What meaning do the chinese characters have for China?
The Chinese script is the unifying element of Chinese culture. Whereas the Chinese language developed many different dialects and had gone through many changes in the course of time the Chinese script has remained almost unchanged throughout the last 2000 years. There merely emerged some new styles of writing.
The Chinese script allowed for communication in the whole Chinese cultural area. Other countries like Korea, Japan or Vietnam adopted the Chinese characters.
Exclusive access to education
The difficulties faced when learning the Chinese script and the Chinese classical works had far reaching consequences for Chinese history.
Even though in China the open access to means of education and thus to official offices for all social strata was always stressed with reference to Confucius, who accepted disciples from all social strata, in practice it was reserved to a small class of scholar- gentry which gained access to these offices through years of study.
The civil servants not only had to master the Chinese characters but also had to learn the Classics of Confucianism by heart and acquire broad literal background knowledge. This knowledge was only attainable through years of learning and if studying was the only occupation. As a result the access to the offices was exclusive and the literati and education itself was highly esteemed.
A mediocre or cursory education was not sufficient for a career. This emphasis on education can still be detected in countries influenced by Confucianism like South Korea, which invest a considerable higher share of GDP in education than Germany for example.