Chinese Writing
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Written Chinese () comprises
Chinese characters Chinese characters, also called ''hanzi'' (), are logogram In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language by means of a writing system. Written language is an invention in that it ...
used to represent the
Chinese language Chinese ( or also , especially for the written language) is a group of s that form the branch of the , spoken by the ethnic majority and many minority ethnic groups in . About 1.3 billion people (or approximately 16% of the world's popula ...
. Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet or a compact
syllabary In the linguistic Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis includ ...
. Rather, the writing system is roughly logosyllabic; that is, a character generally represents one
syllable A syllable is a unit of organization for a sequence of speech sounds. It is typically made up of a syllable nucleus (most often a vowel A vowel is a Syllable, syllabic speech sound pronounced without any stricture in the vocal tract. Vowels a ...

syllable
of spoken Chinese and may be a word on its own or a part of a polysyllabic word. The characters themselves are often composed of parts that may represent physical objects, abstract notions, or pronunciation. Literacy requires the memorization of a great number of characters: college-educated Chinese speakers know about 4,000. The large number of Chinese characters has in part led to the adoption of Western alphabets or other complementary systems as auxiliary means of representing Chinese. Various current Chinese characters have been traced back to the late
Shang Dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty Dynasties in Chinese history, or Chinese dynasties, were hereditary monarchical regimes that ruled over China during much of its history. From ...

Shang Dynasty
about 1200–1050 BC,William G. Boltz, Early Chinese Writing, World Archaeology, Vol. 17, No. 3, Early Writing Systems. (Feb., 1986), pp. 420–436 (436).David N. Keightley, "Art, Ancestors, and the Origins of Writing in China", ''Representations'', No. 56, Special Issue: The New Erudition. (Autumn, 1996), pp. 68–95 (68).John DeFrancis: Visible Speech. The Diverse Oneness of Writing Systems: Chinese
/ref> but the process of creating characters is thought to have begun some centuries earlier. After a period of variation and evolution, Chinese characters were standardized under the
Qin Dynasty The Qin dynasty, or Ch'in dynasty in Wade–Giles Wade–Giles () is a Romanization of Chinese, romanization system for Standard Chinese, Mandarin Chinese. It developed from a system produced by Thomas Francis Wade, during the mid-19th ...

Qin Dynasty
(221–206 BC). Over the millennia, these characters have evolved into well-developed styles of
Chinese calligraphy Chinese calligraphy is the writing of Chinese characters Chinese characters, also called ''Hanzi'' (), are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. They have been adapted to write other East-Asian languages, and remain a key ...
. As the
varieties of Chinese Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, world's most populous country, w ...
diverged, a situation of
diglossia In linguistics Linguistics is the science, scientific study of language. It encompasses the analysis of every aspect of language, as well as the methods for studying and modeling them. The traditional areas of linguistic analysis includ ...
developed, with speakers of mutually unintelligible varieties able to communicate through writing using
Classical Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (古文 ''gǔwén'' "ancient text", or 文言 ''wényán'' "text speak"; modern vernacular: 文言文 ''wényánwén'' "text speak text"), is the language of the classic literature from the end ...
. In the early 20th century, Classical Chinese was replaced in this role by
written vernacular Chinese Written vernacular Chinese (), also known as Baihua, is the forms of written Chinese Written Chinese () comprises Chinese characters used to represent the Chinese language. Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet or a compact syllabar ...
, corresponding to the standard spoken language ("Mandarin"). Although most other
varieties of Chinese Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, world's most populous country, w ...
are not written, there are traditions of
written Cantonese Written Cantonese is the written form of Cantonese, 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 langu ...
,
written Shanghainese Shanghainese (rarely "Shanghaiese", without second "n"), also known as the Shanghai dialect, Hu language or Hu dialect, is a variety of Wu Chinese spoken in the Districts of Shanghai, central districts of the Shanghai, City of Shanghai and its ...
and
written Hokkien Hokkien, a Min Nan variety of Chinese spoken in Southeastern China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, does not have a unitary standardized writing system, in comparison with the well-developed written forms of Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東 ...
, among others. Some Chinese characters have been adopted into writing systems of other neighbouring East Asian languages, but are currently used only in
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat = Imperial Seal of J ...

