The difficulty of writing Chinese characters is not exclusive to foreigners. A majority of Chinese speakers today find it hard to write their mother tongue, despite having pride in being the modern custodians of one of the world's oldest written languages, dating back to before 1100 BC.
As the digital age takes over people's daily lives, the need to use pen and paper is getting smaller. It has become commonplace now for Chinese natives to find that words they can pronounce and read easily get lost when they try to write them.
In this summer, several new TV shows that are competing to show modern mastery of the Chinese language have attracted large audiences. These shows have even beaten out the singing and dancing contests which have traditionally dominated ratings.
Such programs have renewed people's interest in Chinese scripts but also sounded an alarm bell on the downward spiral in the nation's handwriting skill.
Many are calling for a national effort to correct this tendency but others say that handwriting is already on its way out and that it should be naturally phased out while allowing calligraphy to be cultivated as an aesthetic art form.
During the recently televised Chinese Character Dictation Contest by CCTV-10, when the host asked the 14-year-old contestant Yu Shuang from Guizhou Province to write the word for toad, the audience frowned. Yu failed as she wrote the character with one dot missing. However, among 10 adult participants offstage, only three had written the word correctly.
Meanwhile, those sitting at home also felt embarrassed during the broadcast, since on several occasions they were stumped as to how to write words that are commonly used in daily conversation.
According to a survey by Beijing-based Horizon Research Consultancy in May, up to 94.1 percent of respondents said they had encountered memory lapses concerning how to write certain characters while writing and 26.8 percent said such lapses were frequent.
"I'm afraid I would be placed in the latter group. Last week, my father asked me to write a shopping list and I forgot the correct strokes for several characters. I was only reminded after using an app on my phone which allows me to write in pinyin and then displays the characters," said Li Hui, a saleswoman from Changsha, Hunan Province.