity and productivity of developers?

The question I think is no. On the contrary, micro-management of software is convenient and still needs human control. And also, micro-management of software accelerates and extends human’s creativity.

One of the key uses of digital computers from the start was automation. Computers can be programmed to execute all the established instructions, aka algorithm, without human input. However, from the user’s point of view, this low-automation still requires human’s command of interface. Many software techniques which can simulate physical tools need the users to control them manually, but from a micro prospective. In order to produce the desired effect, human beings should micro-manage the tools in the software techniques and they can’t be seen as totally automated.

I used Photoshop for several years. For me, it is such a great software. It’s convenient not only for creating a picture, but also for retouching the pictures. When I didn’t know this software, I always use the drawing software in the Windows system. However, it is not very convenient to use and all the functions are simple. The whole pictures can only be seen as a whole. On the contrary, the pictures can be retouched layer by layer in the Photoshop and the functions are more complicated and convenient.

Photoshop can be an example of the micro-management of digital software. The user has to micro-manage the tool and direct it step by step to produce the desired effect. For example, the user need to control the cursor in a desired pattern to produce a particular brushstroke using a brush tool. This function is the same as the drawing software in the Windows system. The new digital technology and software is more convenient in its new functions and tools. It offers higher-level automation of creative processes. The user doesn’t need to control every detail. Instead, they can specify the parameters and controls and set the tools in motion. For example, when drawing a rectangle, the user needs to draw it in detail in the previous drawing software in the Windows system. However, with Photoshop or Illustrator, the user can set the length and width of the rectangle and the software will generate it automatically for the user.

My favorite tool in the Photoshop is the Magic Wand. Before Photoshop was invented, it’s almost impossible to move part of the picture to other places. However, with the Magic Wand, the user can easily choose part of one picture with the same or almost the same color. If the user set different tolerance parameter, the range is also different.

Photoshop can also be seen as an example of human-computer interaction. The users interact with computer over this software interface using the given input and output (I/O) hardware. As to the method of the interaction, it is about micro-management. The user interacts with computer by micro-managing the software and giving input to the hardware and then it will generate output automatically following established procedures, namely algorithm. During these processes, the human-computer interaction will give the users much more convenience.


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  2. Kay, A. C. (1972, August). A personal computer for children of all ages. In Proceedings of the ACM annual conference-Volume 1 (p. 1). ACM.
  3. Yong, K. F. (2014). Emerging human-computer interaction interfaces: a categorizing framework for general computing(Doctoral dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

Python and Computational Thinking

I am learning Python in one of Professor LeMasters’ classes. I think Python is very practical and useful compared to other computing language and it is easier as well because it is close to linguistic language. In fact, that can be explained by computational thinking, too.

According to Jeannette Wing, computational thinking involves solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behavior. Also, computational thinking is using heuristic reasoning to discover a solution. It is planning, learning and scheduling in the presence of uncertainty. Every time before I use Python, the first thing I need to do is like a computer – what problems do I need to solve? Then I could figure out each instruction step by step. The relations between step need to be logical and by sequence so that the computer can understand and solve the problem.

I once used Python to analyze the comments count and score of the TOP 25 movies in one website. My instructions can be seen as computational thinking. A computer is a machine that can accept input, execute a mechanical procedure and produce output. And that what python does. First, I need to import the input and the relevant instructions begin with import. Then is the execution of the mechanical procedure. Here that’s one of python’s wisdom. If I make some mistakes, Python can point it out immediately and tell you where you make the mistakes. If you keep the mistakes, Python won’t let you go until you give it the true mechanical procedure which it can understand. When you want the output, just type print and the computer begins to produce output.

By using Python, I can get to understand computational thinking better and it makes me think in a more logical way and unconsciously imitate how computers work. First is conceptualizing. Whenever I meet a problem, it’s more logical to think at multiple levels of abstraction and think of computational concepts and ideas we use to approach and solve problems. Then is the process to solve problems. After using computational thinking, it’s important to complement and combine mathematical and engineering. Take Python as an example. Python is not just math or engineering. However, it must combine both of the two subjects. We use the engineering thought to figure out the logics and instructions to deal with mathematic problems. Like the case I used above, I combined mathematical and engineering to make the chart with python. Besides, computational thinking is using abstraction and decomposition when attacking a large complex task or designing a large complex system. It is a separation of concerns. This is similar to my example as well. During the input of my instructions, I am dividing the big problem into step by step and solve them step by step as well. After a series of instructions, the problem has been solved and the chart has formed in the end.


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  3. Wing, J. M. (2006). Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM49(3), 33-35.


Distributed Cognition of Ear-Microphone

I really like watching the performance of dance music. And we can always find an interesting fact on the stage that when a group sings the same sound, some singers use hand-microphones while others use ear-microphone.

hand-microphone AND ear-microphone

Here I want to attach a performance to prove this interesting finding. You can see from this performance, only the main vocal uses hand-microphone while other sub vocals and rappers use ear-microphone. You can clearly find the differences between hand-microphone and ear-microphone. You can hear the breath of the main vocal and the sound is louder and deeper. When the main vocal sings his part, he seldom has some dance movement, and he can stay there and sing. If he has dance movement which needs hand, he can only uses his left hand with his right hand occupied by the hand-microphone. His group members stand behind him as dancing partners. However, for dancing performance, it requires much more for those who uses ear-microphone. When they sing their part, they need to dance and sing at the same time. Since their keys are not as high as main vocal, they can make it. With the cooperation of hand-microphone and ear-microphone, this famous performance ‘NEVER’ with more than 12 million views has been presented to audience.