Japanese
and to a lesser extent in
Korean Korean may refer to: People and culture * Koreans, ethnic group originating in the Korean Peninsula * Korean cuisine * Korean culture * Korean language **Korean alphabet, known as Hangul or Chosŏn'gŭl **Korean dialects and the Jeju language **S ...
, as
Vietnamese Vietnamese may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to Vietnam, a country in Southeast Asia ** A citizen of Vietnam. See Demographics of Vietnam. * Vietnamese people, or Kinh people, a Southeast Asian ethnic group native to Vietnam ** Oversea ...
is now written using alphabetic script.


Structure

Written Chinese is not based on an alphabet or a compact syllabary. Instead, Chinese characters are
glyphs In typography File:metal movable type.jpg, 225px, Movable type being assembled on a composing stick using pieces that are stored in the type case shown below it Typography is the art and technique of typesetting, arranging type to make wr ...

glyphs
whose components may depict objects or represent abstract notions. Occasionally a character consists of only one component; more commonly two or more components are combined to form more complex characters, using a variety of different principles. The best known exposition of Chinese character composition is the ''
Shuowen Jiezi ''Shuowen Jiezi'' () is an ancient Chinese dictionary Chinese dictionaries date back over two millennia to the Han Dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), esta ...
'', compiled by
Xu Shen Xu Shen ( CE) was a Chinese politician, philologist Philology is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is the intersection of textual criticism, literary criticism, history, and linguistics (with especially stron ...
around 120 AD. Since Xu Shen did not have access to Chinese characters in their earliest forms, his analysis cannot always be taken as authoritative. Nonetheless, no later work has supplanted the ''Shuowen Jiezi'' in terms of breadth, and it is still relevant to etymological research today.


Derivation of characters

According to the ''Shuowen Jiezi'', Chinese characters are developed on six basic principles. (These principles, though popularized by the ''Shuowen Jiezi'', were developed earlier; the oldest known mention of them is in the ''
Rites of Zhou The ''Rites of Zhou'' (), originally known as "Officers of Zhou" () is a work on bureaucracy and organizational theory. It was renamed by Liu Xin to differentiate it from a chapter in the ''Book of History The ''Book of Documents'' (''Shūj ...
'', a text from about 150 BC.) The first two principles produce simple characters, known as 文 ''wén'':
  1. ''xiàngxíng'':
    Pictographs A pictogram, also called a pictogramme, pictograph, or simply picto, and in computer usage an computer icon, icon, is a graphic symbol that conveys its meaning through its pictorial resemblance to a physical object. Pictographs are often used in ...

    Pictographs
    , in which the character is a graphical depiction of the object it denotes. Examples: 人 ''rén'' "person", 日 ''rì'' "sun", 木 ''mù'' "tree/wood".
  2. ''zhǐshì'': Indicatives, or
    ideographs An ideogram or ideograph (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approxima ...
    , in which the character represents an abstract notion. Examples: 上 ''shàng'' "up", 下 ''xià'' "down", 三 ''sān'' "three".
The remaining four principles produce complex characters historically called 字 ''zì'' (although this term is now generally used to refer to all characters, whether simple or complex). Of these four, two construct characters from simpler parts:
  1. / ''huìyì'': Logical aggregates, in which two or more parts are used for their meaning. This yields a composite meaning, which is then applied to the new character. E.g., / ''dōng'' "east", which represents a sun rising in the trees.
  2. / ''xíngshēng'': Phonetic complexes, in which one part—often called the
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    —indicates the general semantic category of the character (such as water-related or eye-related), and the other part is another character, used for its phonetic value. Example: 晴 ''qíng'' "clear/fair (weather)", which is composed of 日 ''rì'' "sun", and 青 ''qīng'' "blue/green", which is used for its pronunciation.
In contrast to the popular conception of Chinese as a primarily pictographic or ideographic language, the vast majority of Chinese characters (about 95% of the characters in the ''Shuowen Jiezi'') are constructed as either logical aggregates or, more often, phonetic complexes. In fact, some phonetic complexes were originally simple pictographs that were later augmented by the addition of a semantic root. An example is 炷 ''zhù'' "candle" (now archaic, meaning "lampwick"), which was originally a pictograph 主, a character that is now pronounced ''zhǔ'' and means "host", or The character 火 ''huǒ'' "fire" was added to indicate that the meaning is fire-related. The last two principles do not produce new written forms Instead, they transfer new meanings to existing forms:
  1. / ''zhuǎnzhù'': Transference, in which a character, often with a simple, concrete meaning takes on an extended, more abstract meaning. Example: 網/网 ''wǎng'' "net", which was originally a pictograph depicting a fishing net. Over time, it has taken on an extended meaning, covering any kind of lattice; for instance, it can be used to refer to a computer network.
  2. ''jiǎjiè'': Borrowing, in which a character is used, either intentionally or accidentally, for some entirely different purpose. Example: 哥 ''gē'' "older brother", which is written with a character originally meaning "song/sing", now written 歌 ''gē''. Once, there was no character for "older brother", so an otherwise unrelated character with the right pronunciation was borrowed for that meaning.
Chinese characters are written to fit into a square, even when composed of two simpler forms written side-by-side or top-to-bottom. In such cases, each form is compressed to fit the entire character into a square.


