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Chinese characters () are
logogram In a written language, a logogram, logograph, or lexigraph is a written character that represents a word or morpheme. Chinese characters (pronounced ''hanzi'' in Mandarin, ''kanji'' in Japanese, '' hanja'' in Korean) are generally logograms, ...
s developed for the writing of Chinese. In addition, they have been adapted to write other East Asian languages, and remain a key component of the
Japanese writing system The modern Japanese writing system uses a combination of logographic kanji, which are adopted Chinese characters, and syllabic kana. Kana itself consists of a pair of syllabaries: hiragana, used primarily for native or naturalised Japane ...
where they are known as ''
kanji are the logographic Chinese characters taken from the Chinese script and used in the writing of Japanese. They were made a major part of the Japanese writing system during the time of Old Japanese and are still used, along with the subsequ ...
''. Chinese characters in South Korea, which are known as ''
hanja Hanja (Hangul: ; Hanja: , ), alternatively known as Hancha, are Chinese characters () used in the writing of Korean. Hanja was used as early as the Gojoseon period, the first ever Korean kingdom. (, ) refers to Sino-Korean vocabulary, whi ...
'', retain significant use in Korean academia to study its documents, history, literature and records. Vietnam once used the ''
chữ Hán Chữ Hán (𡨸漢, literally "Chinese characters", ), Chữ Nho (𡨸儒, literally "Confucian characters", ) or Hán tự (漢字, ), is the Vietnamese term for Chinese characters, used to write Văn ngôn (which is a form of Classical Chinese ...
'' and developed
chữ Nôm Chữ Nôm (, ; ) is a logographic writing system formerly used to write the Vietnamese language. It uses Chinese characters (''Chữ Hán'') to represent Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and some native Vietnamese words, with other words represent ...
to write Vietnamese before turning to a romanized alphabet. Chinese characters are the oldest continuously used system of writing in the world. By virtue of their widespread current use throughout
East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia, which is defined in both geographical and ethno-cultural terms. The modern states of East Asia include China, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, and Taiwan. China, North Korea, South Kore ...
and
Southeast Asia Southeast Asia, also spelled South East Asia and South-East Asia, and also known as Southeastern Asia, South-eastern Asia or SEA, is the geographical south-eastern region of Asia, consisting of the regions that are situated south of mainland ...
, as well as their profound historic use throughout the
Sinosphere The East Asian cultural sphere, also known as the Sinosphere, the Sinic world, the Sinitic world, the Chinese cultural sphere, the Chinese character sphere encompasses multiple countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia that were historicall ...
, Chinese characters are among the most widely adopted writing systems in the world by number of users. The total number of Chinese characters ever to appear in a dictionary is in the tens of thousands, though most are graphic variants, were used historically and passed out of use, or are of a specialized nature. A college graduate who is
literate Literacy in its broadest sense describes "particular ways of thinking about and doing reading and writing" with the purpose of understanding or expressing thoughts or ideas in written form in some specific context of use. In other words, huma ...
in written Chinese knows between three and four thousand characters, though more are required for specialized fields. In Japan, 2,136 are taught through secondary school (the ''
Jōyō kanji The is the guide to kanji characters and their readings, announced officially by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Current ''jōyō kanji'' are those on a list of 2,136 characters issued in 2010. It is a slightly modified version of the '' t ...
''); hundreds more are in everyday use. Due to separate simplifications of characters in Japan and
in China IN, In or in may refer to: Places * India (country code IN) * Indiana, United States (postal code IN) * Ingolstadt, Germany (license plate code IN) * In, Russia, a town in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast Businesses and organizations * Indep ...
, the ''kanji'' used in Japan today has some differences from Chinese simplified characters in several respects. There are various national standard lists of characters, forms, and pronunciations. Simplified forms of certain characters are used in
mainland China "Mainland China" is a geopolitical term defined as the territory governed by the People's Republic of China (including islands like Hainan or Chongming), excluding dependent territories of the PRC, and other territories within Greater Chin ...
,
Singapore Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign island country and city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bo ...
, and
Malaysia Malaysia ( ; ) is a country in Southeast Asia. The federal constitutional monarchy consists of thirteen states and three federal territories, separated by the South China Sea into two regions: Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo's East Malay ...
;
traditional characters Traditional Chinese characters are one type of standard Chinese character sets of the contemporary written Chinese. The traditional characters had taken shapes since the clerical change and mostly remained in the same structure they took at ...
are used in
Taiwan Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a Country, country in East Asia, at the junction of the East China Sea, East and South China Seas in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, with the China, People's Republic of China (PRC) to the n ...
,
Hong Kong Hong Kong ( (US) or (UK); , ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (abbr. Hong Kong SAR or HKSAR), is a city and special administrative region of China on the eastern Pearl River Delt ...
,
Macau Macau or Macao (; ; ; ), officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (MSAR), is a city and special administrative region of China in the western Pearl River Delta by the South China Sea. With a popu ...
, and, to some extent, in
South Korea South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (ROK), is a country in East Asia, constituting the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and sharing a land border with North Korea. Its western border is formed by the Yellow Sea, while its eas ...
. In
Japan Japan ( ja, 日本, or , and formally , ''Nihonkoku'') is an island country in East Asia. It is situated in the northwest Pacific Ocean, and is bordered on the west by the Sea of Japan, while extending from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north ...
, common characters are often written in post-Tōyō kanji simplified forms, while uncommon characters are written in Japanese traditional forms. During the 1970s, Singapore had also briefly enacted its own simplification campaign, but eventually streamlined its simplification to be uniform with mainland China. In modern Chinese, most words are
compound Compound may refer to: Architecture and built environments * Compound (enclosure), a cluster of buildings having a shared purpose, usually inside a fence or wall ** Compound (fortification), a version of the above fortified with defensive struct ...
s written with two or more characters. Unlike alphabetic writing systems, in which the unit character roughly corresponds to one
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme () is a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlands and the north-w ...
, the Chinese writing system associates each logogram with an entire
syllable A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds typically made up of a syllable nucleus (most often a vowel) with optional initial and final margins (typically, consonants). Syllables are often considered the phonological ...
, and thus may be compared in some aspects to a
syllabary In the linguistic study of written languages, a syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) moras which make up words. A symbol in a syllabary, called a syllabogram, typically represents an (option ...
. A character almost always corresponds to a single syllable that is also a
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful constituent of a linguistic expression. The field of linguistic study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. In English, morphemes are often but not necessarily words. Morphemes that stand alone ...
. However, there are a few exceptions to this general correspondence, including bisyllabic morphemes (written with two characters), bimorphemic syllables (written with two characters) and cases where a single character represents a polysyllabic word or phrase. Modern Chinese has many
homophone A homophone () is a word that is pronounced the same (to varying extent) as another word but differs in meaning. A ''homophone'' may also differ in spelling. The two words may be spelled the same, for example ''rose'' (flower) and ''rose'' (p ...
s; thus the same spoken syllable may be represented by one of many characters, depending on meaning. A particular character may also have a range of meanings, or sometimes quite distinct meanings, which might have different pronunciations.
Cognate In historical linguistics, cognates or lexical cognates are sets of words in different languages that have been inherited in direct descent from an etymological ancestor in a common parent language. Because language change can have radical ...
s in the several
varieties of Chinese Chinese, also known as Sinitic, is a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family consisting of hundreds of local varieties, many of which are not mutually intelligible. Variation is particularly strong in the more mountainous southeast of ma ...
are generally written with the same character. In other languages, most significantly in modern Japanese and sometimes in Korean, characters are used to represent Chinese
loanwords A loanword (also loan word or loan-word) is a word at least partly assimilated from one language (the donor language) into another language. This is in contrast to cognates, which are words in two or more languages that are similar because t ...
or to represent native words independent of the Chinese pronunciation (e.g.,
kun'yomi are the logographic Chinese characters taken from the Chinese script and used in the writing of Japanese. They were made a major part of the Japanese writing system during the time of Old Japanese and are still used, along with the subsequ ...
in Japanese). Some characters retained their phonetic elements based on their pronunciation in a historical variety of Chinese from which they were acquired. These foreign adaptations of Chinese pronunciation are known as
Sino-Xenic pronunciations Sino-Xenic or Sinoxenic pronunciations are regular systems for reading Chinese characters in Japan, Korea and Vietnam, originating in medieval times and the source of large-scale borrowings of Chinese words into the Japanese, Korean and Vietname ...
and have been useful in the
reconstruction Reconstruction may refer to: Politics, history, and sociology *Reconstruction (law), the transfer of a company's (or several companies') business to a new company *''Perestroika'' (Russian for "reconstruction"), a late 20th century Soviet Union ...
of
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese recorded in the ''Qieyun'', a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded editions. The S ...
.


Function

When the script was first used in the late 2nd millennium BC, words of
Old Chinese Old Chinese, also called Archaic Chinese in older works, is the oldest attested stage of Chinese, and the ancestor of all modern varieties of Chinese. The earliest examples of Chinese are divinatory inscriptions on oracle bones from around 1250 ...
were generally monosyllabic, and each character denoted a single word. Increasing numbers of polysyllabic words have entered the language from the
Western Zhou The Western Zhou ( zh, c=, p=Xīzhōu; c. 1045 BC – 771 BC) was a royal dynasty of China and the first half of the Zhou dynasty. It began when King Wu of Zhou overthrew the Shang dynasty at the Battle of Muye and ended when the Quanrong no ...
period to the present day. It is estimated that about 25–30% of the vocabulary of classic texts from the
Warring States period The Warring States period () was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation. It followed the Spring and Autumn period and concluded with the Qin wars of conquest ...
was polysyllabic, though these words were used far less commonly than monosyllables, which accounted for 80–90% of occurrences in these texts. The process has accelerated over the centuries as phonetic change has increased the number of homophones. It has been estimated that over two thirds of the 3,000 most common words in modern
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese ()—in linguistics Standard Northern Mandarin or Standard Beijing Mandarin, in common speech simply Mandarin, better qualified as Standard Mandarin, Modern Standard Mandarin or Standard Mandarin Chinese—is a modern standa ...
are polysyllables, the vast majority of those being disyllables. The most common process has been to form compounds of existing words, written with the characters of the constituent words. Words have also been created by adding
affix In linguistics, an affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word or word form. Affixes may be derivational, like English ''-ness'' and ''pre-'', or inflectional, like English plural ''-s'' and past tense ''-ed''. The ...
es,
reduplication In linguistics, reduplication is a morphological process in which the root or stem of a word (or part of it) or even the whole word is repeated exactly or with a slight change. The classic observation on the semantics of reduplication is Ed ...
, and borrowing from other languages. Polysyllabic words are generally written with one character per syllable. In most cases, the character denotes a
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful constituent of a linguistic expression. The field of linguistic study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. In English, morphemes are often but not necessarily words. Morphemes that stand alone ...
descended from an Old Chinese word. Many characters have multiple readings, with instances denoting different morphemes, sometimes with different pronunciations. In modern Standard Chinese, one fifth of the 2,400 most common characters have multiple pronunciations. For the 500 most common characters, the proportion rises to 30%. Often these readings are similar in sound and related in meaning. In the Old Chinese period, affixes could be added to a word to form a new word, which was often written with the same character. In many cases, the pronunciations diverged due to subsequent
sound change A sound change, in historical linguistics, is a change in the pronunciation of a language. A sound change can involve the replacement of one speech sound (or, more generally, one phonetic feature value) by a different one (called phonetic cha ...
. For example, many additional readings have the
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese recorded in the ''Qieyun'', a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded editions. The S ...
departing tone, the major source of the 4th tone in modern Standard Chinese. Scholars now believe that this tone is the reflex of an Old Chinese *-s suffix, with a range of semantic functions. For example, * / has readings OC * > MC > Mod. 'to transmit' and * > > 'a record'. (Middle Chinese forms are given in Baxter's transcription, in which ''H'' denotes the departing tone.) * has readings * > > 'to grind' and * > > 'grindstone'. * has readings * > > 'to stay overnight' and * > > 'celestial "mansion"'. * / has readings * > > 'speak' and * > > 'exhort'. Another common alternation is between voiced and voiceless initials (though the voicing distinction has disappeared on most modern varieties). This is believed to reflect an ancient prefix, but scholars disagree on whether the voiced or voiceless form is the original root. For example, * / has readings * > > 'to see' and * > > 'to appear'. * / has readings * > > 'to defeat' and * > > 'to be defeated'. (In this case, the pronunciations have converged in Standard Chinese, but not in some other varieties.) * has readings * > > 'to bend' and * > > 'to break by bending'.


Principles of formation

Chinese characters represent words of the language using several strategies. A few characters, including some of the most commonly used, were originally
pictogram A pictogram, also called a pictogramme, pictograph, or simply picto, and in computer usage an icon, is a graphic symbol that conveys its meaning through its pictorial resemblance to a physical object. Pictographs are often used in writing and ...
s, which depicted the objects denoted, or
ideogram An ideogram or ideograph (from Greek "idea" and "to write") is a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept, independent of any particular language, and specific words or phrases. Some ideograms are comprehensible only by familiarit ...
s, in which meaning was expressed iconically. The vast majority were written using the rebus principle, in which a character for a similarly sounding word was either borrowed or more commonly extended with a disambiguating semantic marker to form a phono-semantic compound character. The traditional six-fold classification (' / "six writings") was first described by the scholar
Xu Shen Xu Shen ( CE) was a Chinese calligrapher, philologist, politician, and writer of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-189). He was born in the Zhaoling district of Run'an prefecture (today known as Luohe in Henan Province). During his own lifetime, ...
in the postface of his dictionary ''
Shuowen Jiezi ''Shuowen Jiezi'' () is an ancient Chinese dictionary from the Han dynasty. Although not the first comprehensive Chinese character dictionary (the ''Erya'' predates it), it was the first to analyze the structure of the characters and to give t ...
'' in 100 AD. While this analysis is sometimes problematic and arguably fails to reflect the complete nature of the Chinese writing system, it has been perpetuated by its long history and pervasive use.


Pictograms

* '
Pictogram A pictogram, also called a pictogramme, pictograph, or simply picto, and in computer usage an icon, is a graphic symbol that conveys its meaning through its pictorial resemblance to a physical object. Pictographs are often used in writing and ...
s are highly stylized and simplified pictures of material objects. Examples of pictograms include ' for "sun", ' for "moon", and ' for "tree" or "wood". Xu Shen placed approximately 4% of characters in this category. Though few in number and expressing literal objects, pictograms and ideograms are nonetheless the basis on which all the more complex characters such as associative compound characters (会意字/會意字) and phono-semantic characters (形声字/形聲字) are formed. Over time pictograms were increasingly standardized, simplified, and stylized to make them easier to write. Furthermore, the same
Kangxi radical The 214 Kangxi radicals (), also known as the Zihui radicals, form a system of radicals () of Chinese characters. The radicals are numbered in stroke count order. They are the most popular system of radicals for dictionaries that order Tradit ...
character element can be used to depict different objects. Thus, the image depicted by most pictograms is not often immediately evident. For example, 口 may indicate the mouth, a window as in 高 which depicts a tall building as a symbol of the idea of "tall" or the lip of a vessel as in 富 a wine jar under a roof as symbol of wealth. That is, pictograms extended from literal objects to take on symbolic or metaphoric meanings; sometimes even displacing the use of the character as a literal term, or creating ambiguity, which was resolved through character determinants, more commonly but less accurately known as " radicals" i.e. concept keys in the
phono-semantic All Chinese characters are logograms, but several different types can be identified, based on the manner in which they are formed or derived. There are a handful which derive from pictographs () and a number which are ideographic () in origin, in ...
characters.


Simple ideograms

* ' Also called ''simple indicatives,'' this small category contains characters that are direct iconic illustrations. Examples include ' "up" and ' "down", originally a dot above and below a line. Indicative characters are symbols for abstract concepts which could not be depicted literally but nonetheless can be expressed as a visual symbol e.g. convex 凸, concave 凹, flat-and-level 平.


Compound ideographs

* / ' Also translated as logical aggregates or associative idea characters, these characters have been interpreted as combining two or more pictographic or ideographic characters to suggest a third meaning. The canonical example is bright. 明 is the association of the two brightest objects in the sky the sun 日 and moon 月, brought together to express the idea of "bright". It is canonical because the term 明白 in Chinese (lit. "bright white") means "to understand, understand". Adding the abbreviated radical for grass, cao above the character, ming, changes it to meng 萌, which means to sprout or bud, alluding to the heliotropic behavior of plant life. Other commonly cited examples include "rest" (composed of the pictograms "person" and "tree") and "good" (composed of "woman" and "child"). Xu Shen placed approximately 13% of characters in this category, but many of his examples are now believed to be phono-semantic compounds whose origin has been obscured by subsequent changes in their form.
Peter Boodberg Peter Alexis Boodberg (born Pyotr Alekseyevich Budberg; 8 April 1903 – 29 June 1972) was a Russian-American scholar, linguist, and sinologist who taught at the University of California, Berkeley for 40 years. Boodberg was influential in 20t ...
and William Boltz go so far as to deny that any of the compound characters devised in ancient times were of this type, maintaining that now-lost "secondary readings" are responsible for the apparent absence of phonetic indicators, but their arguments have been rejected by other scholars. In contrast, associative compound characters are common among characters coined in Japan. Also, a few characters coined in China in modern times, such as platinum, "white metal" (see '' Chemical elements in East Asian languages'') belong to this category.