According to Latour, ear-microphone as a kind of technology, is delegated by singers the work of holding the microphones and freeing both of their hands on the stage. This can reflect that social relations can shape technical relations while technical relations can also shape social relations. Ear-microphone as the tool and technology are designed by people and be delegated the responsibility of helping the singers holding the microphones all the time on the stage. It is invented because of the chase for better performance of society and its invention can help improve the visual and auditory effect and guarantee better performance to the audience. This effect of delegation is positive and active.

According to Zhang and Patel in the article ‘Distributed Cognition, Representation and Affordance’, It is the interwoven processing of internal and external information that generates much of a person’s intelligent behavior. Here I want to mainly analysis the external information of the ear-microphone. The existence and usage of ear-microphone is closely related to social-technical system and the external representations are the shapes and positions of the symbols, the spatial relations of partial products, which can be perceptually inspected from the environment. The ear-microphone is linked to audience, singers, medium, culture and environment. From the perspective of audience, the existence of ear-microphone has several advantages and necessity.

  • First, it can make sure the better performance effect. For idol groups who sing dance music mostly, dance and sing are both necessary. The usage of ear-microphone free both the hands of the singers and the whole team can cooperate to perform better dance.
  • Second, it can make sure the better auditory effect. If the singers use hand-microphone, the distance between microphone and mouse is variable. Consequently, the sound which is captured by microphone and sampled and quantized and then turned into analog is different for hand-microphone. However, the ear-microphone guarantees the fixed distance between microphone and mouse so that it can make sure the voice heard by audience is stable all the time. This difference is especially noticeable when the singers need to rotate on the stage. Normally the speeds of hand and head are different. So, under this circumstance, the sound is easy to become unstable and either too high or too low. The usage of ear-microphone can avoid this circumstance as much as possible and give the audience a better sense of listening to the singers.
  • Third, it can make sure the better visual effect. If the singers hold the hand-microphone for a long time, half of his or her facial expression will be covered. On the stage, the infection and resonance with the audience is relevant to dance, song, and, facial expression. Compared to hand-microphone, the size of ear-microphone is very small and it is often designed with inconspicuous color such as black and carnation. So that the existence of ear-microphone can make sure that the singers or groups’ stage performance is transmitted to the audience to the greatest extent, which can arouse the resonance of the audience.

From the perspective of singers, the existence of ear-microphone can free the singers more. Since the weight of hand-microphone is not light, the usage of ear-microphone can lighten the load on their hands and guarantee the better stage performance. From the perspective of medium, voice is one of the ways of information transmission. However, the usage of ear-microphone doesn’t have advantages compared to hand-microphone because the sound is much more energetic, louder and deeper with hand-microphone. Consequently, since the main vocal doesn’t have much dance movement, he still chooses the hand-microphone which has the better sound effect and it can make sure his voice is transmitted to the greatest extent. From the perspective of social cultural environment, if most people prefer dance music, the advantages of ear-microphone are significant because it can combine songs and dances and guarantee better performance effect. If most people and fans prefer lyric songs which do not need much dance, the hand-microphone is still very important in the music market.


1.Latour, B. (1994). On technical mediation. Common knowledge3(2), 29-64.

2.Latour, B. (1990). Technology is society made durable. The Sociological Review38(1_suppl), 103-131.

3.Zhang, J., & Patel, V. L. (2008). Distributed cognition, representation, and affordance. Cognition Distributed: How Cognitive Technology Extends Our Minds16, 137-144.

Hot Media VS Cool Media

As McLuhan said in Understanding Media, the Extension of Man, hot media do not leave so much to be filled in or completed by the audience and need low participation, while cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience. For example, radio is a kind of hot media because people don’t need to participate in radio and they just need auditory sense. Telephone is a kind of cool media because people need to speak and respond when using the telephone and that can be considered high participation.

However, for the same media, it becomes hotter and hotter during the development. That is relevant to people’s choice. People pretend to choose hot media because they don’t need them to participate much. That is to say, hot media is the market tendency. The development of media is driven by human needs. For TV, from traditional black and white TV to color TV and then to digital TV, the picture of TV is becoming more and more clear. At the same time, TV is becoming bigger and bigger and TV is developing towards networked. Every time when technology is updated, the audience can get clearer information and their participation is becoming less and less. Before revolutionary change, technological progress is a process of gradually hot.

When the temperature is higher and higher to a certain degree, the revolutionary change happens. Although TV is becoming hotter and hotter, young people pretend to use internet rather than TV. At the same time, internet is also becoming hotter and hotter. Initially the website was only full of text, and then pictures. Now it comes into the hypermedia time.

However, an interesting fact challenges this qualitative change. Take the car as an example. The car is developing and evolving all the time and in the future, maybe non-driver car will appear. However, the sale volume of the car doesn’t have qualitative change. On the contrary, because the environment is becoming more polluted and the roads are getting more crowded, the government is calling for reducing the times of driving private cars and using public transportation more. No media can stay existed and have meanings alone and any media can only realize its own meaning and existence in the interaction with other media. When interacting with the other media, the development of the media is bound to add a pressure on the environment. When the pressure on the environment reaches a certain degree, the pressure will turn to promote the reversal effect.