Strokes

Character components can be further subdivided into ''strokes''. The strokes of Chinese characters fall into eight main categories: horizontal (一), vertical (丨), left-falling (丿), right-falling (丶), rising (lower element of 冫), dot (、), hook (亅), and turning (乛, 乚, 乙, etc.). There are eight basic rules of stroke order in writing a Chinese character: # Horizontal strokes are written before vertical ones. # Left-falling strokes are written before right-falling ones. # Characters are written from top to bottom. # Characters are written from left to right. # If a character is framed from above, the frame is written first. # If a character is framed from below, the frame is written last. # Frames are closed last. # In a symmetrical character, the middle is drawn first, then the sides. These rules do not strictly apply to every situation and are occasionally violated.


Layout

Since Chinese characters conform to a roughly square frame and are not linked to one another, they do not require a set orientation in writing. Traditionally, Chinese text was written in vertical columns which were read from top to bottom, right-to-left; the first column being on the right side of the page, and the last column on the left. Text written in Classical Chinese also uses little or no
punctuation Punctuation (or sometimes interpunction) is the use of spacing, conventional signs (called punctuation marks), and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding and correct reading of written text, whether read silently or aloud. An ...
, with sentence and phrase breaks being determined by context and rhythm. In modern times, the familiar Western layout used for Latin, Greek, and
Cyrillic , bg, кирилица , mk, кирилица , russian: кириллица , sr, ћирилица, uk, кирилиця , fam1 = Egyptian hieroglyphs , fam2 = Proto-Sinaitic , fam3 = Phoenician alphabet, Phoenician , ...
scriptsleft-to-right orientation on horizontal lines advancing from top to bottom on the pagehas become more popular in regions using Simplified Chinese such as 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 List of countries and dependencies by population, most populous country, with a Population of China, population of more than 1.4 billio ...

People's Republic of China
, where the government mandated left-to-right writing in 1955, although the vertical format is still used for effect or where space requires it, such as signs or on spines of books. The government of the
Republic of China Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia. It shares Maritime boundary, maritime borders with the China, People's Republic of China (PRC) to the northwest, Japan to the northeast, and the Philippines to the sout ...

Republic of China
(
Taiwan Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere, Eastern and N ...

Taiwan
) followed suit in 2004 for official documents, but vertical writing on lines advancing from right to left on the page remains popular everywhere else, such as in print. (Chinese script is less frequently written from right to left on horizontal lines; such an orientation, conceptually corresponding to vertical writing on lines advancing from right to left with only a single character per vertical line, seldom occurs apart from occasional usage in signage or banners, though left-to-right orientation is more common.) The use of punctuation has also become more common, whether the text is written in columns or rows. The punctuation marks used in Simplified Chinese are clearly influenced by their Western counterparts, although some marks are particular to Asian languages: for example, the double and single quotation marks (『 』 and 「 」); the hollow period dot (。), which is otherwise used just like an ordinary period full-stop; and a special kind of comma called an '' enumeration comma'' (、), which is used to separate items in a list, as opposed to clauses in a sentence. Traditional Chinese retains the use of these quotation marks while Simplified Chinese has abandoned them for western ones.


Evolution

Chinese is one of the oldest continually-used writing-systems still in use. The earliest generally accepted examples of Chinese writing date back to the reign of the
Shang Dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty Dynasties in Chinese history, or Chinese dynasties, were hereditary monarchical regimes that ruled over China during much of its history. From ...