Rebus

* ' Also called ''borrowings'' or ''phonetic loan characters,'' the
rebus A rebus () is a puzzle device that combines the use of illustrated pictures with individual letters to depict words or phrases. For example: the word "been" might be depicted by a rebus showing an illustrated bumblebee next to a plus sign (+) ...
category covers cases where an existing character is used to represent an unrelated word with similar or identical pronunciation; sometimes the old meaning is then lost completely, as with characters such as ', which has lost its original meaning of "nose" completely and exclusively means "oneself", or ', which originally meant "scorpion" but is now used only in the sense of "ten thousand". Rebus was pivotal in the history of writing in China insofar as it represented the stage at which logographic writing could become purely phonetic (phonographic). Chinese characters used purely for their sound values are attested in the Spring and Autumn and
Warring States period The Warring States period () was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation. It followed the Spring and Autumn period and concluded with the Qin wars of conquest ...
manuscripts, in which ' was used to write ' and vice versa, just lines apart; the same happened with ' 勺 for ' , with the characters in question being homophonous or nearly homophonous at the time.


Phonetical usage for foreign words

Chinese characters are used rebus-like and exclusively for their phonetic value when transcribing words of foreign origin, such as ancient Buddhist terms or modern foreign names. For example, the word for the country "
Romania Romania ( ; ro, România ) is a country located at the crossroads of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. It borders Bulgaria to the south, Ukraine to the north, Hungary to the west, Serbia to the southwest, Moldova to the east, and ...
" is 罗马尼亚/羅馬尼亞 (Luó Mǎ Ní Yà), in which the Chinese characters are only used for their sounds and do not provide any meaning. This usage is similar to that of the Japanese
Katakana is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji and in some cases the Latin script (known as rōmaji). The word ''katakana'' means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana characters are derive ...
and
Hiragana is a Japanese syllabary, part of the Japanese writing system, along with ''katakana'' as well as ''kanji''. It is a phonetic lettering system. The word ''hiragana'' literally means "flowing" or "simple" kana ("simple" originally as contras ...
, although the Kanas use a special set of simplified forms of Chinese characters, in order to advertise their value as purely phonetic symbols. The same rebus principle for names in particular has also been used in
Egyptian hieroglyphs Egyptian hieroglyphs (, ) were the formal writing system used in Ancient Egypt, used for writing the Egyptian language. Hieroglyphs combined logographic, syllabic and alphabetic elements, with some 1,000 distinct characters.There were about 1, ...
and Maya glyphs. In the Chinese usage, in a few instances, the characters used for pronunciation might be carefully chosen in order to connote a specific meaning, as regularly happens for brand names:
Coca-Cola Coca-Cola, or Coke, is a carbonated soft drink manufactured by the Coca-Cola Company. Originally marketed as a temperance drink and intended as a patent medicine, it was invented in the late 19th century by John Stith Pemberton in Atlan ...
is translated phonetically as 可口可乐/可口可樂 (Kěkǒu Kělè), but the characters were carefully selected so as to have the additional meaning of "Delicious and Enjoyable". A more literal translation would be "the Mouth can be happy", and the phrase in Chinese is technically grammatically sound.


Phono-semantic compounds

* / Mandarin: ' ''Semantic-phonetic compounds'' or ''pictophonetic compounds'' are by far the most numerous characters. These characters are composed of at least two parts. The
semantic Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference, meaning, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct disciplines, including philosophy, linguistics and comput ...
component suggests the general meaning of the compound character. The
phonetic Phonetics is a branch of linguistics that studies how humans produce and perceive sounds, or in the case of sign languages, the equivalent aspects of sign. Linguists who specialize in studying the physical properties of speech are phoneticians. ...
component suggests the pronunciation of the compound character. In most cases the semantic indicator is also the 部首
radical Radical may refer to: Politics and ideology Politics * Radical politics, the political intent of fundamental societal change *Radicalism (historical), the Radical Movement that began in late 18th century Britain and spread to continental Europe an ...
under which the character is listed in dictionaries. In some rare examples phono-semantic characters may also convey pictorial content. Each Chinese character is an attempt to combine sound, image, and idea in a mutually reinforcing fashion. Examples of phono-semantic characters include ' "river", ' "lake", ' "stream", ' "surge", ' "slippery". All these characters have on the left a radical of three short strokes (氵), which is a reduced form of the character 水 ''shuǐ'' meaning "water", indicating that the character has a semantic connection with water. The right-hand side in each case is a phonetic indicator- for instance: ' has a very similar pronunciation to and ' has a similar (though somewhat different) pronunciation to 河. For example, in the case of ' (Old Chinese ) "surge", the phonetic indicator is ' (Old Chinese ), which by itself means "middle". In this case it can be seen that the pronunciation of the character is slightly different from that of its phonetic indicator; the effect of historical sound change means that the composition of such characters can sometimes seem arbitrary today. In general, phonetic components do not determine the exact pronunciation of a character, but only give a clue as to its pronunciation. While some characters take the exact pronunciation of their phonetic component, others take only the initial or final sounds. In fact, some characters' pronunciations may not correspond to the pronunciations of their phonetic parts at all, which is sometimes the case with characters after having undergone simplification. The 8 characters in the following table all take 也 for their phonetic part, however, as it is readily apparent, none of them take the pronunciation of 也, which is yě (Old Chinese *lajʔ). As the table below shows, the sound changes that have taken place since the Shang/Zhou period when most of these characters were created can be dramatic, to the point of not providing any useful hint of the modern pronunciation. Xu Shen (c. 100 AD) placed approximately 82% of characters into this category, while in the
Kangxi Dictionary The ''Kangxi Dictionary'' ( (Compendium of standard characters from the Kangxi period), published in 1716, was the most authoritative dictionary of Chinese characters from the 18th century through the early 20th. The Kangxi Emperor of the Qing d ...
(1716 AD) the number is closer to 90%, due to the extremely productive use of this technique to extend the Chinese vocabulary. The
chữ Nôm Chữ Nôm (, ; ) is a logographic writing system formerly used to write the Vietnamese language. It uses Chinese characters (''Chữ Hán'') to represent Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and some native Vietnamese words, with other words represent ...
characters of Vietnam were created using this principle. This method is used to form new characters, for example / ' ("
plutonium Plutonium is a radioactive chemical element with the symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, and forms a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhib ...
") is the metal radical ' plus the phonetic component ', described in Chinese as " gives sound, gives meaning". Many Chinese names of the chemical elements and many other chemistry-related characters were formed this way. In fact, it is possible to tell from a Chinese periodic table at a glance which elements are metal (), solid nonmetal (, "stone"), liquid (), or gas () at
standard temperature and pressure Standard temperature and pressure (STP) are standard sets of conditions for experimental measurements to be established to allow comparisons to be made between different sets of data. The most used standards are those of the International Union o ...
. Occasionally a bisyllabic word is written with two characters that contain the same radical, as in ' "butterfly", where both characters have the insect radical . A notable example is
pipa The pipa, pípá, or p'i-p'a () is a traditional Chinese musical instrument, belonging to the plucked category of instruments. Sometimes called the "Chinese lute", the instrument has a pear-shaped wooden body with a varying number of frets rang ...
(a Chinese lute, also a fruit, the
loquat The loquat (''Eriobotrya japonica'') is a large evergreen shrub or tree, grown commercially for its orange fruit and for its leaves, which are used to make herbal tea. It is also cultivated as an ornamental plant. The loquat is in the family ...
, of similar shape) – originally written as with the hand radical (扌), referring to the down and up strokes when playing this instrument, which was then changed to (tree radical ), which is still used for the fruit, while the character was changed to when referring to the instrument (radical ). In other cases a compound word may coincidentally share a radical without this being meaningful.


Derivative cognates

* / ' The smallest category of characters is also the least understood. In the postface to the ', Xu Shen gave as an example the characters ' "to verify" and ' "old", which had similar Old Chinese pronunciations (*khuʔ and *C-ruʔ respectively) and may once have been the same word, meaning "elderly person", but became lexicalized into two separate words. The term does not appear in the body of the dictionary, and is often omitted from modern systems.


History


Legendary origins

According to traditional legend, Chinese characters were invented by
Cangjie Cangjie () is a legendary ancient Chinese figure said to have been an official historian of the Yellow Emperor and the inventor of Chinese characters. Legend has it that he had four eyes, and that when he invented the characters, the deities an ...
, a figure said to have been a scribe to the legendary
Yellow Emperor The Yellow Emperor, also known as the Yellow Thearch or by his Chinese name Huangdi (), is a deity ('' shen'') in Chinese religion, one of the legendary Chinese sovereigns and culture heroes included among the mytho-historical Three Sovereig ...
during the 27th century BC. Inspired by his study of the animals of the world, the landscape of the earth and the stars in the sky, Cangjie is said to have invented symbols called ' () – the first Chinese characters. The legend relates that on the day the characters were created, grain rained down from the sky and that night the people heard ghosts wailing and demons crying because the human beings could no longer be cheated.


Early sign use

In recent decades, a series of inscribed graphs and pictures have been found at
Neolithic The Neolithic period, or New Stone Age, is an Old World archaeological period and the final division of the Stone Age. It saw the Neolithic Revolution, a wide-ranging set of developments that appear to have arisen independently in several par ...
sites in China, including
Jiahu Jiahu () was the site of a Neolithic settlement based in the central plain of ancient China, near the Yellow River. It is located between the floodplains of the Ni River to the north, and the Sha River to the south, north of the modern city ...
(c. 6500 BC), Dadiwan and
Damaidi Damaidi (; ''literally: Big wheat field''), is the location of 3,172 sets of early Chinese petroglyphs, carved into the cliffs which feature 8,453 individual figures. Cliff carving expert Li Xiangshi stated that "The pictographs are similar to ...
from the 6th millennium BC, and
Banpo Banpo is an archaeological site discovered in 1953 by Shi Xingbang, and located in the Yellow River Valley just east of Xi'an, China. It contains the remains of several well organized Neolithic settlements, like Jiangzhai, carbon dated ...
(5th millennium BC). Often these finds are accompanied by media reports that push back the purported beginnings of Chinese writing by thousands of years. However, because these marks occur singly without any implied context and are made crudely,
Qiu Xigui Qiu Xigui (; born 13July 1935) is a Chinese historian, palaeographer, and professor of Fudan University. His book ''Chinese Writing'' is considered the "single most influential study of Chinese palaeography". Early life and education Qiu Xigui ...
concluded that "we do not have any basis for stating that these constituted writing nor is there reason to conclude that they were ancestral to
Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese royal dynasty founded by Tang of Shang (Cheng Tang) that ruled in the Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, traditionally succeeding the Xia dynasty an ...
Chinese characters." They do however demonstrate a history of sign use in the
Yellow River The Yellow River or Huang He (Chinese: , Mandarin: ''Huáng hé'' ) is the second-longest river in China, after the Yangtze River, and the sixth-longest river system in the world at the estimated length of . Originating in the Bayan Ha ...
valley during the Neolithic through to the Shang period.


Oracle bone script

The earliest confirmed evidence of the Chinese script yet discovered is the body of inscriptions carved on bronze vessels and
oracle bone Oracle bones () are pieces of ox scapula and turtle plastron, which were used for pyromancy – a form of divination – in ancient China, mainly during the late Shang dynasty. ''Scapulimancy'' is the correct term if ox scapulae were used for th ...
s from the late
Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese royal dynasty founded by Tang of Shang (Cheng Tang) that ruled in the Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, traditionally succeeding the Xia dynasty an ...
(c. 1250–1050 BC). The earliest of these is dated to around 1200 BC. In 1899, pieces of these bones were being sold as "dragon bones" for medicinal purposes, when scholars identified the symbols on them as Chinese writing. By 1928, the source of the bones had been traced to a village near
Anyang Anyang (; ) is a prefecture-level city in Henan province, China. The northernmost city in Henan, Anyang borders Puyang to the east, Hebi and Xinxiang to the south, and the provinces of Shanxi and Hebei to its west and north respectively. It ...
in
Henan Province Henan (; or ; ; alternatively Honan) is a landlocked province of China, in the central part of the country. Henan is often referred to as Zhongyuan or Zhongzhou (), which literally means "central plain" or "midland", although the name is al ...
, which was excavated by the
Academia Sinica Academia Sinica (AS, la, 1=Academia Sinica, 3=Chinese Academy; ), headquartered in Nangang, Taipei, is the national academy of Taiwan. Founded in Nanking, the academy supports research activities in a wide variety of disciplines, ranging fro ...
between 1928 and 1937. Over 150,000 fragments have been found. Oracle bone inscriptions are records of divinations performed in communication with royal ancestral spirits. The shortest are only a few characters long, while the longest are 30 to 40 characters in length. The Shang king would communicate with his ancestors on topics relating to the royal family, military success, weather forecasting, ritual sacrifices, and related topics by means of
scapulimancy Scapulimancy (also spelled ''scapulomancy'' and ''scapulamancy'', also termed ''omoplatoscopy'' or ''speal bone reading'') is the practice of divination by use of scapulae or speal bones (shoulder blades). It is most widely practiced in China ...
, and the answers would be recorded on the divination material itself. The
oracle bone script Oracle bone script () is an ancient form of Chinese characters that were engraved on oracle bonesanimal bones or turtle plastrons used in pyromantic divination. Oracle bone script was used in the late 2nd millennium BC, and is the earliest kn ...
is a well-developed writing system, suggesting that the Chinese script's origins may lie earlier than the late second millennium BC. Although these divinatory inscriptions are the earliest surviving evidence of ancient Chinese writing, it is widely believed that writing was used for many other non-official purposes, but that the materials upon which non-divinatory writing was done – likely wood and bamboo – were less durable than bone and shell and have since decayed away.


Bronze Age: parallel script forms and gradual evolution

The traditional picture of an orderly series of scripts, each one invented suddenly and then completely displacing the previous one, has been conclusively demonstrated to be fiction by the archaeological finds and scholarly research of the later 20th and early 21st centuries. Gradual evolution and the coexistence of two or more scripts was more often the case. As early as the Shang dynasty, oracle bone script coexisted as a simplified form alongside the normal script of
bamboo Bamboos are a diverse group of evergreen perennial flowering plants making up the subfamily Bambusoideae of the grass family Poaceae. Giant bamboos are the largest members of the grass family. The origin of the word "bamboo" is uncertain, b ...
books (preserved in typical bronze inscriptions), as well as the extra-elaborate pictorial forms (often clan emblems) found on many bronzes. Based on studies of these bronze inscriptions, it is clear that, from the Shang dynasty writing to that of the
Western Zhou The Western Zhou ( zh, c=, p=Xīzhōu; c. 1045 BC – 771 BC) was a royal dynasty of China and the first half of the Zhou dynasty. It began when King Wu of Zhou overthrew the Shang dynasty at the Battle of Muye and ended when the Quanrong no ...
and early
Eastern Zhou The Eastern Zhou (; zh, c=, p=Dōngzhōu, w=Tung1-chou1, t= ; 771–256 BC) was a royal dynasty of China and the second half of the Zhou dynasty. It was divided into two periods: the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States. History In 770 ...
, the mainstream script evolved in a slow, unbroken fashion, until assuming the form that is now known as
seal script Seal script, also sigillary script () is an ancient style of writing Chinese characters that was common throughout the latter half of the 1st millennium BC. It evolved organically out of the Zhou dynasty bronze script. The Qin variant of seal ...
in the late Eastern Zhou in the state of Qin, without any clear line of division. Meanwhile, other scripts had evolved, especially in the eastern and southern areas during the late
Zhou dynasty The Zhou dynasty ( ; Old Chinese ( B&S): *''tiw'') was a royal dynasty of China that followed the Shang dynasty. Having lasted 789 years, the Zhou dynasty was the longest dynastic regime in Chinese history. The military control of China by ...
, including regional forms, such as the ''gǔwén'' ("ancient forms") of the eastern
Warring States The Warring States period () was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation. It followed the Spring and Autumn period and concluded with the Qin wars of conques ...
preserved as variant forms in the
Han dynasty The Han dynasty (, ; ) was an imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 9 AD, 25–220 AD), established by Liu Bang (Emperor Gao) and ruled by the House of Liu. The dynasty was preceded by the short-lived Qin dynasty (221–207 BC) and a wa ...
character dictionary ''
Shuowen Jiezi ''Shuowen Jiezi'' () is an ancient Chinese dictionary from the Han dynasty. Although not the first comprehensive Chinese character dictionary (the ''Erya'' predates it), it was the first to analyze the structure of the characters and to give t ...
'', as well as decorative forms such as bird and insect scripts.