The function of the cool and hot media is due to the interaction of human’s needs. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of need, human beings have physiological needs, safety needs, love/belonging needs, esteem needs and self-actualization needs. The five needs begin from the most basic physiological needs and gradually upgrade. Today, most people don’t need to worry about the basic physiological needs and they are gradually chasing for higher levels of needs. The little information in cool media requires the active input of people and during this process, the opportunity of human interaction with others is greatly increased. The more information in hot media weakens the differences among people, such as gender and labor ability. Consequently, it reduces the opportunities for people to cooperate and communicate with others and the chances for interaction. The transition from cool media to hot media is related to the pursuit of self-actualization of human beings. When the media is becoming hotter, people’s esteem and self-actualization needs are not met and then reversal effect happens in nature.


  1. Manovich, L. (2001). The language of new media. MIT press.
  2. McLuhan, M. (1994). Understanding media: The extensions of man. MIT press.

Noise in Information Communication

Shannon developed the famous information theory. In this theory, Shannon put forward an idea that noise is one of the necessary elements in the information communication. Shannon proved that we can reliably transmit units of information over noisy electrical channels. In the communication theory, noise refers to anything which blocks between message source and destination. It obstructed the process of coding and decoding information. Noise cannot be thoroughly avoided or eliminated, but it can be controlled or reduced as far as possible.

In the information communication, the exist of noise can lead to the inconsistency of information between source and destination. Therefore, the communication might be unsuccessful and the information might be untrue. Noise can be divided into the following categories. First is physical noise, such as the noise from external environment and the interference of the third when two are having communication, etc. The second noise is semantic noise. This is because message source and destination have different understanding of some terms and grammar which might lead to communication barriers. The third noise is because of the differences in social status, gender, occupation, economic level between message source and destination. This might cause interference and information distortion.

Here are a few examples of how noise works and generates:

  • Reading foreign novels. We will all read some classics. When the languages are not the same, we can only depend on translation. That is to say, the translators play the role of the middleman between the original authors and the audiences. He not only enables the communication but also more or less becomes the noise in the communication. The reading process is also a process of information communication. While reading foreign novels, the first kind of noise comes from the outside environment. If the audiences don’t read in a quiet environment, any other sound such as aircraft, car horns or human voice is the noise in the process of communication. Secondly, because the translator’s ability or background knowledge is different from the original author. His cognition of the author’s viewpoint is subjective. According to The Information Paradox, in the communication system, the information cannot be subjective. That is to say, the communication process is divided into two parts. First is between the author and the translator and the second is between the translator and the reader. The gap between the end of the first part and the beginning of the second part is closely related to the translator’s understanding of the author’s terms, grammar and so on. The third kind of noise is because of the readers’ social status, gender differences, etc. As the saying goes, there are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand people’s eyes. Different readers have different understandings about the same translation. After several noise disturbances, the information received by the audiences is not the same as that of the original authors.
  • Listening to music. The sounds that we recognize as a music genre also go through several layers of information processes. The digital audio file gets interpreted in software and hands off the information to a codec and those signals are sent to an electronic transducer, which converts digital binary information into a form of energy we can perceive and sound waves that play through the audio functions in our devices. In this process, there are several kinds of noise. One is the external noise as above. The second is from the noise of the devices. For example, the MP3 is too old, or the music is downloaded with HQ quality rather than SQ quality, which is nondestructive and will not cause other noise. Also, if audiences use headphone, the quality of the music is different from without using headphones. These are all the possibilities that will cause noise and affect the quality of the music. The third noise is because different audiences have different understanding of the same song. For example, for some special songs that are the singers sing for their fans. Fans of the singer and others will have different understanding of the same song, because their background knowledge of the singer is completely different. The biggest information that the singer add in the song might not transmit to those who don’t have the background knowledge of the singers.



  1. Denning, P. J., & Bell, T. (2012). The information paradox. American Scientist, 100(6), 470.
  2. Irvine, M. Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information.

Wency&Yajing——Explore Semiotics: The Flowers of War

Explore Semiotics: The Flowers of War

1.Plot Description

The story happened in Nanjing, 1937. Japanese Imperialists invaded Nanjing, which was the capital of China at that time. Nanjing was occupied and inhuman and brutal massacres by Japanese happened every day. At that time, only one Catholic Church was not occupied because Japanese would not touch westerners according to customs. Girls in church school, prostitutes of Qinhuai River where was the famous place of brothels, soldiers and wounded soldiers who didn’t manage to escape because of saving those girls and an American called John who was an okuribito entered the church successively. At first, the prostitutes only wanted John to take them out of Nanjing. The leader of the prostitutes, named Yumo, even flirted with John for her sake.

However, the church was not safe forever. Brutal Japanese smashed their way into the church and attempted to rape the girls. John showed them the flag of Red Cross which symbolled peace and needed to be respected by anyone in the world. However, Japanese just ignored it and broke the flag. The prostitutes first hided in the safe basement. The girls were afraid that Japanese would find them and brought the Japanese to the second floor and saved the prostitutes. Soldiers sacrificed themselves to save the girls. However, the Japanese forced the girls to perform in the show which celebrated that Japanese occupying the girls’ hometown. Everyone knew that it would lead them to death. The girls didn’t want to be insulted and decided to commit suicide. John and the prostitutes stopped them. The 12 women who were generally despised and hated, with the boy who worked in the church and always nervous, inspired their heroic and courage in the war. They decided to substitute the girls to death. In the end, Yumo fell in love with John and she wanted John to promise her to take these girls out of Nanjing and to a safe place. John promised that when this war was over, he would to find Yumo.

However, everyone will be clear that, he couldn’t, forever.


