Letter writers put pen to paper again

Lost art witnesses revival in digital age.

Writing letters seems an old-fashioned way of communicating in today’s digital world, but in China, efforts are being made to revive the waning practice.

With the widespread use of instant messaging, communicating by letter has fallen out of fashion.

When 14-year-old Wei Kangcheng wrote his first letter to his parents as part of his school homework in March, his difficult relationship with them improved.

For years, Wei had had arguments with his parents over his shyness. They urged him to communicate with other people more often, but Wei felt he had no trouble with social relationships.

“I expressed my innermost feelings in the letter, hoping my parents would accept my personality instead of pushing me into a corner, and that they would spend more time with me,” he said.

Wei’s parents discussed the situation with him after reading the letter.

“They said they would not encourage me to change my personality but would give me space to grow up in my own way. The letter has made it easier to close the gap between the two generations,” Wei said.

At Fu Lei Middle School in Shanghai, where Wei and 1,456 other teenagers study, writing letters has been promoted for 10 years.

Named after the influential translator Fu Lei (1908-66), the school is located in Zhoupu town in the Pudong New Area. Fu was born in the town.

It holds classes relating to the translator’s life, in which students read from his book Fu Lei’s Family Letters, published in 1981, which features letters Fu and his wife wrote to their eldest son, Fu Cong.

Students are also taught to write to their parents, who send letters in reply.

Fu Guoqing, the school’s headmaster, said, “The classes enlighten young minds about family relationships, and help to build strong, healthy families with efficient ways of communication.”

Zhang Ding, deputy curator of the Museum of Family Letters at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said, “Putting pen to paper to write a letter has been an outdated means of communication since the 1990s.”

According to a report released by the museum in 2015, only 7 percent of 1,220 respondents from more than 20 provinces, including Liaoning, Shandong and Jiangsu, said they still wrote physical letters to family members.

Some 70 percent of the interviewees did not keep any old family letters, with 32 percent discarding them when their families moved house. Some 26 percent were not in the habit of saving family letters, and 17 percent considered handwritten letters had “little value”.

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