Unification: seal script, vulgar writing, and proto-clerical

Seal script Seal script, also sigillary script () is an ancient style of writing Chinese characters that was common throughout the latter half of the 1st millennium BC. It evolved organically out of the Zhou dynasty bronze script. The Qin variant of seal ...
, which had evolved slowly in the state of Qin during the Eastern
Zhou dynasty The Zhou dynasty ( ; Old Chinese ( B&S): *''tiw'') was a royal dynasty of China that followed the Shang dynasty. Having lasted 789 years, the Zhou dynasty was the longest dynastic regime in Chinese history. The military control of China by ...
, became standardized and adopted as the formal script for all of China in the
Qin dynasty The Qin dynasty ( ; zh, c=秦朝, p=Qín cháo, w=), or Ch'in dynasty in Wade–Giles romanization ( zh, c=, p=, w=Ch'in ch'ao), was the first dynasty of Imperial China. Named for its heartland in Qin state (modern Gansu and Shaanxi), th ...
(leading to a popular misconception that it was invented at that time), and was still widely used for decorative engraving and seals (name chops, or signets) in the
Han dynasty The Han dynasty (, ; ) was an imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 9 AD, 25–220 AD), established by Liu Bang (Emperor Gao) and ruled by the House of Liu. The dynasty was preceded by the short-lived Qin dynasty (221–207 BC) and a wa ...
period. However, despite the Qin script standardization, more than one script remained in use at the time. For example, a little-known, rectilinear and roughly executed kind of common (vulgar) writing had for centuries coexisted with the more formal seal script in the
Qin state Qin () was an ancient Chinese state during the Zhou dynasty. Traditionally dated to 897 BC, it took its origin in a reconquest of western lands previously lost to the Rong; its position at the western edge of Chinese civilization permitted e ...
, and the popularity of this vulgar writing grew as the use of writing itself became more widespread. By the
Warring States period The Warring States period () was an era in ancient Chinese history characterized by warfare, as well as bureaucratic and military reforms and consolidation. It followed the Spring and Autumn period and concluded with the Qin wars of conquest ...
, an immature form of
clerical script The clerical script (; Japanese: 隷書体, ''reishotai''; Korean: 예서 (old spelling 례서); Vietnamese: lệ thư), sometimes also chancery script, is a style of Chinese writing which evolved from the late Warring States period to the ...
called "early clerical" or "proto-clerical" had already developed in the state of Qin based upon this vulgar writing, and with influence from seal script as well. The coexistence of the three scripts – small seal, vulgar and proto-clerical, with the latter evolving gradually in the Qin to early Han dynasties into
clerical script The clerical script (; Japanese: 隷書体, ''reishotai''; Korean: 예서 (old spelling 례서); Vietnamese: lệ thư), sometimes also chancery script, is a style of Chinese writing which evolved from the late Warring States period to the ...
– runs counter to the traditional belief that the Qin dynasty had one script only, and that clerical script was suddenly invented in the early Han dynasty from the
small seal script The small seal script (), or Qin script (, ''Qínzhuàn''), is an archaic form of Chinese calligraphy. It was standardized and promulgated as a national standard by the government of Qin Shi Huang, the founder of the Chinese Qin dynasty. Nam ...
.


Han dynasty


Proto-clerical evolving to clerical

Proto-clerical script, which had emerged by the time of the Warring States period from vulgar Qin writing, matured gradually, and by the early Western Han period, it was little different from that of the Qin. Recently discovered bamboo slips show the script becoming mature clerical script by the middle-to-late reign of Emperor Wu of the Western Han, who ruled from 141 to 87 BC.


Clerical and clerical cursive

Contrary to the popular belief of there being only one script per period, there were in fact multiple scripts in use during the Han period. Although mature
clerical script The clerical script (; Japanese: 隷書体, ''reishotai''; Korean: 예서 (old spelling 례서); Vietnamese: lệ thư), sometimes also chancery script, is a style of Chinese writing which evolved from the late Warring States period to the ...
, also called () script, was dominant at that time, an early type of cursive script was also in use by the Han by at least as early as 24 BC (during the very late Western Han period), incorporating cursive forms popular at the time, well as many elements from the vulgar writing of the Warring State of Qin. By around the time of the Eastern Jin dynasty, this Han cursive became known as ''zhāngcǎo'' (also known as / ''lìcǎo'' today), or in English sometimes clerical cursive, ancient cursive, or draft cursive. Some believe that the name, based on ''zhāng'' meaning "orderly", arose because the script was a more orderly form of cursive than the modern form, which emerged during the Eastern Jin dynasty and is still in use today, called ''jīncǎo'' or "modern cursive".


Neo-clerical

Around the mid-
Eastern Han The Han dynasty (, ; ) was an Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 9 AD, 25–220 AD), established by Emperor Gaozu of Han, Liu Bang (Emperor Gao) and ruled by the House of Liu. The dynasty was preceded by th ...
period, a simplified and easier-to-write form of clerical script appeared, which Qiu terms "neo-clerical" ( / , ''xīnlìtǐ''). By the late Eastern Han, this had become the dominant daily script, although the formal, mature () clerical script remained in use for formal works such as engraved stelae. Qiu describes this neo-clerical script as a transition between clerical and regular script, and it remained in use through the
Cao Wei Wei (Hanzi: 魏; pinyin: ''Wèi'' < : *''ŋjweiC'' < Jin dynasties.


Semi-cursive

By the late Eastern Han period, an early form of
semi-cursive script Semi-cursive script (), also known as running hand script, is a style of calligraphy which emerged in China during the Han dynasty (3rd century BC – 3rd century AD). The style is used to write Chinese characters and is abbreviated slightly w ...
appeared, developing out of a cursively written form of neo-clerical script and simple cursive. This semi-cursive script was traditionally attributed to Liu Desheng c. 147–188 AD, although such attributions refer to early masters of a script rather than to their actual inventors, since the scripts generally evolved into being over time. Qiu gives examples of early semi-cursive script, showing that it had popular origins rather than being purely Liu's invention.


Wei to Jin period


Regular script

Regular script Regular script (; Hepburn: ''kaisho''), also called (), (''zhēnshū''), (''kǎitǐ'') and (''zhèngshū''), is the newest of the Chinese script styles (popularized from the Cao Wei dynasty c. 200 AD and maturing stylistically around the ...
has been attributed to
Zhong Yao Zhong Yao (151 – April or May 230), also referred to as Zhong You, courtesy name Yuanchang, was a Chinese calligrapher and politician who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty and Three Kingdoms period of China. He served in the state of ...
(c. 151–230 AD), during the period at the
end of the Han dynasty The end of the Han dynasty was the period of Chinese history from 189 to 220 CE, roughly coinciding with the tumultuous reign of the Han dynasty's last ruler, Emperor Xian. During this period, the country was thrown into turmoil by the Yellow ...
in the state of
Cao Wei Wei (Hanzi: 魏; pinyin: ''Wèi'' < : *''ŋjweiC'' < Wang Xizhi Wang Xizhi (; ; 303 AD361 AD) was a Chinese calligrapher, politician, general and writer during the Jin dynasty. He was best known for his mastery of Chinese calligraphy. Wang is sometimes regarded as the greatest Chinese calligrapher in Chinese ...
. This new script, which is the dominant modern Chinese script, developed out of a neatly written form of early semi-cursive, with addition of the pause (/ ''dùn'') technique to end horizontal strokes, plus heavy tails on strokes which are written to the downward-right diagonal. Thus, early regular script emerged from a neat, formal form of semi-cursive, which had itself emerged from neo-clerical (a simplified, convenient form of clerical script). It then matured further in the Eastern Jin dynasty in the hands of the "Sage of Calligraphy",
Wang Xizhi Wang Xizhi (; ; 303 AD361 AD) was a Chinese calligrapher, politician, general and writer during the Jin dynasty. He was best known for his mastery of Chinese calligraphy. Wang is sometimes regarded as the greatest Chinese calligrapher in Chinese ...
, and his son Wang Xianzhi. It was not, however, in widespread use at that time, and most writers continued using neo-clerical, or a somewhat semi-cursive form of it, for daily writing, while the conservative clerical script remained in use on some stelae, alongside some semi-cursive, but primarily neo-clerical.


Modern cursive

Meanwhile, modern cursive script slowly emerged from the clerical cursive (''zhāngcǎo'') script during the Cao Wei to Jin period, under the influence of both semi-cursive and the newly emerged regular script. Cursive was formalized in the hands of a few master calligraphers, the most famous and influential of whom was
Wang Xizhi Wang Xizhi (; ; 303 AD361 AD) was a Chinese calligrapher, politician, general and writer during the Jin dynasty. He was best known for his mastery of Chinese calligraphy. Wang is sometimes regarded as the greatest Chinese calligrapher in Chinese ...
.


Dominance and maturation of regular script

It was not until the
Northern and Southern dynasties The Northern and Southern dynasties () was a period of political division in the history of China that lasted from 420 to 589, following the tumultuous era of the Sixteen Kingdoms and the Eastern Jin dynasty. It is sometimes considered as ...
that regular script rose to dominant status. During that period, regular script continued evolving stylistically, reaching full maturity in the early
Tang dynasty The Tang dynasty (, ; zh, t= ), or Tang Empire, was an imperial dynasty of China that ruled from 618 to 907 AD, with an interregnum between 690 and 705. It was preceded by the Sui dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingd ...
. Some call the writing of the early Tang calligrapher
Ouyang Xun Ouyang Xun (; 557–641), courtesy name Xinben (), was a Chinese calligrapher, politician, and writer of the early Tang dynasty. He was born in Hunan, Changsha, to a family of government officials; and died in modern Anhui province. Achievements ...
(557–641) the first mature regular script. After this point, although developments in the art of calligraphy and in character simplification still lay ahead, there were no more major stages of evolution for the mainstream script.


Modern history

Although most simplified Chinese characters in use today are the result of the works moderated by the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the 1950s and 60s, the use of some of these forms predates the PRC's formation in 1949. Caoshu, cursive written text, was the inspiration of some simplified characters, and for others, some are attested as early as the
Qin dynasty The Qin dynasty ( ; zh, c=秦朝, p=Qín cháo, w=), or Ch'in dynasty in Wade–Giles romanization ( zh, c=, p=, w=Ch'in ch'ao), was the first dynasty of Imperial China. Named for its heartland in Qin state (modern Gansu and Shaanxi), th ...
(221–206 BC) as either vulgar variants or original characters. One of the earliest proponents of character simplification was
Lufei Kui Lufei Kui (, 17 September 1886 – 9 July 1941) was a Chinese educator, essayist, linguist, and publisher. His courtesy name was Bohong (). He founded the influential publisher Zhonghua Book Company, and was an early advocate for simplified Chine ...
, who proposed in 1909 that simplified characters should be used in education. In the years following the
May Fourth Movement The May Fourth Movement was a Chinese anti-imperialist, cultural, and political movement which grew out of student protests in Beijing on May 4, 1919. Students gathered in front of Tiananmen (The Gate of Heavenly Peace) to protest the Chines ...
in 1919, many
anti-imperialist Anti-imperialism in political science and international relations is a term used in a variety of contexts, usually by nationalist movements who want to secede from a larger polity (usually in the form of an empire, but also in a multi-ethnic ...
Chinese intellectuals sought ways to modernise China as quickly as possible. Traditional culture and values such as
Confucianism Confucianism, also known as Ruism or Ru classicism, is a system of thought and behavior originating in ancient China. Variously described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or ...
were challenged and subsequently blamed for their problems. Soon, people in the Movement started to cite the traditional Chinese writing system as an obstacle in modernising China and therefore proposed that a reform be initiated. It was suggested that the Chinese writing system should be either simplified or completely abolished.
Lu Xun Zhou Shuren (25 September 1881 – 19 October 1936), better known by his pen name Lu Xun (or Lu Sun; ; Wade–Giles: Lu Hsün), was a Chinese writer, essayist, poet, and literary critic. He was a leading figure of modern Chinese literature. ...
, a renowned Chinese author in the 20th century, stated that, "If Chinese characters are not destroyed, then China will die" (). Recent commentators have claimed that Chinese characters were blamed for the economic problems in China during that time. In the 1930s and 1940s, discussions on character simplification took place within the
Kuomintang The Kuomintang (KMT), also referred to as the Guomindang (GMD), the Nationalist Party of China (NPC) or the Chinese Nationalist Party (CNP), is a major political party in the Republic of China, initially on the Chinese mainland and in Ta ...
government, and a large number of the intelligentsia maintained that character simplification would help boost literacy in China. In 1935, 324 simplified characters collected by
Qian Xuantong Qian Xuantong (1887—January 17, 1939) was a Chinese linguist and writer. He was a professor of literature at National Peking University, and along with Gu Jiegang, one of the leaders of the Doubting Antiquity School. Biography Born in Huzhou, ...
were officially introduced as the table of first batch of simplified characters, but they were suspended in 1936 due to fierce opposition within the party. The People's Republic of China issued its first round of official character simplifications in two documents, the first in 1956 and the second in 1964. In the 1950s and 1960s, while confusion about simplified characters was still rampant, transitional characters that mixed simplified parts with yet-to-be simplified parts of characters together appeared briefly, then disappeared. "
Han unification Han unification is an effort by the authors of Unicode and the Universal Character Set to map multiple character sets of the Han characters of the so-called CJK languages into a single set of unified characters. Han characters are a feature ...
" was an effort by the authors of Unicode and the Universal Character Set to map multiple character sets of the so-called CJK languages (Chinese/Japanese/Korean) into a single set of unified characters and was completed for the purposes of
Unicode Unicode, formally The Unicode Standard,The formal version reference is is an information technology standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems. The standard, whi ...
in 1991 (Unicode 1.0). Apart from Chinese ones, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese normative medium of record-keeping, written historical narratives and official communication are in adaptations and variations of Chinese script.


Adaptation to other languages

The Chinese script spread to
Korea Korea ( ko, 한국, or , ) is a peninsular region in East Asia. Since 1945, it has been divided at or near the 38th parallel north, 38th parallel, with North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) comprising its northern half and Sout ...
together with
Buddhism Buddhism ( , ), also known as Buddha Dharma and Dharmavinaya (), is an Indian religion or philosophical tradition based on teachings attributed to the Buddha. It originated in northern India as a -movement in the 5th century BCE, and ...
from the 2nd century BC to 5th century AD (
hanja Hanja (Hangul: ; Hanja: , ), alternatively known as Hancha, are Chinese characters () used in the writing of Korean. Hanja was used as early as the Gojoseon period, the first ever Korean kingdom. (, ) refers to Sino-Korean vocabulary, whi ...
). This was adopted for recording the Japanese language from the 5th century AD. Chinese characters were first used in Vietnam during the millennium of Chinese rule starting in 111 BC. They were used to write Classical Chinese and adapted around the 13th century to create the
chữ Nôm Chữ Nôm (, ; ) is a logographic writing system formerly used to write the Vietnamese language. It uses Chinese characters (''Chữ Hán'') to represent Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and some native Vietnamese words, with other words represent ...
script to write Vietnamese. Currently, the only non-Chinese language outside of China that regularly uses the Chinese script is Japanese. Vietnam abandoned its use in the early 20th century in favour of a Latin-based script, and Korea in the late 20th century in favour of its homegrown
hangul The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, . Hangul may also be written as following South Korea's standard Romanization. ( ) in South Korea and Chosŏn'gŭl in North Korea, is the modern official writing system for the Korean language. The l ...
script. Since the education of Chinese characters is not mandatory in South Korea, the usage of Chinese character is rapidly disappearing.