2.Semiotic Analysis

2.1 Shot

close-up shot

(0:13)The movie began with the scenes where victims were running and fleeing. The whole city was filled with terror and danger. People in Nanjing who had nothing to protect themselves could only run, or waited to be killed at any time. After a few second, the director gave a close-up shot to this running girl. From her facial expression, audience couldn’t feel her tiredness after running and escaping for at least one whole week. Instead, they could feel the sense of helplessness and hopelessness. That kind of fear was far more than physically hurt and hunger, or thirst.

(1:23)This is a Japanese military officer who came to the church after Japanese soldiers smashing into the church. He sat in front of the girls and listened to their chorus quietly. From his eyes, audiences could not see any chaos or intends to kill, let alone kind and sympathy. Instead, his eyes were almost the same as an older who went to the church at weekends and enjoyed being penitent for his faults. This long-lost peace brought audience to think, if the Japanese felt regret and stopped their attempts to attack these girls? However, the plot happened in the next few minutes let the audience down. The seemly nice Japanese military officer wanted the girls to perform a show in Japanese Army camps. That was similar to bring the sheep to the house of the wolves. Don’t you think this close-up shot seems to be a sarcasm?

Long shot

(0:33)This long shot first gave audience the impression of the church. You can divide the frame into two parts, the left and the right, separated by the fragile wall of the church. Outside the wall was smoke of gunpowder and relic. Inside the wall was the Red Cross which represented peace and undestroyed church which seemed to be the last place for survival for people in Nanjing. The left and right formed a sharp contrast and in the center of the frame there was a decoration which seemed not to be in harmony with others about color. Like the girl who wore red in Schindler’s List, the director was very clever when using the contrast of the color. The director wanted the audience to focus on the different color when they saw the frame immediately. That color of the Red Cross, highlighted the idea of peace in the war, and hence strongly condemned the inhuman Japanese because they blasphemed the sacred Red Cross.

(1:16)This is a long shot in the church. The girls were standing on the stage, singing the chorus while some Japanese military officers sitting and listening quietly. They were in the relationship between seeing and being saw. This long shot frame clearly reflected a kind of conflict between the two group of people in a harmony scene. The light from the top window shed on the girls. They belonged to the church and they symbolized peace. The Japanese military officers, although they sat quietly, they didn’t belong to the church and they were in the dark. That implied that their roles and nature didn’t change because of the chorus. They were still inhuman Japanese militarists and their action later proved it.

Close shot

(1:38)This frame also reflected a relationship of seeing and being saw. The director chose the close shot of the John’s back and long shot of the Japanese army. The focus was on the close shot while the long shot was blurred. This could reflect John’s mind to some extent. He hated inhuman Japanese militarists and looked down on them. He couldn’t even recognize their faces. Their figures just symbolized the brutality and ruthless.


2.2 Light and color

(0:24)This is the first transition from the cold tone to warm tone. In this movie, all the scenes which were outside the church and described the war were used cold tone and mainly used blue. All the scenes inside the church except being broke into by Japanese used warm tone and mainly used yellow and red. Cold tone created an atmosphere of despair and fear. Warm tone created an environment of peace and hope. They shed a little light in the endless dark. This strong contrast of color was obvious throughout the movie.

(1:12)The light through the window shed the only light in the dark. The amazing light passed through the Catholic Cross, which resembled holy and religion. The light also reflected the hope, like the only light in the dark which needed to guide others to escape. However, this seemed to be a sarcasm. The combined effect of Catholic Cross and light didn’t lead everyone in the church to safety. But, the nature of humanity of the prostitutes and soldiers saved all the girls. Maybe the light enlightened them. Maybe the light indeed gave them hope. Anyway, as long as the girls could be saved, hope would never disappear.

(1:16)The light here was great. Not only as said before, it became a contrast between girls in light and Japanese militarists in dark, but also resembles a fragile hope for everyone in the church. The city was destroyed, their hometown disappeared, all the sky outside the church were not as blue as before. However, they could still see the bright light in the church. That light indeed came from the horrific Nanjing. This represented hope. Hope still existed. And if hope existed, they would never be defeated.

(1:43)This was one of a few cold tones used in church. The girls didn’t want to be insulted by Japanese and they decided to suicide. They even couldn’t be saved in church. There was no doubt that they almost lost their last hope. So, the director used the cold tones to exaggerate this feeling of hopeless and fear.

(1:56)The light on the mirror was very critical in the movie. They were prostitutes, not armed soldiers. When they decided to meet death, they wanted to hurt Japanese as much as they can, rather than died with no meaning. The only weapons they could have were the broken mirror. In this shot, a light shed on the sharp mirror. This could also resemble hope and determination of the prostitutes. They were not afraid of death and they are brave to sacrifice themselves and let the girls to be alive. The usage of the light also reflects kinetic anaphone. The sudden light on the mirror made audience felt the scene that the prostitutes used this ‘knife’ to kill at least one Japanese. Audience could feel that action with the sudden light.


2.3 FOV (Field of View)

(0:35)This is the look down view from the girls. They were staring at the prostitutes from the little hole in the church’s window. It’s like God’s perspective and the girls just scanned the prostitutes. Because they thought church was clean and prostitutes were not respected by them. The girls looked down on them and hated to be together with them. However, this became a contrast with what happened next. When the Japanese broke into the church. The girls were afraid that Japanese would find the basement and hurt the prostitutes, they gave up that precious hiding place and led the Japanese away from the prostitutes as possible. In the war, they earned each other’s respect. And in the last, it was the prostitutes who weren’t respected by them initially saved their lives.