Shang Dynasty
king
Wu Ding Wu Ding (), personal name Zǐ Zhāo, was a king of the Shang dynasty The Shang dynasty (), also historically known as the Yin dynasty (), was a Chinese dynasty Dynasties in Chinese history, or Chinese dynasties, were hereditary monarc ...
(1250–1192 BC). These were divinatory inscriptions on
oracle bones Oracle bones () are pieces of ox scapula In anatomy Anatomy (Greek ''anatomē'', 'dissection') is the branch of biology concerned with the study of the structure of organism In biology, an organism (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ὀρ ...
, primarily ox scapulae and turtle shells. Characters were carved on the bones in order to frame a question; the bones were then heated over a fire and the resulting cracks were interpreted to determine the answer. Such characters are called 甲骨文 ''jiǎgǔwén'' "shell-bone script" or
oracle bone script Oracle bone script () was an ancestor of modern Chinese characters engraved on oracle bonesanimal bones or turtle plastrons used in pyromancy, pyromantic divinationin the late 2nd millennium BC, and is the earliest known form of Chinese writin ...
. In 2003, some 11 isolated symbols carved on tortoise shells were found at
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 (China), Ni River to the north, and the Sha River to the south, north of ...

Jiahu
, an archaeological site in the
Henan Henan (; ; alternatively Honan) is a landlocked province of China Provincial-level administrative divisions () or first-level administrative divisions (), are the highest-level Chinese administrative divisions. There are 34 such divisio ...

Henan
province of China, some bearing a striking resemblance to certain modern characters, such as 目 ''mù'' "eye". Since the Jiahu site dates from about 6600 BC, it predates the earliest confirmed Chinese writing by more than 5,000 years. Dr Garman Harbottle, of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, US, who headed a team of archaeologists at the
University of Science and Technology of China The University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) is a public In public relations and communication science, publics are groups of individual people, and the public (a.k.a. the general public) is the totality of such groupings. Th ...
, in Anhui province, has suggested that these symbols were precursors of Chinese writing, but Professor David Keightley, of the University of California, Berkeley, US whose field of expertise is the origins of Chinese civilization in the Neolithic and early Bronze Ages, employing archaeological and inscriptional evidence, suggests that the time gap is too great for a connection. From the late Shang Dynasty, Chinese writing evolved into the form found in cast inscriptions on
Chinese ritual bronzes with zigzag thunder pattern; Early Zhou dynasty The Zhou dynasty ( ; 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 ear ...
made during the Western
Zhou Dynasty The Zhou dynasty ( ; 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 inscript ...
(c 1046–771 BC) and the
Spring and Autumn period#REDIRECT Spring and Autumn period The Spring and Autumn period was a period in Chinese history The earliest known written records of the history of China date from as early as 1250 BC, from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC), during the ...
(770–476 BC), a kind of writing called 金文 ''jīnwén'' "metal script". Jinwen characters are less angular and angularized than the oracle bone script. Later, in 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 The Spring and Autumn period was a period i ...
(475–221 BC), the script became still more regular, and settled on a form, called 六國文字/六国文字 ''liùguó wénzì'' "script of the six states", that Xu Shen used as source material in the ''Shuowen Jiezi''. These characters were later embellished and stylized to yield the
seal script 200px, left, Chinese characters for the words 'seal script' in regular script (left) and seal script (right). Seal script () is an ancient style Style is a manner of doing or presenting things and may refer to: * Architectural style, the feat ...
, which represents the oldest form of Chinese characters still in modern use. They are used principally for signature seals, or
chops CHOPS is the stage name of Scott Jung, also known as Scott Chops Jung, an Asian American hip hop producer, rapper and former member of the Asian American Hip-Hop group, the Mountain Brothers. Jung grew up in Philadelphia and has Chinese ancestry. ...
, which are often used in place of a signature for Chinese documents and artwork.
Li Si Li Si (; 280 BCSeptember or October 208 BC) was a Chinese calligrapher, philosopher, and politician of the Qin dynasty. He served as Chancellor (China), Chancellor (or Prime Minister) from 246 to 208 BC under two rulers: Qin Shi Huang, the ki ...

Li Si
promulgated the seal script as the standard throughout the empire during the
Qin dynasty The Qin dynasty, or Ch'in dynasty in Wade–Giles Wade–Giles () is a Romanization of Chinese, romanization system for Standard Chinese, Mandarin Chinese. It developed from a system produced by Thomas Francis Wade, during the mid-19th ...