Japanese

Chinese characters adapted to write
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan, an island country in East Asia * Japanese language, spoken mainly in Japan * Japanese people, the ethnic group that identifies with Japan through ancestry or culture ** Japanese dia ...
words are known as
kanji are the logographic Chinese characters taken from the Chinese script and used in the writing of Japanese. They were made a major part of the Japanese writing system during the time of Old Japanese and are still used, along with the subsequ ...
. Chinese words borrowed into Japanese could be written with Chinese characters, while native Japanese words could also be written using the for a Chinese word of similar meaning. Most kanji have both the native (and often multi-syllabic) Japanese pronunciation, known as kun'yomi, and the (mono-syllabic) Chinese-based pronunciation, known as on'yomi. For example, the native Japanese word ''katana'' is written as in kanji, which uses the native pronunciation since the word is native to Japanese, while the Chinese loanword ''nihontō'' (meaning "Japanese sword") is written as , which uses the Chinese-based pronunciation. While nowadays loanwords from non-Sinosphere languages are usually just written in
katakana is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji and in some cases the Latin script (known as rōmaji). The word ''katakana'' means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana characters are derive ...
, one of the two syllabary systems of Japanese, loanwords that were borrowed into Japanese before the Meiji Period were typically written with Chinese characters whose on'yomi had the same pronunciation as the loanword itself, words like ''Amerika'' (kanji: , katakana: , meaning: America), ''karuta'' (kanji: , , katakana: , meaning: card, letter), and ''tenpura'' (kanji: , , katakana: , meaning: tempura), although the meanings of the characters used often had no relation to the words themselves. Only some of the old kanji spellings are in common use, like ''kan'' (, meaning: can). Kanji that are used to only represent the sounds of a word are called
ateji In modern Japanese, principally refers to kanji used to phonetically represent native or borrowed words with less regard to the underlying meaning of the characters. This is similar to in Old Japanese. Conversely, also refers to kanji used ...
(). Because Chinese words have been borrowed from varying dialects at different times, a single character may have several on'yomi in Japanese. Written Japanese also includes a pair of
syllabaries In the linguistic study of written languages, a syllabary is a set of written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) moras which make up words. A symbol in a syllabary, called a syllabogram, typically represents an (option ...
known as
kana The term may refer to a number of syllabaries used to write Japanese phonological units, morae. Such syllabaries include (1) the original kana, or , which were Chinese characters ( kanji) used phonetically to transcribe Japanese, the most p ...
, derived by simplifying Chinese characters selected to represent syllables of Japanese. The syllabaries differ because they sometimes selected different characters for a syllable, and because they used different strategies to reduce these characters for easy writing: the angular
katakana is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji and in some cases the Latin script (known as rōmaji). The word ''katakana'' means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana characters are derive ...
were obtained by selecting a part of each character, while
hiragana is a Japanese syllabary, part of the Japanese writing system, along with ''katakana'' as well as ''kanji''. It is a phonetic lettering system. The word ''hiragana'' literally means "flowing" or "simple" kana ("simple" originally as contras ...
were derived from the cursive forms of whole characters. Modern Japanese writing uses a composite system, using kanji for
word stem In linguistics, a word stem is a part of a word responsible for its lexical meaning. The term is used with slightly different meanings depending on the morphology of the language in question. In Athabaskan linguistics, for example, a verb stem ...
s, hiragana for inflectional endings and grammatical words, and katakana to transcribe non-Chinese loanwords as well as serve as a method to emphasize native words (similar to how italics are used in Latin-script languages).


Korean

Throughout most of Korean history as early as the
Gojoseon Gojoseon () also called Joseon (), was the first kingdom on the Korean Peninsula. According to Korean mythology, the kingdom was established by the legendary founder named Dangun. Gojoseon possessed the most advanced culture in the Korean Pe ...
period up until the
Joseon Dynasty Joseon (; ; Middle Korean: 됴ᇢ〯션〮 Dyǒw syéon or 됴ᇢ〯션〯 Dyǒw syěon), officially the Great Joseon (; ), was the last dynastic kingdom of Korea, lasting just over 500 years. It was founded by Yi Seong-gye in July 1392 and ...
,
Literary Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (古文 ''gǔwén'' "ancient text", or 文言 ''wényán'' "text speak", meaning "literary language/speech"; modern vernacular: 文言文 ''wényánwén'' "text speak text", meaning "literar ...
was the dominant form of written communication. Although the Korean alphabet
hangul The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, . Hangul may also be written as following South Korea's standard Romanization. ( ) in South Korea and Chosŏn'gŭl in North Korea, is the modern official writing system for the Korean language. The l ...
was created in 1443, it did not come into widespread official use until the late 19th and early 20th century. Even today, much of the vocabulary, especially in the realms of science and sociology, comes directly from Chinese. However, due to the lack of tones in Modern Standard Korean, as the words were imported from Chinese, many dissimilar characters and syllables took on identical pronunciations, and subsequently identical spelling in hangul. Chinese characters are sometimes used to this day for either clarification in a practical manner, or to give a distinguished appearance, as knowledge of Chinese characters is considered by many Koreans a high class attribute and an indispensable part of a classical education. It is also observed that the preference for Chinese characters is treated as being culturally
Confucian Confucianism, also known as Ruism or Ru classicism, is a system of thought and behavior originating in ancient China. Variously described as tradition, a philosophy, a religion, a humanistic or rationalistic religion, a way of governing, or a ...
. In Korea, ''
hanja Hanja (Hangul: ; Hanja: , ), alternatively known as Hancha, are Chinese characters () used in the writing of Korean. Hanja was used as early as the Gojoseon period, the first ever Korean kingdom. (, ) refers to Sino-Korean vocabulary, whi ...
'' have become a politically contentious issue, with some Koreans urging a "purification" of the national language and culture by totally abandoning their use. These individuals encourage the exclusive use of the native hangul alphabet throughout Korean society and the end to character education in public schools. Other Koreans support the revival of Hanja in everyday usage, like in the 1970s and 80s. In South Korea, educational policy on characters has swung back and forth, often swayed by education ministers' personal opinions. At present, middle and high school students (grades 7 to 12) are taught 1,800 characters, albeit with the principal focus on recognition, with the aim of achieving newspaper literacy. Hanja retains its prominence, especially in Korean academia, as the vast majority of Korean documents, history, literature and records (such as the
Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty The ''Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty'' (also known as the ''Annals of the Joseon Dynasty'' or the ''True Record of the Joseon Dynasty''; ko, 조선왕조실록 and ) are the annual records of Joseon, the last royal house to rule ...
, among others) were written in
Literary Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (古文 ''gǔwén'' "ancient text", or 文言 ''wényán'' "text speak", meaning "literary language/speech"; modern vernacular: 文言文 ''wényánwén'' "text speak text", meaning "literar ...
using
Hanja Hanja (Hangul: ; Hanja: , ), alternatively known as Hancha, are Chinese characters () used in the writing of Korean. Hanja was used as early as the Gojoseon period, the first ever Korean kingdom. (, ) refers to Sino-Korean vocabulary, whi ...
as its primary script. Therefore, a good working knowledge of Chinese characters is still important for anyone who wishes to interpret and study older texts from Korea, or anyone who wishes to read scholarly texts in the humanities. Hanja is also useful for understanding the
etymology Etymology ()The New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998) – p. 633 "Etymology /ˌɛtɪˈmɒlədʒi/ the study of the class in words and the way their meanings have changed throughout time". is the study of the history of the Phonological chan ...
of
Sino-Korean vocabulary Sino-Korean vocabulary or Hanja-eo () refers to Korean words of Chinese origin. Sino-Korean vocabulary includes words borrowed directly from Chinese, as well as new Korean words created from Chinese characters, and words borrowed from Sino-Jap ...
. There is a clear trend toward the exclusive use of hangul in day-to-day South Korean society. Hanja are still used to some extent, particularly in newspapers, weddings, place names and
calligraphy Calligraphy (from el, link=y, καλλιγραφία) is a visual art related to writing. It is the design and execution of lettering with a pen, ink brush, or other writing instrument. Contemporary calligraphic practice can be defined as " ...
(although it is nowhere near the extent of kanji use in day-to-day Japanese society). Hanja is also extensively used in situations where ambiguity must be avoided, such as academic papers, high-level corporate reports, government documents, and newspapers; this is due to the large number of
homonym In linguistics, homonyms are words which are homographs (words that share the same spelling, regardless of pronunciation), or homophones ( equivocal words, that share the same pronunciation, regardless of spelling), or both. Using this definiti ...
s that have resulted from extensive borrowing of Chinese words. Characters convey meaning visually, while alphabets convey guidance to pronunciation, which in turn hints at meaning. As an example, in Korean dictionaries, the phonetic entry for ''gisa'' yields more than 30 different entries. In the past, this ambiguity had been efficiently resolved by parenthetically displaying the associated hanja. While hanja is sometimes used for Sino-Korean vocabulary, native Korean words are rarely, if ever, written in hanja. When learning how to write hanja, students are taught to memorize the native Korean pronunciation for the hanja's meaning and the Sino-Korean pronunciations (the pronunciation based on the Chinese pronunciation of the characters) for each hanja respectively so that students know what the syllable and meaning is for a particular hanja. For example, the name for the hanja is (mul-su) in which (mul) is the native Korean pronunciation for "water", while (su) is the Sino-Korean pronunciation of the character. The naming of hanja is similar to if "water" were named "water-aqua", "horse-equus", or "gold-aurum" based on a hybridization of both the English and the Latin names. Other examples include (saram-in) for "person/people", (keun-dae) for "big/large//great", (jakeul-so) for "small/little", (arae-ha) for "underneath/below/low", (abi-bu) for "father", and (naraireum-han) for "Han/Korea".


North Korea

In North Korea, the
hanja Hanja (Hangul: ; Hanja: , ), alternatively known as Hancha, are Chinese characters () used in the writing of Korean. Hanja was used as early as the Gojoseon period, the first ever Korean kingdom. (, ) refers to Sino-Korean vocabulary, whi ...
system was once completely banned since June 1949 due to fears of collapsed containment of the country; during the 1950s, Kim Il Sung had condemned all sorts of foreign languages (even the then-newly proposed New Korean Orthography). The ban continued into the 21st century. However, a textbook for university history departments containing 3,323 distinct characters was published in 1971. In the 1990s, school children were still expected to learn 2,000 characters (more than in South Korea or Japan). After
Kim Jong Il Kim Jong-il (; ; ; born Yuri Irsenovich Kim;, 16 February 1941 – 17 December 2011) was a North Korean politician who was the second supreme leader of North Korea from 1994 to 2011. He led North Korea from the 1994 death of his father Kim ...
, the second ruler of North Korea, died in December 2011, his successor
Kim Jong Un Kim Jong-un (; , ; born 8 January 1982) is a North Korean politician who has been Supreme Leader of North Korea since 2011 and the leader of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) since 2012. He is a son of Kim Jong-il, who was North Korea's seco ...
began mandating the use of Hanja as a source of definition for the Korean language. Currently, it is said that North Korea teaches around 3,000 Hanja characters to North Korean students, and in some cases, the characters appear within advertisements and newspapers. However, it is also said that the authorities implore students not to use the characters in public. Due to North Korea's strict isolationism, accurate reports about hanja use in North Korea are hard to obtain.


Okinawan

Chinese characters are thought to have been first introduced to the
Ryukyu Islands The , also known as the or the , are a chain of Japanese islands that stretch southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan: the Ōsumi, Tokara, Amami, Okinawa, and Sakishima Islands (further divided into the Miyako and Yaeyama Islands), with Yonag ...
in 1265 by a Japanese Buddhist monk. After the Okinawan kingdoms became tributaries of
Ming China The Ming dynasty (), officially the Great Ming, was an imperial dynasty of China, ruling from 1368 to 1644 following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty. The Ming dynasty was the last orthodox dynasty of China ruled by the Han peo ...
, especially the
Ryukyu Kingdom The Ryukyu Kingdom, Middle Chinese: , , Classical Chinese: (), Historical English names: ''Lew Chew'', ''Lewchew'', ''Luchu'', and ''Loochoo'', Historical French name: ''Liou-tchou'', Historical Dutch name: ''Lioe-kioe'' was a kingdom in th ...
,
Classical Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (古文 ''gǔwén'' "ancient text", or 文言 ''wényán'' "text speak", meaning "literary language/speech"; modern vernacular: 文言文 ''wényánwén'' "text speak text", meaning "literar ...
was used in court documents, but
hiragana is a Japanese syllabary, part of the Japanese writing system, along with ''katakana'' as well as ''kanji''. It is a phonetic lettering system. The word ''hiragana'' literally means "flowing" or "simple" kana ("simple" originally as contras ...
was mostly used for popular writing and poetry. After Ryukyu became a vassal of Japan's
Satsuma Domain The , briefly known as the , was a domain (''han'') of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan during the Edo period from 1602 to 1871. The Satsuma Domain was based at Kagoshima Castle in Satsuma Province, the core of the modern city of Kagoshima, ...
, Chinese characters became more popular, as well as the use of
Kanbun A is a form of Classical Chinese used in Japan from the Nara period to the mid-20th century. Much of Japanese literature was written in this style and it was the general writing style for official and intellectual works throughout the period. A ...
. In modern Okinawan, which is labeled as a Japanese dialect by the Japanese government,
katakana is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji and in some cases the Latin script (known as rōmaji). The word ''katakana'' means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana characters are derive ...
and hiragana are mostly used to write Okinawan, but Chinese characters are still used.


Vietnamese

In Vietnam, Chinese characters (called ''
Chữ Hán Chữ Hán (𡨸漢, literally "Chinese characters", ), Chữ Nho (𡨸儒, literally "Confucian characters", ) or Hán tự (漢字, ), is the Vietnamese term for Chinese characters, used to write Văn ngôn (which is a form of Classical Chinese ...
'', '' chữ Nho'', or '' Hán tự'' in Vietnamese) are now limited to ceremonial uses, but they were once in widespread use. Until the early 20th century,
Literary Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (古文 ''gǔwén'' "ancient text", or 文言 ''wényán'' "text speak", meaning "literary language/speech"; modern vernacular: 文言文 ''wényánwén'' "text speak text", meaning "literar ...
was used in Vietnam for all official and scholarly writing. The oldest writing Chinese materials found in Vietnam is an epigraphy dated 618, erected by local
Sui dynasty The Sui dynasty (, ) was a short-lived imperial dynasty of China that lasted from 581 to 618. The Sui unified the Northern and Southern dynasties, thus ending the long period of division following the fall of the Western Jin dynasty, and la ...
officials in Thanh Hoa. Around the 13th century, a script called was developed to record folk literature in the Vietnamese language. Similar to Zhuang
Sawndip Zhuang characters or ''Sawndip'' (Sawndip: ; ) are logograms derived from Chinese characters and used by the Zhuang people of Guangxi and Yunnan provinces in China to write the Zhuang languages for more than one thousand years. The script is use ...
, the Nom script (demotic script) and its characters formed by fusing phonetic and semantic values of Chinese characters that resemble Vietnamese syllables. This process resulted in a highly complex system that was never mastered by more than 5% of the population. The oldest writing Vietnamese
chữ Nôm Chữ Nôm (, ; ) is a logographic writing system formerly used to write the Vietnamese language. It uses Chinese characters (''Chữ Hán'') to represent Sino-Vietnamese vocabulary and some native Vietnamese words, with other words represent ...
script written along with Chinese is a Buddhist inscription, dated 1209. In total, about 20,000 Chinese and Vietnamese epigraphy rubbings throughout Indochina were collected by the
École française d'Extrême-Orient The French School of the Far East (french: École française d'Extrême-Orient, ), abbreviated EFEO, is an associated college of PSL University dedicated to the study of Asian societies. It was founded in 1900 with headquarters in Hanoi in w ...
(EFEO) library in Hanoi before 1945. The oldest surviving extant manuscript in Vietnam is a late 15th-century bilingual Buddhist sutra '' Phật thuyết đại báo phụ mẫu ân trọng kinh,'' which is currently kept by the EFEO. The manuscript features Chinese texts in larger characters, and Vietnamese translation in smaller characters in Old Vietnamese. Every Sino-Vietnamese book in Vietnam after the ''Phật thuyết'' are dated either from 17th century to 20th century, and most are hand-written/copied works, only few are printed texts. The Institute of Hán-Nôm Studies's library in Hanoi had collected and kept 4,808 Sino-Vietnamese manuscripts in total by 1987. During French colonization in the late 19th and early 20th century, Literary Chinese fell out of use and was gradually replaced with the Latin-based
Vietnamese alphabet The Vietnamese alphabet ( vi, chữ Quốc ngữ, lit=script of the National language) is the modern Latin writing script or writing system for Vietnamese. It uses the Latin script based on Romance languages originally developed by Portuguese ...
. Currently this alphabet is the main script in Vietnam, but Chinese characters and are still used in some activities connected with Vietnamese traditional culture (e.g.
calligraphy Calligraphy (from el, link=y, καλλιγραφία) is a visual art related to writing. It is the design and execution of lettering with a pen, ink brush, or other writing instrument. Contemporary calligraphic practice can be defined as " ...
).


Other languages

Several minority languages of south and southwest China were formerly written with scripts based on Hanzi but also including many locally created characters. The most extensive is the ''
sawndip Zhuang characters or ''Sawndip'' (Sawndip: ; ) are logograms derived from Chinese characters and used by the Zhuang people of Guangxi and Yunnan provinces in China to write the Zhuang languages for more than one thousand years. The script is use ...
'' script for the
Zhuang language The Zhuang languages (; autonym: , pre-1982: , Sawndip: 話僮, from ''vah'', 'language' and ''Cuengh'', 'Zhuang'; ) are any of more than a dozen Tai languages spoken by the Zhuang people of Southern China in the province of Guangxi and adjace ...
of
Guangxi Guangxi (; ; alternately romanized as Kwanghsi; ; za, Gvangjsih, italics=yes), officially the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (GZAR), is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China, located in South China and bordering Vietnam ...
which is still used to this day. Other languages written with such scripts include Miao, Yao, Bouyei, Mulam, Kam, Bai, and Hani. All these languages are now officially written using Latin-based scripts, while Chinese characters are still used for the Mulam language. Even today for Zhuang, according to survey, the traditional sawndip script has twice as many users as the official Latin script. The foreign dynasties that ruled northern China between the 10th and 13th centuries developed scripts that were inspired by Hanzi but did not use them directly: the
Khitan large script The Khitan large script () was one of two writing systems used for the now-extinct Khitan language (the other was the Khitan small script). It was used during the 10th–12th centuries by the Khitan people, who had created the Liao Empire in nor ...
,
Khitan small script The Khitan small script () was one of two writing systems used for the now-extinct Khitan language (the other was the Khitan large script). It was used during the 10th–12th century by the Khitan people, who had created the Liao Empire in present- ...
,
Tangut script The Tangut script ( Tangut: ; ) was a logographic writing system, used for writing the extinct Tangut language of the Western Xia dynasty. According to the latest count, 5863 Tangut characters are known, excluding variants. The Tangut character ...
, and
Jurchen script The Jurchen script (Jurchen: ) was the writing system used to write the Jurchen language, the language of the Jurchen people who created the Jin Empire in northeastern China in the 12th–13th centuries. It was derived from the Khitan script, ...
. Other scripts in China that borrowed or adapted a few Chinese characters but are otherwise distinct include Geba script, Sui script,
Yi script The Yi script (Yi: ; ) is an umbrella term for two scripts used to write the Yi languages; Classical Yi (an ideogram script), and the later Yi Syllabary. The script is historically known in Chinese as ''Cuan Wen'' () or ''Wei Shu'' () and vari ...
, and the Lisu syllabary.