(0:57)This is the lookup view. Usually looking up means respect. By rationality, Japanese shouldn’t violate the church because it was the house of the Lord. However, the inhuman Japanese militarists ignored the common sense and committed crimes. This was totally different from respecting the Red Cross. This look up view provided another sarcasm.

(1:08)In the end, one Japanese soldier cut the flag and it fell to the ground. Initially, this flag resembled their hope and future. However, it was destroyed ruthlessly. The cut of the flag resembled despair and fear instead.

(1:25)It’s the same hole, and the same girl. However, this time, the shot was fast. This became a contrast with the girl staring at the prostitutes in the beginning. At that time, the girls thought the church was peaceful and safe so that they could scan the prostitutes. However, after the disaster in church, they could only see the horrible Japanese soldiers with fear and despair. So, the shot was far faster than the previous shot.

(1:34)This is the lookup view. The horrible Japanese soldiers walked to the church with their guns. This shot focused on the gun and looked up at it. This angle added tensity and fear. This tensity came from high-hierarchy and reflected social class and historic context at that time. Fully-armed Japanese soldiers met unarmed American, minor girls and bare-handed prostitutes. It seemed that they could not compete with Japanese soldiers. However, they had faith, love and humanity. The unity and other nice qualities created a seemly impossible living chance for the girls.


2.4 Clothes

(0:39)The clothes in the movie could resemble their social status. Yumo is the prostitute. So, she and other prostitutes all wore makeup and sexy Cheongsam, which symbolized prostitutes at that time. Even in the war, they were still delicately dressed. This reflected that even in the war, they cared much more about themselves first, and this wasn’t influenced by the external environment. The beauty was their advantage and capital, and there was no exception even in the war. In contrast, all the girls in the movie wore their suites and their clothes could reflect their status as well.

The change of John clothes could also reflect his change in status. Initially he was an ordinary American and his real job was an okuribito. In other word, saving strangers, especially foreigners were not his duty. He came to the church only because he needed the safe place as well. Although he was still safe outside the church, the Japanese didn’t kill the westerners. However, he volunteered to be the priest later and protected the unarmed girls and prostitutes, with the help of his identity of a westerner. He wore the priest uniform and took the responsibility. For John, his transition still resembled the arouse of humanity and this would never disappear even in the war.

2.5 background music and sound effect


(0:16) The background music starts from a human voice. The sound of string music is relatively weak at this time and several sound effects including the sound of guns and cannon are added. The sound of guns and cannon here are reproduced sounds which are tokens with an indexical function signifying the original sounds of guns and cannon happened in a real war. For the audience, the effect of human voice and the background of the story (the war) operate in a recursive way which spirally increases a sense of solemn and stirring. The human voice also has a symbolic function which represents the victims in the war.


(0:27) The string music starts to intensify at this point. The intensification of the music symbolizes the intensification of the conflict and war (This is the point where the Japanese soldiers burst into the church which was supposed to be protected during the war in the video). The other interesting point is the music plays in a major tone and is constantly being intensified. By giving the audiences a sense of grandness, the string music somehow symbolizes the bravery and the fearlessness of the people fighting against the invader at the wartime and the beauty of humanitarianism happening at that time. The contrast between the sorrowful human voice and the background string music indicates a fact that although people are brave, fearless, kind and generous in front of the disaster and mystery happening in their lives, they are nevertheless hopeless and vulnerable under a huge difference between power from the two sides.


(0:55) The sound of the Japanese soldiers hitting the door brutally is produced right after the sound of the cannon in the last second. As for me, this sound serves both an indexical and iconic function where the latter has a degree of resemblance with the sound of cannon. It thus represents the violence, atrocity of the soldiers during the wartime.


(1:09) At this point the Red Cross flag is cut off by the soldier. In order to emphasize the sound of the flag falling onto the ground, other sound effects and music are eliminated here. The excluded emphasize of the sound symbolize the despair of the students of seeing the last hope is wiped out and the John’s unbelieving and then total disappointment towards the Japanese military who breaks the international rule without maintaining the last humanity.


(1:16-1:38) All the previous sound effects and music are substituted by the chorus of the students from 1:16. The anthem symbolizes generousness, love, vulnerability, kindness and humanity which contrasts strongly with the scene including explosion, kill going through. The students at this point also stands for thousands of children, teenagers that are innocent, pure and are supposed to be protected and receive better education but are finally killed brutally during the war time.

2.6 The performance of actors and actress.


(0:39) Ni Ni, the actress gives a strong and content rich eye contact with the camera within this scene where she puts indifference but at the same time survey and tease in the expression. The tease is an indication of her instinct being a prostitute, but at the same time her intelligence, uniqueness and a disillusion with the mortal world is symbolized in this expression which gives the audiences a space to imagine her previous experience. Besides, Ni Ni’s idiosyncrasy matches well with the character where she has a strong image among Chinese audience for being both free from vulgarity and also exceedingly fascinating and charming.


(0:41-0:42) For me the scene of Yu Mo and John flirting with each other is highly symbolic. While Yu Mo expresses a slight and subtle tease (probably as she used to do with other males), John conveys a strong sense of aggressiveness, activeness and desire to be in possession. The module the male and female characters apply in flirting connotates an embedded hierarchy where women are sexualized and have their value evaluated only by being beautiful. Men are always assumed to be active while women are always passive and waiting. This reflects a strong stereotype which deeply rooted in our society and culture.  


