Chinese tally marks
I just finished watching the documentary “Please Vote For Me” by Chen Weijun as aired on the CBC. It is 45 minutes of the drama involved in an election at a public school in Wuhan where three students get to run for the position of class monitor and have the other students vote. One of the three students almost ruined it for me by being such a brat, and I fear for anyone among the 老百姓 who someday fall under his domain.
One part of the film caught me a little by surprise. Near the end, as they were finally counting the votes, they employed a tallying system that I’d heard of once before, but it was so long ago and poorly explained that I mostly shut it out of my memory.
Rather than doing tallies as I learned, I.e. Four vertical strokes followed by a fifth diagonal/horizontal across the first four, the students in the film composed the character 正, one stroke at a time. 一，丅，下 etc. You can see it on the blackboard in the poster for the movie, though it’s kind of a spoiler.
I asked Syz about this the other day. He had this to say:
In general, I see lots of people use 正 for one, two, three, four
[PBS] says they use it a lot at [elementary] school in math class and other places, but she doesn’t recall using it much just herself among friends.
Too bad you didn’t ask me this question a couple of days ago. I went out with a bunch of people for Korean food (of all things) and I think I vaguely remember seeing on the tab that they were using tally marks. It would have been a great graphic for you.
Alas, we must make do with the poster. Personally I think I prefer the 正 method, since it’s harder to mess up. Not that the usual Western method is so difficult, but one could always try to fit in one more stroke in there to short count their opponent. I know, it’s a stretch.
I’m sure this system is widely known by every 10 year old in the Mandarin speaking world. Still, it was mostly new to me and I thought others might find it interesting. In fact, In four years of doing this China thing, this is actually the first time ive seen it used.