Transcription of foreign languages

Along with Persian and
Arabic Arabic (, ' ; , ' or ) is a Semitic language spoken primarily across the Arab world.Semitic languages: an international handbook / edited by Stefan Weninger; in collaboration with Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet C. E.Watson; Walter ...
, Chinese characters were also used as a foreign script to write the
Mongolian language Mongolian is the official language of Mongolia and both the most widely spoken and best-known member of the Mongolic language family. The number of speakers across all its dialects may be 5.2 million, including the vast majority of the residen ...
, where characters were used to phonetically transcribe Mongolian sounds. Most notably, the only surviving copies of ''
The Secret History of the Mongols ''The Secret History of the Mongols'' (Middle Mongol: ''Mongɣol‑un niɣuca tobciyan''; Traditional Mongolian: , Khalkha Mongolian: , ; ) is the oldest surviving literary work in the Mongolian language. It was written for the Mongol royal f ...
'' were written in such a manner; the Chinese characters (nowadays pronounced "Mánghuōlún niǔchá tuō ohá'ān" in Chinese) is the rendering of ''Mongγol-un niγuca tobčiyan'', the title in Mongolian. Hanzi was also used to phonetically transcribe the
Manchu language Manchu (Manchu:, ) is a critically endangered East Asian Tungusic language native to the historical region of Manchuria in Northeast China. As the traditional native language of the Manchus, it was one of the official languages of the Qing ...
in the
Qing dynasty The Qing dynasty ( ), officially the Great Qing,, was a Manchu-led imperial dynasty of China and the last orthodox dynasty in Chinese history. It emerged from the Later Jin dynasty founded by the Jianzhou Jurchens, a Tungusic-speak ...
. According to the Rev. John Gulick: "The inhabitants of other Asiatic nations, who have had occasion to represent the words of their several languages by Chinese characters, have as a rule used unaspirated characters for the sounds, g, d, b. The Muslims from Arabia and Persia have followed this method ... The Mongols, Manchu, and Japanese also constantly select unaspirated characters to represent the sounds g, d, b, and j of their languages. These surrounding Asiatic nations, in writing Chinese words in their own alphabets, have uniformly used g, d, b, etc., to represent the unaspirated sounds."


Simplification

Chinese character simplification is the overall reduction of the number of strokes in the
regular script Regular script (; Hepburn: ''kaisho''), also called (), (''zhēnshū''), (''kǎitǐ'') and (''zhèngshū''), is the newest of the Chinese script styles (popularized from the Cao Wei dynasty c. 200 AD and maturing stylistically around the ...
of a set of Chinese characters.


Asia


China

The use of traditional Chinese characters versus simplified Chinese characters varies greatly, and can depend on both the local customs and the medium. Before the official reform, character simplifications were not officially sanctioned and generally adopted vulgar variants and idiosyncratic substitutions. Orthodox variants were mandatory in printed works, while the (unofficial) simplified characters would be used in everyday writing or quick notes. Since the 1950s, and especially with the publication of the 1964 list, the
People's Republic of China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population exceeding 1.4 billion, slightly ahead of India. China spans the equivalent of five time zones an ...
has officially adopted
simplified Chinese characters Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters used in mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore, as prescribed by the ''Table of General Standard Chinese Characters''. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one ...
for use in
mainland China "Mainland China" is a geopolitical term defined as the territory governed by the People's Republic of China (including islands like Hainan or Chongming), excluding dependent territories of the PRC, and other territories within Greater Chin ...
, while
Hong Kong Hong Kong ( (US) or (UK); , ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (abbr. Hong Kong SAR or HKSAR), is a city and special administrative region of China on the eastern Pearl River Delt ...
, Macau, and the
Republic of China Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia, at the junction of the East and South China Seas in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, with the People's Republic of China (PRC) to the northwest, Japan to the northeast ...
(Taiwan) were not affected by the reform. There is no absolute rule for using either system, and often it is determined by what the target audience understands, as well as the upbringing of the writer. Although most often associated with the People's Republic of China, character simplification predates the 1949 communist victory. Caoshu, cursive written text, are what inspired some simplified characters, and for others, some were already in use in print text, albeit not for most formal works. In the period of Republican China, discussions on character simplification took place within the
Kuomintang The Kuomintang (KMT), also referred to as the Guomindang (GMD), the Nationalist Party of China (NPC) or the Chinese Nationalist Party (CNP), is a major political party in the Republic of China, initially on the Chinese mainland and in Ta ...
government and the intelligentsia, in an effort to greatly reduce functional illiteracy among adults, which was a major concern at the time. Indeed, this desire by the Kuomintang to simplify the Chinese writing system (inherited and implemented by the
Chinese Communist Party The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), officially the Communist Party of China (CPC), is the founding and sole ruling party of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Under the leadership of Mao Zedong, the CCP emerged victorious in the Chinese Civil ...
after its subsequent abandonment) also nursed aspirations of some for the adoption of a phonetic script based on the
Latin script The Latin script, also known as Roman script, is an alphabetic writing system based on the letters of the classical Latin alphabet, derived from a form of the Greek alphabet which was in use in the ancient Greek city of Cumae, in southern ...
, and spawned such inventions as the
Gwoyeu Romatzyh Gwoyeu Romatzyh (), abbreviated GR, is a system for writing Mandarin Chinese in the Latin alphabet. The system was conceived by Yuen Ren Chao and developed by a group of linguists including Chao and Lin Yutang from 1925 to 1926. Chao himself l ...
. The People's Republic of China issued its first round of official character simplifications in two documents, the first in 1956 and the second in 1964. A second round of character simplifications (known as , or "second-round simplified characters") was promulgated in 1977. It was poorly received, and in 1986 the authorities rescinded the second round completely, while making six revisions to the 1964 list, including the restoration of three traditional characters that had been simplified: ''dié'', ''fù'', ''xiàng''. As opposed to the second round, a majority of simplified characters in the first round were drawn from conventional abbreviated forms, or ancient forms. For example, the orthodox character ''lái'' ("come") was written as in the
clerical script The clerical script (; Japanese: 隷書体, ''reishotai''; Korean: 예서 (old spelling 례서); Vietnamese: lệ thư), sometimes also chancery script, is a style of Chinese writing which evolved from the late Warring States period to the ...
( / , ''lìshū'') of the
Han dynasty The Han dynasty (, ; ) was an imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 9 AD, 25–220 AD), established by Liu Bang (Emperor Gao) and ruled by the House of Liu. The dynasty was preceded by the short-lived Qin dynasty (221–207 BC) and a wa ...
. This clerical form uses one fewer stroke, and was thus adopted as a simplified form. The character ''yún'' ("cloud") was written with the structure in the
oracle bone script Oracle bone script () is an ancient form of Chinese characters that were engraved on oracle bonesanimal bones or turtle plastrons used in pyromantic divination. Oracle bone script was used in the late 2nd millennium BC, and is the earliest kn ...
of the
Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese royal dynasty founded by Tang of Shang (Cheng Tang) that ruled in the Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, traditionally succeeding the Xia dynasty an ...
, and had remained in use later as a phonetic loan in the meaning of "to say" while the
radical Radical may refer to: Politics and ideology Politics * Radical politics, the political intent of fundamental societal change *Radicalism (historical), the Radical Movement that began in late 18th century Britain and spread to continental Europe an ...
was added a semantic indicator to disambiguate the two. Simplified Chinese merges them instead.


Japan

In the years after
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great powers—forming two opposing ...
, the
Japanese government The Government of Japan consists of legislative, executive and judiciary branches and is based on popular sovereignty. The Government runs under the framework established by the Constitution of Japan, adopted in 1947. It is a unitary sta ...
also instituted a series of orthographic reforms. Some characters were given simplified forms called ; the older forms were then labelled the . The number of characters in common use was restricted, and formal lists of characters to be learned during each grade of school were established, first the 1850-character list in 1945, the 1945-character list in 1981, and a 2136-character reformed version of the ''jōyō kanji'' in 2010. Many variant forms of characters and obscure alternatives for common characters were officially discouraged. This was done with the goal of facilitating learning for children and simplifying kanji use in literature and periodicals. These are common guidelines, hence many characters outside these standards are still widely known and commonly used, especially those used for personal and place names (for the latter, see
jinmeiyō kanji are a set of 863 Chinese characters known as "name kanji" in English. They are a supplementary list of characters that can legally be used in registered personal names in Japan, despite not being in the official list of "commonly used characte ...
), as well as for some common words such as in which both old and new forms of the character are both acceptable and widely known amongst native Japanese speakers.


Singapore

Singapore Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign island country and city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bo ...
underwent three successive rounds of character simplification. These resulted in some simplifications that differed from those used in
mainland China "Mainland China" is a geopolitical term defined as the territory governed by the People's Republic of China (including islands like Hainan or Chongming), excluding dependent territories of the PRC, and other territories within Greater Chin ...
. The first round, consisting of 498 Simplified characters from 502 Traditional characters, was promulgated by the
Ministry of Education An education ministry is a national or subnational government agency politically responsible for education. Various other names are commonly used to identify such agencies, such as Ministry of Education, Department of Education, and Ministry of Pu ...
in 1969. The second round, consisting of 2287 Simplified characters, was promulgated in 1974. The second set contained 49 differences from the Mainland China system; those were removed in the final round in 1976. In 1993, Singapore adopted the six revisions made by Mainland China in 1986. However, unlike in mainland China where personal names may only be registered using simplified characters, parents have the option of registering their children's names in traditional characters in Singapore. It ultimately adopted the reforms of the People's Republic of China in their entirety as official, and has implemented them in the educational system. However, unlike in China, personal names may still be registered in traditional characters.


Malaysia

Malaysia Malaysia ( ; ) is a country in Southeast Asia. The federal constitutional monarchy consists of thirteen states and three federal territories, separated by the South China Sea into two regions: Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo's East Malay ...
started teaching a set of simplified characters at schools in 1981, which were also completely identical to the Mainland China simplifications. Chinese newspapers in Malaysia are published in either set of characters, typically with the headlines in traditional Chinese while the body is in simplified Chinese. Although in both countries the use of simplified characters is universal among the younger Chinese generation, a large majority of the older Chinese literate generation still use the traditional characters. Chinese shop signs are also generally written in traditional characters.


Philippines

In the
Philippines The Philippines (; fil, Pilipinas, links=no), officially the Republic of the Philippines ( fil, Republika ng Pilipinas, links=no), * bik, Republika kan Filipinas * ceb, Republika sa Pilipinas * cbk, República de Filipinas * hil, Republ ...
, most Chinese schools and businesses still use the traditional characters and
bopomofo Bopomofo (), or Mandarin Phonetic Symbols, also named Zhuyin (), is a Chinese transliteration system for Mandarin Chinese and other related languages and dialects. More commonly used in Taiwanese Mandarin, it may also be used to transcribe ...
, owing from influence from the Republic of China (Taiwan) due to the shared
Hokkien The Hokkien () variety of Chinese is a Southern Min language native to and originating from the Minnan region, where it is widely spoken in the south-eastern part of Fujian in southeastern mainland China. It is one of the national languages ...
heritage. Recently, however, more Chinese schools now use both simplified characters and
pinyin Hanyu Pinyin (), often shortened to just pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Mandarin Chinese in China, and to some extent, in Singapore and Malaysia. It is often used to teach Mandarin, normally written in Chinese f ...
. Since most readers of Chinese newspapers in the Philippines belong to the older generation, they are still published largely using traditional characters.


North America


Canada & United States

Public and private Chinese signage in the United States and Canada most often use traditional characters. There is some effort to get municipal governments to implement more simplified character signage due to recent immigration from mainland China. Most community newspapers printed in North America are also printed in traditional characters.


Comparisons of traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, and Japanese

The following is a comparison of Chinese characters in the '' Standard Form of National Characters'', a common
traditional Chinese A tradition is a belief or behavior (folk custom) passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past. A component of cultural expressions and folklore, common examples include holidays ...
standard used in Taiwan; the ''
Table of General Standard Chinese Characters The ''Table of General Standard Chinese Characters'' () is the current standard list of 8,105 Chinese characters published by the government of the People's Republic of China and promulgated in June 2013. Of the characters included, 3,500 ar ...
'', the standard for Mainland Chinese ''jiantizi'' (simplified); and the ''
jōyō kanji The is the guide to kanji characters and their readings, announced officially by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Current ''jōyō kanji'' are those on a list of 2,136 characters issued in 2010. It is a slightly modified version of the '' t ...
'', the standard for Japanese
kanji are the logographic Chinese characters taken from the Chinese script and used in the writing of Japanese. They were made a major part of the Japanese writing system during the time of Old Japanese and are still used, along with the subsequ ...
. Generally, the ''jōyō kanji'' are more similar to ''fantizi'' (traditional) than ''jiantizi'' are to ''fantizi''. "Simplified" refers to having significant differences from the Taiwan standard, not necessarily being a newly created character or a newly performed substitution. The characters in the
Hong Kong standard ''The Standard'' is an English-language free newspaper in Hong Kong with a daily circulation of 200,450 in 2012. It was formerly called the ''Hongkong Standard'' and changed to ''HKiMail'' during the Internet boom but partially reverted to '' ...
and the
Kangxi Dictionary The ''Kangxi Dictionary'' ( (Compendium of standard characters from the Kangxi period), published in 1716, was the most authoritative dictionary of Chinese characters from the 18th century through the early 20th. The Kangxi Emperor of the Qing d ...
are also known as "Traditional", but are not shown.