(1:05) facial expression of John conveys multiple meanings. He is at a stalemate with the Japanese soldiers with students he protects behind him. His facial expression indicates firm, fearlessness but also beseech, unbelievability and disappointment. This is an epitome of humanity in which he knows for sure that he needs to protect the students and at first, he believes the soldiers won’t kill the students especially in the church. But at the same time while he is having an eye contact with the soldier through which he infers that the soldiers are going to attack the students, he began to show despair and disappointment in his eyes.


(1:53)The scene where Yu Mo takes off her clothes in front of John is before the day when the 12 prostitutes are going substitute the students to death. Her giving her body to John seemingly indicates her love to John. But by identical her body to herself as a person, this scene connotates a gender inequality where women are objectified as beings towards the patriarchy society.


(1:23)The facial expression of the officer while he is listening to the anthem is peaceful and thoughtful. For me the first thing that came into my mind is that this symbolizes the humanity deeply rooted in the soul of those invaders. The officer is temporally escaped from violent and brutal massacre and through the anthem he feels guilty, he confesses and contemplates, the anthem brings him, and also the other soldiers involves in this inhuman with a sense of nostalgia back to their instinct of live, kind, love, generousness and family. However, after the later narrative provided by the film which indicates that the officer is the one who decide to rape and kill the students in the name of performance, the facial expression, on the contrary, becomes a symbol of hypocrisy.


(2:12)“I’ll be back to find you.”
The actor’s lines are seemingly a paradox since both John and Yu Mo know that they would never be able to see each other. But the impossible promise more or less symbolizes a spirit of not giving up hope even under hopeless situation.

2.7 Materials as symbols


(0:08) The first scene in this video contains three symbols which are interdependent to indicate the background of the story. The diffused smoke, without the fire and the wood, would only indicate a foggy, dismal weather to the audiences. Similarly, the fire itself can generate different signifiers in the chain of connotation. But these three symbols regulate each other into a specific larger signifier from which the audiences can infer that there is a war going on at this place. At the same time, the fire, having a striking contrast with the background, also indicates hope and fighting will under desperate situation. To be sure, the meaning at this level would be less easy to generate without knowing that there is a war.


(1:12)The crucifix in the church is highly semiotic here. It indicates confession for a sense of guilty as well as unconditionally kindness and love. While in Christian, killing people is the first thing to be forbidden, here a sense of guilty stands for the brutal military who kill millions of people during the invasion. The kindness and love, on the other hands, provides an ironic function because even at the most holy and pure place, i.e., the church, the Japanese soldiers are not showing any regret of raping, killing the vulnerable students.





The flags of the Red Cross in both of the two scenes are tokens from the original sign of the Red Cross society. Beyond their indexical function, they are highly symbolic in this video. While the Red Cross society symbolize the beauty of humanitarianism, generousness and rescue, a striking contrast is thus shown later when the soldiers burst into the church and wiped out the last hope of those helpless students.


(1:16)The students are standing on the stage of the church, immediately reminds the audiences of the choir. The whole scene is very peace and holy. However, by knowing those who are sitting under the stage are the brutal soldiers and by connect with the background of the story from which we know this happens in the wartime, this scene then gives us a huge sense of irony. The soldiers, on the one hand, are pretending to be kind peaceful under the pure atmosphere, on the other hand, the relationship of speculating and being speculated indicates a hierarchy and a difference of power in each side.               


(1:55) For me this is the most semiotic point in the whole video. What the prostitutes are holding in their hands are knives alike in shape which serves an iconic function. It thus stands for a larger type of weapon which people use to fight against the invader and protect themselves. However, by looking at the whole scene carefully, one will recognize that the knife is made by mirror, which used to be a tool for the prostitutes to complete their make-up. The mirror not only symbolizes beauty of the prostitutes, but also infers an inferiority, enslavement and objectification of women. The broken mirror, on the other hand, indicates the aggressiveness of women who are assumed to be vulnerable and passive to stand up and fight against the inequality.



3.About the director

By understanding some background at this point, we will be able to select specific features in the movie that would stand for a highly stylized “Yimou Zhang interpretation”.
Before becoming a director, Zhang majored in photography in Beijing Film Academy. Therefore, he is known for being demanding about the visual effect of each frame where he is serious about the composition of pictures, selecting scenes, the matching of colors and highly striking but accurate contrast within specific scenes. He uses a lot of long shots which are relatively more infectious, rather than telling a story, he focuses more on the visual effect of each frame and the connection between frames, further, he loves fuzzy processing which helps the whole scene reaching onto an annex of symbolism.
In his workpieces, Zhang is known for being interested in emphasizing the spirit and power of ordinary or inferior people. He also describes women’s position in different time periods in China in his other works where in his works, women are assigned an image of fighter against the miseries but at the same time are constrained under a patriarchal society where they have to be speculated by males. Meanwhile, Zhang is also a romantic artist who likes to express some sense of warmness, love and all forms of beauty.
e.g.1 A demanding utilization of lighting, angle, the actress’s dressing, make-up and eye contact. A token of the type of Zhang’s being demanding on the visual effect.

e.g. 2 The flirting scene, a token of the type of Zhang’s being romantic.

e.g.3 A striking contrast of peace and war, darkness and lightness, gloom and frame each of which leaves spaces for audience to connotate further inference and interpretation.



4.About the audiences

According to Bakhtin, dialogized utterance, the minimal unit of expression and meaning, is an expression in a living context emerging from a background of prior statements and anticipates other responses in a Janus-like structure of past and future, self and others. The dialogic principle extends beyond local situations of expression to the continuum of reinterpretations in cultural forms through historical time.