Qin dynasty
, then newly unified. Seal script in turn evolved into the other surviving writing styles; the first writing style to follow was the clerical script. The development of such a style can be attributed to those of the Qin Dynasty who were seeking to create a convenient form of written characters for daily usage. In general, clerical script characters are "flat" in appearance, being wider than the seal script, which tends to be taller than it is wide. Compared with the seal script, clerical script characters are strikingly rectilinear. In
running script Semi-cursive script () is a semi-cursive style of writing Chinese character Chinese characters, also called ''Hanzi'' (), are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. They have been adapted to write other East-Asian langu ...
, a semi-cursive form, the character elements begin to run into each other, although the characters themselves generally remain separate. Running script eventually evolved into grass script, a fully cursive form, in which the characters are often entirely unrecognizable by their canonical forms. Grass script gives the impression of anarchy in its appearance, and there is indeed considerable freedom on the part of the calligrapher, but this freedom is circumscribed by conventional "abbreviations" in the forms of the characters.
Regular script Regular script (; : ''kaisho''), also called (), (''zhēnshū''), (''kǎitǐ'') and (''zhèngshū''), is the newest of the (popularized from the dynasty c. 200 AD and maturing stylistically around the 7th century). It is the most common s ...
, a non-cursive form, is the most widely recognized script. In regular script, each stroke of each character is clearly drawn out from the others. Even though both the running and grass scripts appear to be derived as semi-cursive and cursive variants of regular script, it is in fact the regular script that was the last to develop. Regular script is considered the archetype for Chinese writing and forms the basis for most printed forms. In addition, regular script imposes a
stroke order Stroke order is the order in which the Stroke (CJK character), strokes of a Chinese character (or Chinese family of scripts#Adaptations for other languages, Chinese derivative character) are written. A stroke is a movement of a writing instru ...
, which must be followed in order for the characters to be written correctly. (Strictly speaking, this stroke order applies to the clerical, running, and grass scripts as well, but especially in the running and grass scripts, this order is occasionally deviated from.) Thus, for instance, the character 木 ''mù'' "wood" must be written starting with the horizontal stroke, drawn from left to right; next, the vertical stroke, from top to bottom; next, the left diagonal stroke, from top to bottom; and lastly the right diagonal stroke, from top to bottom.


Simplified and traditional Chinese

In the 20th century, written Chinese diverged into two canonical forms,
simplified Chinese Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters Chinese characters, also called ''hanzi'' (), are logogram In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language by ...
and
traditional Chinese Traditional Chinese characters are one type of standard Chinese character Chinese characters, also called ''hanzi'' (), are logogram In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural la ...

traditional Chinese
. Simplified Chinese was developed in Mainland China in order to reduce the number of characters and the average stroke count per character. The People's Republic of China claims that the rapid increase in literacy rates have been achieved as a result, but some external observers attribute the achievement to education reforms and the increase in standards of living instead. Little systematic research has been conducted to prove that simplified Chinese has affected literacy rates in any way as the only studies conducted in mainland China focused on arbitrary statistics quantifying the number of strokes saved on average in samples of running text. The simplified forms have also been widely criticized for being inconsistent. For instance, traditional 讓 ''ràng'' "allow" is simplified to 让, in which the phonetic on the right side is reduced from 17 strokes to just three. (The speech radical on the left has also been simplified.) However, the same phonetic component is used in its full form, even in simplified Chinese, in such characters as 壤 ''rǎng'' "soil" and 齉 ''nàng'' "snuffle"; these forms remained unmodified because they were relatively uncommon and would therefore represent a negligible stroke reduction. On the other hand, some simplified forms are simply long-standing calligraphic abbreviations, as for example 万 ''wàn'' "
ten thousand The Ten Thousand ( grc, οἱ Μύριοι, ''oi Myrioi'') were a force of mercenary A mercenary, sometimes known as a soldier of fortune, is an individual who takes part in military conflict for personal profit, is otherwise an outsider to ...
", for which the traditional Chinese form is 萬. While Simplified Chinese became standard in Mainland China,
Singapore Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a island in . It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the , off the southern tip of the , bordering the to the west, the () to the south, and the to the east. The country' ...

Singapore
and
Malaysia Malaysia ( ; ) is a country in Southeast Asia Southeast Asia or Southeastern Asia is the United Nations geoscheme for Asia#South-eastern Asia, southeastern subregion of Asia, consisting of the regions that are geographically south of C ...

Malaysia
, Traditional Chinese continues to be the standard in
Hong Kong Hong Kong (; , ), officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (HKSAR), is a and of China on the eastern in . With over 7.5 million residents of various nationalities in a territory, Hong ...

Hong Kong
,
Macau Macau or Macao (; ; ; ), officially the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (MSAR), (RAEM) is a and of the in the western by the . With a population of about 680,000 and an area of , it is the most in the ...