Written styles

There are numerous styles, or scripts, in which Chinese characters can be written, deriving from various calligraphic and historical models. Most of these originated in China and are now common, with minor variations, in all countries where Chinese characters are used. The
Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese royal dynasty founded by Tang of Shang (Cheng Tang) that ruled in the Yellow River valley in the second millennium BC, traditionally succeeding the Xia dynasty an ...
oracle bone script Oracle bone script () is an ancient form of Chinese characters that were engraved on oracle bonesanimal bones or turtle plastrons used in pyromantic divination. Oracle bone script was used in the late 2nd millennium BC, and is the earliest kn ...
and the
Zhou dynasty The Zhou dynasty ( ; Old Chinese ( B&S): *''tiw'') was a royal dynasty of China that followed the Shang dynasty. Having lasted 789 years, the Zhou dynasty was the longest dynastic regime in Chinese history. The military control of China by ...
scripts found on
Chinese bronze inscriptions Chinese bronze inscriptions, also commonly referred to as bronze script or bronzeware script, are writing in a variety of Chinese scripts on ritual bronzes such as ''zhōng'' bells and '' dǐng'' tripodal cauldrons from the Shang dynasty (2nd m ...
are no longer used; the oldest script that is still in use today is the
Seal Script Seal script, also sigillary script () is an ancient style of writing Chinese characters that was common throughout the latter half of the 1st millennium BC. It evolved organically out of the Zhou dynasty bronze script. The Qin variant of seal ...
((), ''zhuànshū''). It evolved organically out of the
Spring and Autumn period The Spring and Autumn period was a period in Chinese history from approximately 770 to 476 BC (or according to some authorities until 403 BC) which corresponds roughly to the first half of the Eastern Zhou period. The period's name derives fro ...
Zhou script, and was adopted in a standardized form under the first
Emperor of China ''Huangdi'' (), translated into English as Emperor, was the superlative title held by monarchs of China who ruled various imperial regimes in Chinese history. In traditional Chinese political theory, the emperor was considered the Son of Heave ...
,
Qin Shi Huang Qin Shi Huang (, ; 259–210 BC) was the founder of the Qin dynasty and the first emperor of a unified China. Rather than maintain the title of " king" ( ''wáng'') borne by the previous Shang and Zhou rulers, he ruled as the First Empero ...
. The seal script, as the name suggests, is now used only in artistic seals. Few people are still able to read it effortlessly today, although the art of carving a traditional seal in the script remains alive; some calligraphers also work in this style. Scripts that are still used regularly are the "
Clerical Script The clerical script (; Japanese: 隷書体, ''reishotai''; Korean: 예서 (old spelling 례서); Vietnamese: lệ thư), sometimes also chancery script, is a style of Chinese writing which evolved from the late Warring States period to the ...
" ((), ''lìshū'') of the
Qin dynasty The Qin dynasty ( ; zh, c=秦朝, p=Qín cháo, w=), or Ch'in dynasty in Wade–Giles romanization ( zh, c=, p=, w=Ch'in ch'ao), was the first dynasty of Imperial China. Named for its heartland in Qin state (modern Gansu and Shaanxi), th ...
to the
Han dynasty The Han dynasty (, ; ) was an imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 9 AD, 25–220 AD), established by Liu Bang (Emperor Gao) and ruled by the House of Liu. The dynasty was preceded by the short-lived Qin dynasty (221–207 BC) and a wa ...
, the Weibei (, ''wèibēi''), the "
regular script Regular script (; Hepburn: ''kaisho''), also called (), (''zhēnshū''), (''kǎitǐ'') and (''zhèngshū''), is the newest of the Chinese script styles (popularized from the Cao Wei dynasty c. 200 AD and maturing stylistically around the ...
" ((), ''kǎishū''), which is used mostly for printing, and the "
semi-cursive script Semi-cursive script (), also known as running hand script, is a style of calligraphy which emerged in China during the Han dynasty (3rd century BC – 3rd century AD). The style is used to write Chinese characters and is abbreviated slightly w ...
" ((), ''xíngshū''), used mostly for handwriting. The cursive script ((), ''cǎoshū'', literally "grass script") is used informally. The basic character shapes are suggested, rather than explicitly realized, and the abbreviations are sometimes extreme. Despite being cursive to the point where individual strokes are no longer differentiable and the characters often illegible to the untrained eye, this script (also known as ''draft'') is highly revered for the beauty and freedom that it embodies. Some of the
simplified Chinese characters Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters used in mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore, as prescribed by the ''Table of General Standard Chinese Characters''. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one ...
adopted by the
People's Republic of China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population exceeding 1.4 billion, slightly ahead of India. China spans the equivalent of five time zones an ...
, and some simplified characters used in Japan, are derived from the cursive script. The Japanese ''
hiragana is a Japanese syllabary, part of the Japanese writing system, along with ''katakana'' as well as ''kanji''. It is a phonetic lettering system. The word ''hiragana'' literally means "flowing" or "simple" kana ("simple" originally as contras ...
'' script is also derived from this script. There also exist scripts created outside China, such as the Japanese ''
Edomoji (or ) are Japanese lettering styles invented for advertising during the Edo period. The main styles of are , found on paper lanterns outside restaurants; , used to label and drinks like and ; , literally "cage letters"; , a thick and rectangul ...
'' styles; these have tended to remain restricted to their countries of origin, rather than spreading to other countries like the Chinese scripts.


Calligraphy

The art of writing Chinese characters is called Chinese calligraphy. It is usually done with
ink brush Ink is a gel, sol, or solution that contains at least one colorant, such as a dye or pigment, and is used to color a surface to produce an image, text, or design. Ink is used for drawing or writing with a pen, brush, reed pen, or quill. T ...
es. In ancient China, Chinese calligraphy is one of the Four Arts of the Chinese Scholars. There is a minimalist set of rules of Chinese calligraphy. Every character from the Chinese scripts is built into a uniform shape by means of assigning it a geometric area in which the character must occur. Each character has a set number of brushstrokes; none must be added or taken away from the character to enhance it visually, lest the meaning be lost. Finally, strict regularity is not required, meaning the strokes may be accentuated for dramatic effect of individual style. Calligraphy was the means by which scholars could mark their thoughts and teachings for immortality, and as such, represent some of the most precious treasures that can be found from ancient China.


Typography and design

Three major families of typefaces are used in Chinese typography: * Ming or Song *
Sans-serif In typography and lettering, a sans-serif, sans serif, gothic, or simply sans letterform is one that does not have extending features called "serifs" at the end of strokes. Sans-serif typefaces tend to have less stroke width variation than ser ...
*
Regular script Regular script (; Hepburn: ''kaisho''), also called (), (''zhēnshū''), (''kǎitǐ'') and (''zhèngshū''), is the newest of the Chinese script styles (popularized from the Cao Wei dynasty c. 200 AD and maturing stylistically around the ...
Ming and sans-serif are the most popular in
body text __NOTOC__ The body text or body copy is the text forming the main content of a book, magazine, web page, or any other printed or digital work. This is as a contrast to both additional components such as headings, images, charts, footnotes etc. ...
and are based on regular script for Chinese characters akin to Western
serif In typography, a serif () is a small line or stroke regularly attached to the end of a larger stroke in a letter or symbol within a particular font or family of fonts. A typeface or "font family" making use of serifs is called a serif typeface ...
and
sans-serif In typography and lettering, a sans-serif, sans serif, gothic, or simply sans letterform is one that does not have extending features called "serifs" at the end of strokes. Sans-serif typefaces tend to have less stroke width variation than ser ...
typefaces, respectively. Regular script typefaces emulate
regular script Regular script (; Hepburn: ''kaisho''), also called (), (''zhēnshū''), (''kǎitǐ'') and (''zhèngshū''), is the newest of the Chinese script styles (popularized from the Cao Wei dynasty c. 200 AD and maturing stylistically around the ...
. The ''Song'' typeface ( / , ''sòngtǐ'') is known as the ''Ming'' typeface (, ''minchō'') in Japan, and it is also somewhat more commonly known as the ''Ming'' typeface ( / , ''míngtǐ'') than the ''Song'' typeface in
Taiwan Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a Country, country in East Asia, at the junction of the East China Sea, East and South China Seas in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, with the China, People's Republic of China (PRC) to the n ...
and
Hong Kong Hong Kong ( (US) or (UK); , ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (abbr. Hong Kong SAR or HKSAR), is a city and special administrative region of China on the eastern Pearl River Delt ...
. The names of these styles come from the
Song A song is a musical composition intended to be performed by the human voice. This is often done at distinct and fixed pitches (melodies) using patterns of sound and silence. Songs contain various forms, such as those including the repetitio ...
and Ming dynasties, when
block printing Woodblock printing or block printing is a technique for printing text, images or patterns used widely throughout East Asia and originating in China in antiquity as a method of printing on textiles and later paper. Each page or image is creat ...
flourished in China.
Sans-serif In typography and lettering, a sans-serif, sans serif, gothic, or simply sans letterform is one that does not have extending features called "serifs" at the end of strokes. Sans-serif typefaces tend to have less stroke width variation than ser ...
typefaces, called black typeface ( / , ''hēitǐ'') in Chinese and Gothic typeface () in Japanese, are characterized by simple lines of even thickness for each stroke, akin to sans-serif styles such as
Arial Arial (also called Arial MT) is a sans-serif typeface and set of computer fonts in the neo-grotesque style. Fonts from the Arial family are included with all versions of Microsoft Windows from Windows 3.1 on, some other Microsoft software appli ...
and
Helvetica Helvetica (originally Neue Haas Grotesk) is a widely used sans-serif typeface developed in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann. Helvetica is a neo-grotesque design, one influenced by the famous 19th century (18 ...
in Western typography.
Regular script Regular script (; Hepburn: ''kaisho''), also called (), (''zhēnshū''), (''kǎitǐ'') and (''zhèngshū''), is the newest of the Chinese script styles (popularized from the Cao Wei dynasty c. 200 AD and maturing stylistically around the ...
typefaces are also commonly used, but not as common as Ming or sans-serif typefaces for body text. Regular script typefaces are often used to teach students Chinese characters, and often aim to match the standard forms of the region where they are meant to be used. Most typefaces in the
Song dynasty The Song dynasty (; ; 960–1279) was an imperial dynasty of China that began in 960 and lasted until 1279. The dynasty was founded by Emperor Taizu of Song following his usurpation of the throne of the Later Zhou. The Song conquered the rest ...
were regular script typefaces which resembled a particular person's handwriting (e.g. the handwriting of
Ouyang Xun Ouyang Xun (; 557–641), courtesy name Xinben (), was a Chinese calligrapher, politician, and writer of the early Tang dynasty. He was born in Hunan, Changsha, to a family of government officials; and died in modern Anhui province. Achievements ...
,
Yan Zhenqing Yan Zhenqing (; 709–785) was a Chinese calligrapher, military general, and politician. He was a leading Chinese calligrapher and a loyal governor of the Tang dynasty. His artistic accomplishment in Chinese calligraphy is equal to that of the ...
, or
Liu Gongquan Liu Gongquan (), courtesy name Chengxuan (), was a Chinese calligrapher, essayist, and politician who lived during the late Tang dynasty. Liu Gongquan was especially famous for regular script () and was one of the 4 calligraphic masters of regular ...
), while most modern regular script typefaces tend toward anonymity and regularity.


Variants

Just as Roman letters have a characteristic shape (lower-case letters mostly occupying the
x-height upright 2.0, alt=A diagram showing the line terms used in typography In typography, the x-height, or corpus size, is the distance between the baseline and the mean line of lowercase letters in a typeface. Typically, this is the height of the le ...
, with ascenders or descenders on some letters), Chinese characters occupy a more or less square area in which the components of every character are written to fit in order to maintain a uniform size and shape, especially with small printed characters in Ming and
sans-serif In typography and lettering, a sans-serif, sans serif, gothic, or simply sans letterform is one that does not have extending features called "serifs" at the end of strokes. Sans-serif typefaces tend to have less stroke width variation than ser ...
styles. Because of this, beginners often practise writing on squared graph paper, and the Chinese sometimes use the term "Square-Block Characters" ( / , ''fāngkuàizì''), sometimes translated as ''tetragraph'', in reference to Chinese characters. Despite standardization, some nonstandard forms are commonly used, especially in handwriting. In older sources, even authoritative ones, variant characters are commonplace. For example, in the preface to the '' Imperial Dictionary'', there are 30 variant characters which are not found in the dictionary itself. A few of these are reproduced at right.


Regional standards

The nature of Chinese characters makes it very easy to produce
allograph Allography, from the Greek for "other writing", has several meanings which all relate to how words and sounds are written down. Authorship An allograph may be the opposite of an autograph – i.e. a person's words or name ( signature) written by ...
s (variants) for many characters, and there have been many efforts at orthographical standardization throughout history. In recent times, the widespread usage of the characters in several nations has prevented any particular system becoming universally adopted and the standard form of many Chinese characters thus varies in different regions.
Mainland China "Mainland China" is a geopolitical term defined as the territory governed by the People's Republic of China (including islands like Hainan or Chongming), excluding dependent territories of the PRC, and other territories within Greater Chin ...
adopted
simplified Chinese characters Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters used in mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore, as prescribed by the ''Table of General Standard Chinese Characters''. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one ...
in 1956. They are also used in
Singapore Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign island country and city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bo ...
and
Malaysia Malaysia ( ; ) is a country in Southeast Asia. The federal constitutional monarchy consists of thirteen states and three federal territories, separated by the South China Sea into two regions: Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo's East Malay ...
.
Traditional Chinese characters Traditional Chinese characters are one type of standard Chinese character sets of the contemporary written Chinese. The traditional characters had taken shapes since the clerical change and mostly remained in the same structure they took a ...
are used in
Hong Kong Hong Kong ( (US) or (UK); , ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (abbr. Hong Kong SAR or HKSAR), is a city and special administrative region of China on the eastern Pearl River Delt ...
,
Macau Macau or Macao (; ; ; ), officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (MSAR), is a city and special administrative region of China in the western Pearl River Delta by the South China Sea. With a popu ...
, and
Taiwan Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a Country, country in East Asia, at the junction of the East China Sea, East and South China Seas in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, with the China, People's Republic of China (PRC) to the n ...
. Postwar Japan has used its own less drastically simplified characters,
Shinjitai are the simplified forms of kanji used in Japan since the promulgation of the Tōyō Kanji List in 1946. Some of the new forms found in ''shinjitai'' are also found in Simplified Chinese characters, but ''shinjitai'' is generally not as extensiv ...
, since 1946, while
South Korea South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (ROK), is a country in East Asia, constituting the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and sharing a land border with North Korea. Its western border is formed by the Yellow Sea, while its eas ...
has limited its use of Chinese characters, and
Vietnam Vietnam or Viet Nam ( vi, Việt Nam, ), officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,., group="n" is a country in Southeast Asia, at the eastern edge of mainland Southeast Asia, with an area of and population of 96 million, making it ...
and
North Korea North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), is a country in East Asia. It constitutes the northern half of the Korean Peninsula and shares borders with China and Russia to the north, at the Yalu (Amnok) and ...
have completely abolished their use in favour of
Vietnamese alphabet The Vietnamese alphabet ( vi, chữ Quốc ngữ, lit=script of the National language) is the modern Latin writing script or writing system for Vietnamese. It uses the Latin script based on Romance languages originally developed by Portuguese ...
and
Hangul The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, . Hangul may also be written as following South Korea's standard Romanization. ( ) in South Korea and Chosŏn'gŭl in North Korea, is the modern official writing system for the Korean language. The l ...
, respectively. The standard character forms of each region are described in: * The
List of Commonly Used Characters in Modern Chinese The ''List of Commonly Used Characters in Modern Chinese'' () is a list of 7,000 commonly used Chinese characters in Chinese. It was created in 1988 in the People's Republic of China. The ''List of Frequently Used Characters in Modern Chinese'' ...
for Mainland China. * The List of Graphemes of Commonly-Used Chinese Characters for Hong Kong. * The Standard Form of National Characters for Taiwan. * The list of
Jōyō kanji The is the guide to kanji characters and their readings, announced officially by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Current ''jōyō kanji'' are those on a list of 2,136 characters issued in 2010. It is a slightly modified version of the '' t ...
for Japan. * The Han-Han Dae Sajeon (''de facto'') for Korea. In addition to strictness in character size and shape, Chinese characters are written with very precise rules. The most important rules regard the strokes employed, stroke placement, and
stroke order Stroke order is the order in which the strokes of a Chinese character (or Chinese derivative character) are written. A stroke is a movement of a writing instrument on a writing surface. Chinese characters are used in various forms in Chines ...
. Just as each region that uses Chinese characters has standardized character forms, each also has standardized stroke orders, with each standard being different. Most characters can be written with just one correct stroke order, though some words also have many valid stroke orders, which may occasionally result in different stroke counts. Some characters are also written with different stroke orders due to character simplification.


Polysyllabic morphemes

Chinese characters are primarily
morphosyllabic A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication, based on a script and a set of rules regulating its use. While both writing and speech are useful in conveying messages, writing differs in also being a reliable form ...
, meaning that most Chinese
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful constituent of a linguistic expression. The field of linguistic study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. In English, morphemes are often but not necessarily words. Morphemes that stand alone ...
s are monosyllabic and are written with a single character, though in modern Chinese most ''words'' are disyllabic and dimorphemic, consisting of two syllables, each of which is a morpheme. In modern Chinese 10% of morphemes only occur as part of a given compound. However, a few morphemes are disyllabic, some of them dating back to Classical Chinese. Excluding foreign loan words, these are typically words for plants and small animals. They are usually written with a pair of phono-semantic compound characters sharing a common radical. Examples are ''húdié'' "butterfly" and ''shānhú'' "coral". Note that the ''hú'' of ''húdié'' and the ''hú'' of ''shānhú'' have the same phonetic, , but different radicals ("insect" and "jade", respectively). Neither exists as an independent morpheme except as a poetic abbreviation of the disyllabic word.