Based on different education background, the cultural context they live in, the ages, social classes, etc., different audiences therefore will have different understandings of the film.
For most Chinese audiences, they share a same knowledge and education background of the history where the whole country was repressed and were fighting together against the fascism. Therefore, at least for the first time when they are watching the film, most of them would more or less unconsciously select scenes describing the brutality and violence of the war, the beauty of humanity of each individual in the wartime, the power of ordinary people. However, even though Chinese audiences are sharing a similar context while watching this film, people in different age, gender groups or different social classes will percept differently. For example, there are more and more young women in China who are becoming aware of women’s value and power in the contemporary era. Therefore, they might be offended by seeing, for example, Yu Mo takes off her clothes and is ready to devote herself to John before the day she would substitute the students to death. Also, they will also focus on the evaluation of women’s value when they are in different occupation, i.e., prostitute and student. And the debate about how the film depicts women is probably one of the reason that this film didn’t get expected award on an international arena (Frankly, feminist movement and the thinking of women’s value and their position in most Western country is still ahead of China).  

The understanding of the prostitutes volunteering to substitute the students to death is also understood differently. On the one hand, some audiences would interpret this as an arguing against a traditional stereotype of the prostitutes and as a compliment of their sacrificing spirit in front of death. On the other hand, nevertheless, some audiences begin to think about a hidden hierarchy and inequality between people under different occupation. They would, on the contrary, argue that under the seemingly beauty of humanity is an unavoidable rule that the inferiority should always sacrifice for the superiority. Also, the idea that prostitutes is inferior to the students is also considered highly modernized after the enlightenment according to postmodernism where a binary opposition between good and bad, rational and irrational, dignity and lowliness, etc., operated by a current knowledge system, is manipulating every individual in this society.



  1. Irvine, M. (2018). Remix and The Dialog Engine of Culture.
  2. Tagg, P. (1999). Introductory notes to the semiotics of music. Liverpool/Brisbane. http://www. tagg. org/xpdfs/semiotug. pdf (consulted: feb. 2007).
  3. The analysis of the style of Yimou Zhang’s works (n.d.). Retrieved February, 27, 2018. From
  4. The encyclopedia of Yimou Zhang. (n.d.). Retrieved February, 27, 2018. From


Ancient Chinese Music

The Ancient Chinese Music is a new music style occurred in 21st century. The characteristics of ancient Chinese music include classical and elegant lyrics, poetic words, neat and beautiful melody and multi-ethnic musical instruments. It’s totally different from the metallic feeling of rock music and heavy feeling of classical music. Ancient Chinese Music has its unique aesthetic style. The whole piece of music is more melodious and dreamy, and it seems to be back to those antique scenes in the novel.

Ancient Chinese Music initial is used as background music of some Chinese mythical game such as Chinese Paladin: Sword and Fairy, etc. Since 2013, with the rise of Internet, many original ancient Chinese music teams were formed and more and more original ancient Chinese ancient music were created.


The main instruments of Ancient Chinese Music are traditional Chinese instruments.

  1. Erhu

Erhu is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument, more specifically a spike fiddle, which may also be called a Southern Fiddle, and sometimes known in the Western world as the Chinese violin or a Chinese two-stringed fiddle.

  1. Xiao

The Xiao is a Chinese vertical end-blown flute. It is generally made of bamboo. The Xiao is a very ancient Chinese instrument usually thought to have developed from a simple end-blown flute used by the Qiang people of Southwest China in ancient period.

  1. Chinese Flute – Dizi

The dizi is a major Chinese musical instrument, and is widely used in many genres of Chinese folk music, as well as Chinese opera, and the modern Chinese orchestra. Most dizi are made of bamboo, which explains why dizi are sometimes known by simple names such as Chinese bamboo flute.

  1. Bianzhong

Bianzhong is an ancient Chinese musical instrument consisting of a set of bronze bells, played melodically. These sets of chime bells were used as polyphonic musical instruments and some of these bells have been dated at between 2,000 to 3,600 years old. They were hung in a wooden frame and struck with a mallet.

  1. Konghou

The konghou is an ancient Chinese harp. The konghou became extinct sometime in the Ming Dynasty. It has been revived in the 20th century as a double bridge harp; the modern version of the instrument does not resemble the ancient one, but its shape is similar to Western concert harps.

  1. Guqin

The Guqin is a plucked seven-string Chinese musical instrument of the zither family. It has been played since ancient times, and has traditionally been favored by scholars and literati as an instrument of great subtlety and refinement as well as being associated with the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius.

  1. Pipa

Pipa is a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument, belonging to the plucked category of instruments. Pipa is one of the most popular Chinese instruments and has been played for almost two thousand years in China.


Here is some example of Ancient Chinese Music:

  1. Initial Ancient Chinese Music

[Pure Music] Back in Fairy

This is my favorite pure ancient Chinese music which is the main background music of Chinese Paladin: Sword and Fairy 4. The instruments of this music are Flute, Erhu and Chimes.

  1. Modern Ancient Chinese Music

[Song] Resisting World

This is my favorite song sung by He Tu. The instruments of this song are Flute, Guzheng, Pipa, Piano, Electric Bass and Drums.


For the signifying features and inferable patterns of the Ancient Chinese Music, I want to use music structure to analyze it. Take the Back in Fairy as an example;

[1] sonic anaphone: The Transition from flute to rrhu is very harmonic and it embodies a kind of environment where nobody is around you and that resembles to the scene in the game.