Polysyllabic characters

In certain cases compound words and set phrases may be contracted into single characters. Some of these can be considered
logogram In a written language, a logogram, logograph, or lexigraph is a written character that represents a word or morpheme. Chinese characters (pronounced ''hanzi'' in Mandarin, ''kanji'' in Japanese, '' hanja'' in Korean) are generally logograms, ...
s, where characters represent whole words rather than syllable-morphemes, though these are generally instead considered ligatures or abbreviations (similar to
scribal abbreviation Scribal abbreviations or sigla ( singular: siglum) are abbreviations used by ancient and medieval scribes writing in various languages, including Latin, Greek, Old English and Old Norse. In modern manuscript editing (substantive and mecha ...
s, such as & for "et"), and as non-standard. These do see use, particularly in handwriting or decoration, but also in some cases in print. In Chinese, these ligatures are called ''héwén'' (), ''héshū'' (, ) or hétǐzì (, ), and in the special case of combining two characters, these are known as "two-syllable Chinese characters" (, ). A commonly seen example is the Double Happiness symbol , formed as a ligature of and referred to by its disyllabic name (). In handwriting, numbers are very frequently squeezed into one space or combined – common ligatures include ''niàn,'' "twenty", normally read as ''èrshí,'' ''sà,'' "thirty", normally read as ''sānshí,'' and xì "forty", normally read as "sìshí". Calendars often use numeral ligatures in order to save space; for example, the "21st of March" can be read as ''.'' Modern examples particularly include
Chinese characters Chinese characters () are logograms developed for the Written Chinese, writing of Chinese. In addition, they have been adapted to write other East Asian languages, and remain a key component of the Japanese writing system where they are ...
for
SI units The International System of Units, known by the international abbreviation SI in all languages and sometimes pleonastically as the SI system, is the modern form of the metric system and the world's most widely used system of measurement. E ...
. In Chinese these units are disyllabic and standardly written with two characters, as ''límǐ'' "centimeter" ( centi-, meter) or ''qiānwǎ'' "kilowatt". However, in the 19th century these were often written via compound characters, pronounced disyllabically, such as for or for – some of these characters were also used in Japan, where they were pronounced with borrowed European readings instead. These have now fallen out of general use, but are occasionally seen. Less systematic examples include ''túshūguǎn'' "library", a contraction of (simplified: ). Since polysyllabic characters are often non-standard, they are often excluded in character dictionaries. The use of such contractions is as old as Chinese characters themselves, and they have frequently been found in religious or ritual use. In the Oracle Bone script, personal names, ritual items, and even phrases such as () ''shòu yòu'' "receive blessings" are commonly contracted into single characters. A dramatic example is that in medieval manuscripts ''púsà'' "bodhisattva" (simplified: ) is sometimes written with a single character formed of a 2×2 grid of four (derived from the grass radical over two ). However, for the sake of consistency and standardization, the CCP seeks to limit the use of such polysyllabic characters in public writing to ensure that every character only has one syllable. Conversely, with the fusion of the diminutive ''-er'' suffix in Mandarin, some monosyllabic words may even be written with two characters, as in , ''huār'' "flower", which was formerly disyllabic. In most other languages that use the
Chinese family of scripts The Chinese family of scripts are writing systems descended from the Chinese oracle bone script and used for a variety of languages in East Asia. They include logosyllabic systems such as the Chinese script itself (or ''hanzi'', now in two forms ...
, notably Korean, Vietnamese, and Zhuang, Chinese characters are typically monosyllabic, but in Japanese a single character is generally used to represent a borrowed monosyllabic Chinese morpheme (the ''
on'yomi are the logographic Chinese characters taken from the Chinese script and used in the writing of Japanese. They were made a major part of the Japanese writing system during the time of Old Japanese and are still used, along with the subseque ...
''), a polysyllabic native Japanese morpheme (the ''
kun'yomi are the logographic Chinese characters taken from the Chinese script and used in the writing of Japanese. They were made a major part of the Japanese writing system during the time of Old Japanese and are still used, along with the subsequ ...
''), or even (in rare cases) a foreign loanword. These uses are completely standard and unexceptional.


Rare and complex characters

Often a character not commonly used (a "rare" or "variant" character) will appear in a personal or place name in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese (see
Chinese name Chinese names or Chinese personal names are names used by individuals from Greater China and other parts of the Chinese-speaking world throughout East and Southeast Asia (ESEA). In addition, many names used in Japan, Korea and Vietnam are often ...
,
Japanese name in modern times consist of a family name (surname) followed by a given name, in that order. Nevertheless, when a Japanese name is written in the Roman alphabet, ever since the Meiji era, the official policy has been to cater to Western expect ...
,
Korean name A Korean name (Hangul: ; Hanja: ) consists of a family name followed by a given name, as used by the Korean people in both South Korea and North Korea. In the Korean language, ''ireum'' or ''seongmyeong'' usually refers to the family name ('' ...
, and Vietnamese name, respectively). This has caused problems as many computer encoding systems include only the most common characters and exclude the less often used characters. This is especially a problem for personal names which often contain rare or classical, antiquated characters. One man who has encountered this problem is Taiwanese politician Yu Shyi-kun, due to the rarity of the last character (堃; pinyin: kūn) in his name. Newspapers have dealt with this problem in varying ways, including using software to combine two existing, similar characters, including a picture of the character, or, especially as is the case with Yu Shyi-kun, substituting a homophone for the rare character in the hope that the reader would be able to make the correct inference. Taiwanese political posters, movie posters etc. will often add the
bopomofo Bopomofo (), or Mandarin Phonetic Symbols, also named Zhuyin (), is a Chinese transliteration system for Mandarin Chinese and other related languages and dialects. More commonly used in Taiwanese Mandarin, it may also be used to transcribe ...
phonetic symbols next to such a character. Japanese newspapers may render such names and words in
katakana is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji and in some cases the Latin script (known as rōmaji). The word ''katakana'' means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana characters are derive ...
instead, and it is accepted practice for people to write names for which they are unsure of the correct kanji in katakana instead. There are also some extremely complex characters which have understandably become rather rare. According to Joël Bellassen (1989), the most complex Chinese character is / (U+2A6A5) ''zhé'' , meaning "verbose" and containing 64 strokes; this character fell from use around the 5th century. It might be argued, however, that while containing the most strokes, it is not necessarily the most complex character (in terms of difficulty), as it requires writing the same 16-stroke character ''lóng'' (lit. "dragon") four times in the space for one. Another 64-stroke character is / (U+2053B) ''zhèng'' composed of ''xīng/xìng'' (lit. "flourish") four times. One of the most complex characters found in modern Chinese dictionaries is (U+9F49) (''nàng'', , pictured below, middle image), meaning "snuffle" (that is, a pronunciation marred by a blocked nose), with "just" thirty-six strokes. Other stroke-rich characters include 靐 (bìng), with 39 strokes and 䨻 (bèng), with 52 strokes, meaning the loud noise of thunder. However, these are not in common use. The most complex character that can be input using the Microsoft New Phonetic IME 2002a for traditional Chinese is (''dá'', "the appearance of a dragon flying"). It is composed of the dragon radical represented three times, for a total of 16 × 3 = 48 strokes. Among the most complex characters in modern dictionaries and also in ''frequent modern use'' are (''yù'', "to implore"), with 32 strokes; (''yù'', "luxuriant, lush; gloomy"), with 29 strokes, as in (''yōuyù'', "depressed"); (''yàn'', "colorful"), with 28 strokes; and (''xìn'', "quarrel"), with 25 strokes, as in (''tiǎoxìn'', "to pick a fight"). Also in occasional modern use is (''xiān'' "fresh"; variant of ''xiān'') with 33 strokes. In
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan, an island country in East Asia * Japanese language, spoken mainly in Japan * Japanese people, the ethnic group that identifies with Japan through ancestry or culture ** Japanese dia ...
, an 84-stroke ''
kokuji are the logographic Chinese characters taken from the Chinese script and used in the writing of Japanese. They were made a major part of the Japanese writing system during the time of Old Japanese and are still used, along with the subsequen ...
'' exists: , normally read ''
taito is a Japanese company that specializes in video games, toys, arcade cabinets and game centers, based in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The company was founded by Michael Kogan in 1953 as the importing vodka, vending machines and jukeboxes into Japan. It b ...
''. It is composed of triple "cloud" character () on top of the abovementioned triple "dragon" character (). Also meaning "the appearance of a dragon in flight", it has been pronounced ''otodo'', ''taito'', and ''daito''. The most elaborate character in the jōyō kanji list is the 29-stroke , meaning "depression" or "melancholy". The most complex Chinese character still in use may be / 𰻞 (U+30EDE) (''biáng'', pictured right, bottom), with 58 strokes, which refers to biangbiang noodles, a type of noodle from
China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's List of countries and dependencies by population, most populous country, with a Population of China, population exceeding 1.4 billion, slig ...
's
Shaanxi Shaanxi (alternatively Shensi, see § Name) is a landlocked province of China. Officially part of Northwest China, it borders the province-level divisions of Shanxi (NE, E), Henan (E), Hubei (SE), Chongqing (S), Sichuan (SW), Gansu (W), Ningx ...
province. This character along with the syllable ''biáng'' cannot be found in dictionaries. The fact that it represents a syllable that does not exist in any
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese ()—in linguistics Standard Northern Mandarin or Standard Beijing Mandarin, in common speech simply Mandarin, better qualified as Standard Mandarin, Modern Standard Mandarin or Standard Mandarin Chinese—is a modern standa ...
word means that it could be classified as a dialectal character. File:Zhé.svg, '' Zhé'', "verbose" File:Zhèng.svg, ''Zhèng'' (unknown meaning) File:Nàng.svg, '' Nàng'', "poor enunciation due to snuffle" File:Taito 2.svg, ''
Taito is a Japanese company that specializes in video games, toys, arcade cabinets and game centers, based in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The company was founded by Michael Kogan in 1953 as the importing vodka, vending machines and jukeboxes into Japan. It b ...
'', "the appearance of a dragon in flight" File:Taito 1.svg, alternative form of ''
Taito is a Japanese company that specializes in video games, toys, arcade cabinets and game centers, based in Shinjuku, Tokyo. The company was founded by Michael Kogan in 1953 as the importing vodka, vending machines and jukeboxes into Japan. It b ...
'' File:Biáng (regular script).svg, ''
Biáng Biangbiang noodles ( zh, s=, t=𰻞𰻞麵, p=Biángbiángmiàn), alternatively known as ''youpo chemian'' () in Chinese, are a type of Chinese noodle originating from Shaanxi cuisine. The noodles, touted as one of the "eight curiosities" of ...
'', a kind of noodle in
Shaanxi Shaanxi (alternatively Shensi, see § Name) is a landlocked province of China. Officially part of Northwest China, it borders the province-level divisions of Shanxi (NE, E), Henan (E), Hubei (SE), Chongqing (S), Sichuan (SW), Gansu (W), Ningx ...


Number of characters

The total number of Chinese characters from past to present remains unknowable because new ones are being developed all the time – for instance, brands may create new characters when none of the existing ones allow for the intended meaning – or they have been invented by whoever wrote them and have never been adopted as official characters. Chinese characters are theoretically an open set and anyone can create new characters, though such inventions are rarely included in official character sets. The number of entries in major Chinese dictionaries is the best means of estimating the historical growth of character inventory. Even the ''Zhonghua Zihai'' does not include characters in the
Chinese family of scripts The Chinese family of scripts are writing systems descended from the Chinese oracle bone script and used for a variety of languages in East Asia. They include logosyllabic systems such as the Chinese script itself (or ''hanzi'', now in two forms ...
created to represent non-Chinese languages, except the unique characters in use in Japan and Korea. Characters formed by Chinese principles in other languages include the roughly 1,500 Japanese-made ''
kokuji are the logographic Chinese characters taken from the Chinese script and used in the writing of Japanese. They were made a major part of the Japanese writing system during the time of Old Japanese and are still used, along with the subsequen ...
'' given in the '' Kokuji no Jiten,'' the Korean-made
gukja Hanja (Hangul: ; Hanja: , ), alternatively known as Hancha, are Chinese characters () used in the writing of Korean. Hanja was used as early as the Gojoseon period, the first ever Korean kingdom. (, ) refers to Sino-Korean vocabulary, whi ...
, the over 10,000
Sawndip Zhuang characters or ''Sawndip'' (Sawndip: ; ) are logograms derived from Chinese characters and used by the Zhuang people of Guangxi and Yunnan provinces in China to write the Zhuang languages for more than one thousand years. The script is use ...
characters still in use in
Guangxi Guangxi (; ; alternately romanized as Kwanghsi; ; za, Gvangjsih, italics=yes), officially the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (GZAR), is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China, located in South China and bordering Vietnam ...
, and the almost 20,000 Nôm characters formerly used in Vietnam. More divergent descendants of Chinese script include
Tangut script The Tangut script ( Tangut: ; ) was a logographic writing system, used for writing the extinct Tangut language of the Western Xia dynasty. According to the latest count, 5863 Tangut characters are known, excluding variants. The Tangut character ...
, which created over 5,000 characters with similar strokes but different formation principles to Chinese characters. Modified radicals and new variants are two common reasons for the ever-increasing number of characters. There are about 300 radicals and 100 are in common use. Creating a new character by modifying the radical is an easy way to disambiguate
homograph A homograph (from the el, ὁμός, ''homós'', "same" and γράφω, ''gráphō'', "write") is a word that shares the same written form as another word but has a different meaning. However, some dictionaries insist that the words must also ...
s among ''xíngshēngzì'' pictophonetic compounds. This practice began long before the standardization of Chinese script by
Qin Shi Huang Qin Shi Huang (, ; 259–210 BC) was the founder of the Qin dynasty and the first emperor of a unified China. Rather than maintain the title of " king" ( ''wáng'') borne by the previous Shang and Zhou rulers, he ruled as the First Empero ...
and continues to the present day. The traditional 3rd-person pronoun ''tā'' ( "he, she, it"), which is written with the "person radical", illustrates modifying significs to form new characters. In modern usage, there is a graphic distinction between ''tā'' ( "she") with the "woman radical", ''tā'' ( "it") with the "animal radical", ''tā'' ( "it") with the "roof radical", and ''tā'' ( "He") with the "deity radical", One consequence of modifying radicals is the fossilization of rare and obscure variant logographs, some of which are not even used in
Classical Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (古文 ''gǔwén'' "ancient text", or 文言 ''wényán'' "text speak", meaning "literary language/speech"; modern vernacular: 文言文 ''wényánwén'' "text speak text", meaning "literar ...
. For instance, ''he'' "harmony, peace", which combines the "grain radical" with the "mouth radical", has infrequent variants with the radicals reversed and with the "flute radical".


Chinese

Chinese characters (, meaning the semiotic sign, symbol, or glyph part) should not be confused with Chinese words (, meaning phrases or vocabulary words, consisting from a group of characters or possibly a single character), as the majority of modern Chinese words, unlike their
Old Chinese Old Chinese, also called Archaic Chinese in older works, is the oldest attested stage of Chinese, and the ancestor of all modern varieties of Chinese. The earliest examples of Chinese are divinatory inscriptions on oracle bones from around 1250 ...
and
Middle Chinese Middle Chinese (formerly known as Ancient Chinese) or the Qieyun system (QYS) is the historical variety of Chinese recorded in the ''Qieyun'', a rime dictionary first published in 601 and followed by several revised and expanded editions. The S ...
counterparts, are more frequently written with two or more characters, each character representing one syllable and/or
morpheme A morpheme is the smallest meaningful constituent of a linguistic expression. The field of linguistic study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. In English, morphemes are often but not necessarily words. Morphemes that stand alone ...
. Knowing the meanings of the individual characters of a word will often allow the general meaning of the word to be inferred, but this is not always the case. Studies in China have shown that literate individuals know and use between 3,000 and 4,000 characters. Specialists in classical literature or history, who would often encounter characters no longer in use, are estimated to have a working vocabulary of between 5,000 and 6,000 characters. In
China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's List of countries and dependencies by population, most populous country, with a Population of China, population exceeding 1.4 billion, slig ...
, which uses
simplified Chinese characters Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters used in mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore, as prescribed by the ''Table of General Standard Chinese Characters''. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one ...
, the '' Xiàndài Hànyǔ Chángyòng Zìbiǎo'' (, List of Commonly Used Characters in Modern Chinese) lists 2,500 common characters and 1,000 less-than-common characters, while the ''Xiàndài Hànyǔ Tōngyòng Zìbiǎo'' (, Chart of Generally Utilized Characters of Modern Chinese) lists 7,000 characters, including the 3,500 characters already listed above. In June 2013, the '' Tōngyòng Guīfàn Hànzì Biǎo'' (, Table of General Standard Chinese Characters) became the current standard, replacing the previous two lists. It includes 8,105 characters, 3,500 as primary, 3,000 as secondary, and 1,605 as tertiary.
GB 2312 is a key official character set of the People's Republic of China, used for Simplified Chinese characters. GB2312 is the registered internet name for EUC-CN, which is its usual encoded form. ''GB'' refers to the Guobiao standards (国家标准 ...
, an early version of the national encoding standard used in the
People's Republic of China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population exceeding 1.4 billion, slightly ahead of India. China spans the equivalent of five time zones an ...
, has 6,763 code points.
GB 18030 GB 18030 is a Chinese government standard, described as ''Information Technology — Chinese coded character set'' and defines the required language and character support necessary for software in China. GB18030 is the registered Internet n ...
, the modern, mandatory standard, has a much higher number. The Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì (, Chinese Proficiency Test) cover 2,663 characters and 5,000 words at its highest level (level six), while the ''Guójì Zhōngwén Jiàoyù Zhōngwén Shuǐpíng Děngjí Biāozhǔn'' (, Chinese Proficiency Grading Standards for International Chinese Language Education) would cover 3,000 characters and 11,092 words at its highest level (level nine). In Taiwan, which uses
traditional Chinese characters Traditional Chinese characters are one type of standard Chinese character sets of the contemporary written Chinese. The traditional characters had taken shapes since the clerical change and mostly remained in the same structure they took a ...
, the Ministry of Education's '' Chángyòng Guózì Biāozhǔn Zìtǐ Biǎo'' (, Chart of Standard Forms of Common National Characters) lists 4,808 characters; the ''Cì Chángyòng Guózì Biāozhǔn Zìtǐ Biǎo'' (, Chart of Standard Forms of Less-Than-Common National Characters) lists another 6,341 characters. The ''Chinese Standard Interchange Code'' ( CNS11643)—the official national encoding standard—supports 48,027 characters in its 1992 version (currently over 96,000 characters), while the most widely used encoding scheme,
BIG-5 Big-5 or Big5 is a Chinese character encoding method used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau for traditional Chinese characters. The People's Republic of China (PRC), which uses simplified Chinese characters, uses the GB 18030 character set ...
, supports only 13,053. The Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (, TOCFL) covers 8,000 words at its highest level (level six). The Taiwan Benchmarks for the Chinese Language (, TBCL), a guideline developed to describe levels of Chinese language proficiency, covers 3,100 characters and 14,425 words at its highest level (level seven). In
Hong Kong Hong Kong ( (US) or (UK); , ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (abbr. Hong Kong SAR or HKSAR), is a city and special administrative region of China on the eastern Pearl River Delt ...
, which uses
traditional Chinese characters Traditional Chinese characters are one type of standard Chinese character sets of the contemporary written Chinese. The traditional characters had taken shapes since the clerical change and mostly remained in the same structure they took a ...
, the Education and Manpower Bureau's '' Soengjung Zi Zijing Biu'' (), intended for use in elementary and junior secondary education, lists a total of 4,759 characters. In addition, there are a number of ''dialect characters'' () that are not generally used in formal written Chinese but represent colloquial terms in nonstandard
varieties of Chinese Chinese, also known as Sinitic, is a branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family consisting of hundreds of local varieties, many of which are not mutually intelligible. Variation is particularly strong in the more mountainous southeast of ma ...
. In general, it is common practice to use standard characters to transcribe Chinese dialects when obvious cognates with words in Standard Mandarin exist. However, when no obvious cognate could be found for a word, due to factors like irregular sound change or semantic drift in the meanings of characters, or the word originates from a non-Chinese source like a substratum from an earlier displaced language or a later borrowing from another language family, then characters are borrowed and used according to the rebus principle or invented in an ''ad hoc'' manner to transcribe it. These new characters are generally phonosemantic compounds (e.g., 侬, 'person' in Min), although a few are compound ideographs (e.g., 孬, 'bad', in Northeast Mandarin). Except in the case of written Cantonese, there is no official orthography, and there may be several ways to write a dialectal word, often one that is etymologically correct and one or several that are based on the current pronunciation (e.g., 觸祭 (etymological) vs. 戳鸡/戳雞 (phonetic), 'eat' (low-register) in Shanghainese). Speakers of a dialect will generally recognize a dialectal word if it is transcribed according to phonetic considerations, while the etymologically correct form may be more difficult or impossible to recognize. For example, few Gan speakers would recognize the character meaning 'to lean' in their dialect, because this character (隑) has become archaic in Standard Mandarin. The historically "correct" transcription is often so obscure that it is uncovered only after considerable scholarly research into philology and historical phonology and may be disputed by other researchers. As an exception,
written Cantonese Written Cantonese is the most complete written form of Chinese after that for Mandarin Chinese and Classical Chinese. Written Chinese was originally developed for Classical Chinese, and was the main literary language of China until the 19th cen ...
is in widespread use in
Hong Kong Hong Kong ( (US) or (UK); , ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (abbr. Hong Kong SAR or HKSAR), is a city and special administrative region of China on the eastern Pearl River Delt ...
, even for certain formal documents, due to the former British colonial administration's recognition of Cantonese for use for official purposes. In Taiwan, there is also a body of semi-official characters used to represent
Taiwanese Hokkien Taiwanese Hokkien () (; Tâi-lô: ''Tâi-uân-uē''), also known as Taigi/Taigu (; Pe̍h-ōe-jī/ Tâi-lô: ''Tâi-gí / Tâi-gú''), Taiwanese, Taiwanese Minnan, Hoklo and Holo, is a variety of the Hokkien language spoken natively by about ...
and
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, or Hakkas are a Han Chinese subgroup whose ancestral homes are chiefly in the Hakka-speaking provincial areas of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan, Zhe ...
. For example, the vernacular character , pronounced ''cii11'' in
Hakka The Hakka (), sometimes also referred to as Hakka Han, or Hakka Chinese, or Hakkas are a Han Chinese subgroup whose ancestral homes are chiefly in the Hakka-speaking provincial areas of Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan, Zhe ...
, means "to kill". Other varieties of Chinese with a significant number of speakers, like
Shanghainese The Shanghainese language, also known as the Shanghai dialect, or Hu language, is a variety of Wu Chinese spoken in the central districts of the City of Shanghai and its surrounding areas. It is classified as part of the Sino-Tibetan lang ...
Wu,
Gan Chinese Gan, Gann or Kan is a group of Sinitic languages spoken natively by many people in the Jiangxi province of China, as well as significant populations in surrounding regions such as Hunan, Hubei, Anhui, and Fujian. Gan is a member of the Siniti ...
, and Sichuanese, also have their own series of characters, but these are not often seen, except on advertising billboards directed toward locals and are not used in formal settings except to give precise transcriptions of witness statements in legal proceedings. Written Standard Mandarin is the preference for all mainland regions.


Japanese

In Japanese, there are 2,136 ''
jōyō kanji The is the guide to kanji characters and their readings, announced officially by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Current ''jōyō kanji'' are those on a list of 2,136 characters issued in 2010. It is a slightly modified version of the '' t ...
'' (, lit. "frequently used Chinese characters") designated by the Japanese Ministry of Education; these are taught during primary and secondary school. The list is a recommendation, not a restriction, and many characters missing from it are still in common use. One area where character usage is officially restricted is in names, which may contain only government-approved characters. Since the ''jōyō kanji'' list excludes many characters that have been used in personal and place names for generations, an additional list, referred to as the ''
jinmeiyō kanji are a set of 863 Chinese characters known as "name kanji" in English. They are a supplementary list of characters that can legally be used in registered personal names in Japan, despite not being in the official list of "commonly used characte ...
'' (, lit. "kanji for use in personal names"), is published. It currently contains 983 characters. Today, a well-educated Japanese person may know upwards of 3,500 characters. The '' kanji kentei'' (, ''Nihon Kanji Nōryoku Kentei Shiken'' or ''Test of Japanese Kanji Aptitude'') tests a speaker's ability to read and write kanji. The highest level of the ''kanji kentei'' tests on approximately 6,000 kanji (corresponding to the kanji characters list of the
JIS X 0208 JIS X 0208 is a 2-byte character set specified as a Japanese Industrial Standard, containing 6879 graphic characters suitable for writing text, place names, personal names, and so forth in the Japanese language. The official title of the curr ...
).


Korean

'' Basic Hanja for educational use'' () are a subset of 1,800
Hanja Hanja (Hangul: ; Hanja: , ), alternatively known as Hancha, are Chinese characters () used in the writing of Korean. Hanja was used as early as the Gojoseon period, the first ever Korean kingdom. (, ) refers to Sino-Korean vocabulary, whi ...
defined in 1972 by a
South Korea South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (ROK), is a country in East Asia, constituting the southern part of the Korean Peninsula and sharing a land border with North Korea. Its western border is formed by the Yellow Sea, while its eas ...
education standard. 900 characters are expected to be learnt by middle school students and a further 900 at high school. In March 1991, the
Supreme Court of Korea The Supreme Court of Korea () is the highest ordinary court in the judicial branch of South Korea, seated in Seocho, Seoul. Established under Chapter 5 of the Constitution of South Korea, the Court has ultimate and comprehensive jurisdict ...
published the ''Table of Hanja for Personal Name Use'' (), which allowed a total of 2,854 ''hanja'' in South Korean
given name A given name (also known as a forename or first name) is the part of a personal name quoted in that identifies a person, potentially with a middle name as well, and differentiates that person from the other members of a group (typically a fa ...
s. The list expanded gradually, and until 2015 there are 8,142 ''hanja'' (including the set of basic ''hanja'') permitted using in Korean names.


Modern creation

New characters can in principle be coined at any time, just as new words can be, but they may not be adopted. Significant historically recent coinages date to scientific terms of the 19th century. Specifically, Chinese coined new characters for chemical elements – see '' Chemical elements in East Asian languages'' – which continue to be used and taught in schools in China and Taiwan. In Japan, in the
Meiji era The is an era of Japanese history that extended from October 23, 1868 to July 30, 1912. The Meiji era was the first half of the Empire of Japan, when the Japanese people moved from being an isolated feudal society at risk of colonization by ...
(specifically, late 19th century), new characters were coined for some (but not all) SI units, such as ( "meter" + "thousand, kilo-") for kilometer. These
kokuji are the logographic Chinese characters taken from the Chinese script and used in the writing of Japanese. They were made a major part of the Japanese writing system during the time of Old Japanese and are still used, along with the subsequen ...
(Japanese-coinages) have found use in China as well – see Chinese characters for SI units for details. While new characters can be easily coined by writing on paper, they are difficult to represent on a computer – they must generally be represented as a picture, rather than as text – which presents a significant barrier to their use or widespread adoption. Compare this with the use of symbols as names in 20th century musical albums such as ''
Led Zeppelin IV The untitled fourth studio album by the English rock band Led Zeppelin, commonly known as ''Led Zeppelin IV'', was released on 8 November 1971 by Atlantic Records. It was produced by guitarist Jimmy Page and recorded between December 1970 and F ...
'' (1971) and ''
Love Symbol Album ''Love Symbol'' is the fourteenth studio album by American recording artist Prince, and the second of two that featured his backing band the New Power Generation. It was released on October 13, 1992, by Paisley Park Records and Warner Bros. Re ...
'' (1993); an album cover may potentially contain any graphics, but in writing and other computation these symbols are difficult to use.


Indexing

Dozens of indexing schemes have been created for arranging Chinese characters in Chinese dictionaries. The great majority of these schemes have appeared in only a single dictionary; only one such system has achieved truly widespread use. This is the system of radicals (see for example, the 214 so-called
Kangxi radical The 214 Kangxi radicals (), also known as the Zihui radicals, form a system of radicals () of Chinese characters. The radicals are numbered in stroke count order. They are the most popular system of radicals for dictionaries that order Tradit ...
s). Chinese character dictionaries often allow users to locate entries in several ways. Many Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dictionaries of Chinese characters list characters in radical order: characters are grouped together by radical, and radicals containing fewer
strokes A stroke is a medical condition in which poor blood flow to the brain causes cell death. There are two main types of stroke: ischemic, due to lack of blood flow, and hemorrhagic, due to bleeding. Both cause parts of the brain to stop functionin ...
come before radicals containing more strokes (
radical-and-stroke sorting Collation is the assembly of written information into a standard order. Many systems of collation are based on numerical order or alphabetical order, or extensions and combinations thereof. Collation is a fundamental element of most office fili ...
). Under each radical, characters are listed by their total number of strokes. It is often also possible to search for characters by sound, using
pinyin Hanyu Pinyin (), often shortened to just pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Mandarin Chinese in China, and to some extent, in Singapore and Malaysia. It is often used to teach Mandarin, normally written in Chinese f ...
(in Chinese dictionaries),
zhuyin Bopomofo (), or Mandarin Phonetic Symbols, also named Zhuyin (), is a Chinese transliteration system for Mandarin Chinese and other related languages and dialects. More commonly used in Taiwanese Mandarin, it may also be used to transcribe ...
(in Taiwanese dictionaries),
kana The term may refer to a number of syllabaries used to write Japanese phonological units, morae. Such syllabaries include (1) the original kana, or , which were Chinese characters ( kanji) used phonetically to transcribe Japanese, the most p ...
(in Japanese dictionaries) or
hangul The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, . Hangul may also be written as following South Korea's standard Romanization. ( ) in South Korea and Chosŏn'gŭl in North Korea, is the modern official writing system for the Korean language. The l ...
(in Korean dictionaries). Most dictionaries also allow searches by total number of strokes, and individual dictionaries often allow other search methods as well. For instance, to look up the character where the sound is not known, e.g., (pine tree), the user first determines which part of the character is the radical (here ), then counts the number of strokes in the radical (four), and turns to the radical index (usually located on the inside front or back cover of the dictionary). Under the number "4" for radical stroke count, the user locates , then turns to the page number listed, which is the start of the listing of all the characters containing this radical. This page will have a sub-index giving remainder stroke numbers (for the non-radical portions of characters) and page numbers. The right half of the character also contains four strokes, so the user locates the number 4, and turns to the page number given. From there, the user must scan the entries to locate the character he or she is seeking. Some dictionaries have a sub-index which lists every character containing each radical, and if the user knows the number of strokes in the non-radical portion of the character, he or she can locate the correct page directly. Another dictionary system is the
Four-Corner Method The Four-Corner Method () is a character-input method used for encoding Chinese characters into either a computer or a manual typewriter, using four or five numerical digits per character. The Four-Corner Method is also known as the Four-Corne ...
, in which characters are classified according to the shape of each of the four corners. Most modern Chinese dictionaries and Chinese dictionaries sold to English speakers use the traditional radical-based character index in a section at the front, while the main body of the dictionary arranges the main character entries alphabetically according to their
pinyin Hanyu Pinyin (), often shortened to just pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Mandarin Chinese in China, and to some extent, in Singapore and Malaysia. It is often used to teach Mandarin, normally written in Chinese f ...
spelling. To find a character with unknown sound using one of these dictionaries, the reader finds the radical and stroke number of the character, as before, and locates the character in the radical index. The character's entry will have the character's pronunciation in pinyin written down; the reader then turns to the main dictionary section and looks up the pinyin spelling alphabetically.


See also

*
Adoption of Chinese literary culture Chinese writing, culture and institutions were imported as a whole by Vietnam, Korea, Japan and other neighbouring states over an extended period. Chinese Buddhism spread over East Asia between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD, followed by Conf ...
*
Character amnesia Character amnesia is a phenomenon whereby experienced speakers of some East Asian languages forget how to write Chinese characters previously well known to them. The phenomenon is specifically tied to prolonged and extensive use of input methods, ...
* Chinese character encoding *
Chinese family of scripts The Chinese family of scripts are writing systems descended from the Chinese oracle bone script and used for a variety of languages in East Asia. They include logosyllabic systems such as the Chinese script itself (or ''hanzi'', now in two forms ...
*
Chinese input methods for computers Chinese input methods are methods that allow a computer user to input Chinese characters. Most, if not all, Chinese input methods fall into one of two categories: phonetic readings or root shapes. Methods under the phonetic category usually are e ...
*
Chinese numerals Chinese numerals are words and characters used to denote numbers in Chinese. Today, speakers of Chinese use three written numeral systems: the system of Arabic numerals used worldwide, and two indigenous systems. The more familiar indigenous ...
, how numbers are written with Chinese characters * Chinese punctuation * Digraph *
Eight Principles of Yong The Eight Principles of ''Yong'' (; ja, 永字八法/えいじはっぽう, ''eiji happō''; ko, 영자팔법/永字八法, ''Yeongjapalbeop''; vi, Vĩnh tự bát pháp) explain how to write eight common strokes in regular script which are ...
*
Horizontal and vertical writing in East Asian scripts Many East Asian scripts can be written horizontally or vertically. Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese Hán- Nôm and Korean scripts can be oriented along either axis, as they consist mainly of disconnected logographic or syllabic units, each occu ...
* List of languages written in Chinese characters and derivatives of Chinese characters *
Romanization of Chinese Romanization of Chinese () is the use of the Latin alphabet to transliterate Chinese. Chinese uses a logographic script and its characters do not represent phonemes directly. There have been many systems using Roman characters to represent C ...
*
Stroke order Stroke order is the order in which the strokes of a Chinese character (or Chinese derivative character) are written. A stroke is a movement of a writing instrument on a writing surface. Chinese characters are used in various forms in Chines ...
*
Transcription into Chinese characters Transcription into Chinese characters is the use of traditional or simplified Chinese characters to '' phonetically'' transcribe the sound of terms and names of foreign words to the Chinese language. Transcription is distinct from translation ...


Notes


References


Citations


Works cited

* * * * * * * * * * * (English translation of ''Wénzìxué Gàiyào'' , Shangwu, 1988.) * *
preprint
* * * * *


Further reading

* ;Early works of historical interest * * * * * * * * * Translated by L.C. Hopkins with a Memoir of the Translator by W. Perceval Yetts


External links


History and construction of Chinese characters

* Excerpt fro

by John DeFrancis, 1989 by the University of Hawai'i Press. Used by permission of the University of Hawai'i Press.


Online dictionaries and character reference


Chinese Text Project Dictionary
Comprehensive character dictionary including data for all Chinese characters in Unicode, and exemplary usage from early Chinese texts.

* Richard Sears
Chinese Etymology
* Da, Jun
Chinese text computing
nbsp;– statistics on use of Chinese characters


Chinese characters in computing



Chinese, Japanese, and Korean references, readings, and meanings for all the Chinese and Chinese-derived characters in the
Unicode Unicode, formally The Unicode Standard,The formal version reference is is an information technology standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems. The standard, whi ...
character set
Daoulagad Han
– Mobile OCR hanzi dictionary, OCR interface to the UniHan database


Early works of historical interest

* * {{Authority control Chinese culture East Asian culture East Asia Southeast Asia Writing systems without word boundaries