[2] tactic anaphone: In the beginning of this pure music is a long part of solo Flute and the timbre of flute makes people feel calm and brings them unconsciously into the world of wonderland. Therefore, it is similar to the sensation of skin being wrapped by cloud and comfortable wind.

[3] kinetic anaphone: The addition of Bianzhong sounds like swords in the game and when people hear Bianzhong which is added in Erhu, it reminds people of the fight scenes in the game.

I think the development from initial ancient Chinese music into modem ancient Chinese music is to cater to the need of the society. Music must be described as well as the society. The development can be reflected in the following aspects. First, most initial ancient Chinese music is the background music of games and it doesn’t include lyrics. Second, initial ancient Chinese music is played only by ancient Chinese music instruments. However, modern ancient Chinese music combines both ancient Chinese music instruments and popular music instruments. For example, Resisting World also includes piano, electric bass and other computer synthesizers. They combine both traditional Chinese elements and modern popular music elements. Third, initial ancient Chinese music didn’t have actual albums. Some even didn’t have digital music for downloading. However, some modern ancient Chinese music has actual albums and music videos. They can be downloaded online and saved them in individuals’ phones for listening at any time.

This kind of development is related to the need of the society and market. First, most people prefer to listen to songs rather than pure music because songs have lyrics. Consequently, some fans of ancient Chinese music who are proficient in Chinese ancient literacy are specialized in writing lyrics for ancient Chinese music and remix the pure music into songs. For example, based on the plot of the game and the melody of Back in Fairy, a group of team wrote the lyrics and remixed it into the song called In One Thousand.

During the remix, that music team not only change part of the pitch and note, but also add several popular music instruments in it. In fact, although this remix is not official, it’s even more popular than the original pure music.



  1. What are the differences of intersubjective and interobjective comparison between initial ancient Chinese music and modern ancient Chinese music?
  2. What are the differences of transmitters and receivers between initial ancient Chinese music and modern ancient Chinese music?
  3. What’s the detailed roles of popular music instruments added in ancient Chinese music?
  4. What kind of technical and cultural interference is the intended message subject to in its audience in the communication channel? What’s the difference of intended symbols understood by transmitters and receivers?
  5. What are the specific symbolic, iconic and indexical modes encoded in ancient Chinese music?

How We Transmit Symbolically Encoded Meanings

A famous Chinese Writer called Lu Xun once wrote a short story called <Hometown>. In the end of the story, Lu Xun wrote a classical celebrated dictum,

“It’s(hope) like a path across the land—it’s not there to begin with, but when lots of people go the same way, it comes into being.”

I really appreciate this celebrated dictum and when I read this week’s reading about symbolic cognition as the core human operating system, I thought of this dictum at once. Similarly, the process of meaning-making can not only depend on individual strengths or become private. On the contrary, this kind of process depends on social strengths. This dependence reflects on the two sides. First, culture originates in social environment. Similarly, the origin of sign systems, symbolic cognition and semiotics is closely related to social environment. Second, meaning-making functions are fundamentally inter-individual, intersubjective, shared, public and collective. The process of meaning-making and knowledge is a kind of cognitive-social event. In this kind of event, individuals use symbolic cognition as the core human operating system. Individuals take advantage of relevant cognitive symbolic resources and then add the value of meaning on these.

Meaning-making cannot be considered as the natural properties of things, or the material properties of sign vehicles of what we can observed. However, it is the internalized codes and conventions of our language and culture,generate new signs to express our understood meanings to others. At the same time, what we receive from them is the same. Consequently, signs and symbols in the society act like common sense for all the social members to conceive each other’s meaning and point of view, rather than just connect individual thoughts. Their role as a kind of interface is a continuum. This interface allows individuals to think collectively and share cognition. Based on the transmission of symbolically encoded meanings, the culture has formed.

This is like Peirce’s triadic model. For Peirce this knowledge-communication process involves a relationship of progressive adequation between two fundamentally opposed elements (Parmentier, 1994). The meaning of the signs and symbols are not “things” or “contents” located in anyone’s head on media representation but are what results from the processes of interpretation initiated by members of meaning communities. Peirce considers the process of meaning-making, reasoning and knowledge as a kind of product generated based on human sign systems and symbolic representation and interpretation. And this kind of generalizable theory of the process of meaning-making depends on signs and symbols as used in human cognition, communication and knowledge.

Computer science can also generate an insight about our ability to build systematic links between material signals and abstract meaning. The irreducible ground of human thoughts and communication is always reflected in the form of thoughts and interaction, but it is usually unobservable and individuals are always using symbolic faculties. Since computer science is another kind of artefact of human cognition. Consequently, they can be used to model many aspects of thought and perception that are not observable. I came up with an example to prove it, namely Polygraph.

A polygraph, popularly referred to as a lie detector, measures and records several physiological indices such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity while the subject is asked and answers a series of questions. Whether true or false is unobservable and they exist in human mind and depend on human thought. However, they can be reflected by the measurement of physiological indices. With this kind of technology, those unobservable human thought and communication can be observed and modeled by magnifying their symbolic faculties. Therefore, technology extends and visualizes individuals’ meaning systems to some extent.


  1. Irvine, ed., Signs, Symbols, Cognition, Artefacts: A Reader of Key Texts.
  2. Introduction to Meaning Making, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics.
  3. Parmentier, R. J. (1994). Signs in society: Studies in semiotic anthropology. Indiana University Press.
  4. Rosenfeld, J. P. (1995). Alternative views of Bashore and Rapp’s (1993) alternatives to traditional polygraphy: A critique.