Macau
,
Taiwan Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a country in East Asia East Asia is the eastern region of Asia Asia () is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern Hemisphere, Eastern and N ...

Taiwan
and other
overseas Chinese Overseas Chinese () refers to people of Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by populat ...

overseas Chinese
communities. Throughout this article, Chinese text is given in both simplified and traditional forms when they differ, with the traditional forms being given first. The two forms are never mixed together when written.


Function

At the inception of written Chinese, spoken Chinese was monosyllabic; that is, Chinese words expressing independent concepts (objects, actions, relations, etc.) were usually one syllable. Each written character corresponded to one monosyllabic word. The spoken language has since become polysyllabic, but because modern polysyllabic words are usually composed of older monosyllabic words, Chinese characters have always been used to represent individual Chinese syllables. For over two thousand years, the prevailing written standard was a vocabulary and syntax rooted in Chinese as spoken around the time of
Confucius } Confucius ( ; zh, s=, p=Kǒng Fūzǐ, "Master Kǒng"; or commonly zh, s=, p=Kǒngzǐ, labels=no; ) was a Chinese philosopher Chinese philosophy originates in the Spring and Autumn period () and Warring States period (), ...

Confucius
(about 500 BC), called
Classical Chinese Classical Chinese, also known as Literary Chinese (古文 ''gǔwén'' "ancient text", or 文言 ''wényán'' "text speak"; modern vernacular: 文言文 ''wényánwén'' "text speak text"), is the language of the classic literature from the end ...
, or 文言文 ''wényánwén''. Over the centuries, Classical Chinese gradually acquired some of its grammar and character senses from the various dialects. This accretion was generally slow and minor; however, by the 20th century, Classical Chinese was distinctly different from any contemporary dialect, and had to be learned separately. Once learned, it was a common medium for communication between people speaking different dialects, many of which were mutually unintelligible by the end of the first millennium AD. A Mandarin speaker might say ''yī'', a
Cantonese Cantonese ( zh, t=廣東話, s=广东话, first=t; Yale Yale University is a private Ivy League The Ivy League (also known as The Ancient Eight) is an American collegiate athletic conference comprising eight private research un ...

Cantonese
''yāt'', a
Shanghainese Shanghainese, also known as the Shanghai language, Shanghai dialect, or Hu language, is a Wu Chinese Wu (Chinese character: , , Mandarin: ) is a group of linguistically similar and historically related Sinitic languages spoken primarily i ...
''iq'', and a
Hokkien Hokkien () is a Southern Min Southern Min (), Minnan (Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucr ...
''chit'', but all four will understand the character <> to mean "one". Chinese languages and dialects vary by not only pronunciation, but also, to a lesser extent, vocabulary and grammar. Modern written Chinese, which replaced Classical Chinese as the written standard as an indirect result of the
May Fourth Movement The May Fourth Movement was a Chinese anti-imperialist Anti-imperialism in political science Political science is the scientific study of politics. It is a social science dealing with systems of governance and power, and the analysis of pol ...
of 1919, is not technically bound to any single variety; however, it most nearly represents the vocabulary and syntax of
Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucrat is a member of a bureaucracy and can compose the administration o ...
, by far the most widespread Chinese dialectal family in terms of both geographical area and number of speakers. This version of written Chinese is called
Vernacular Chinese Written vernacular Chinese (), also known as Baihua, is the forms of written Chinese Written Chinese () comprises Chinese characters used to represent the Chinese language. Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet or a compact syllabar ...
, or 白話/白话 ''báihuà'' (literally, "plain speech"). Despite its ties to the dominant Mandarin language, Vernacular Chinese also permits some communication between people of different dialects, limited by the fact that Vernacular Chinese expressions are often ungrammatical or unidiomatic in non-Mandarin dialects. This role may not differ substantially from the role of other linguae francae, such as
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the dominant la ...

Latin
: For those trained in written Chinese, it serves as a common medium; for those untrained in it, the graphic nature of the characters is in general no aid to common understanding (characters such as "one" notwithstanding). In this regard, Chinese characters may be considered a large and inefficient phonetic script. However, Ghil'ad Zuckermann's exploration of
phono-semantic matching Phono-semantic matching (PSM) is the incorporation of a word into one language from another, often creating a neologism, where the word's non-native quality is hidden by replacing it with Phonetics, phonetically and semantically similar words or r ...
in
Standard Chinese Standard Chinese (), in linguistics known as Standard Northern Mandarin, Standard Beijing Mandarin or simply Mandarin, is a dialect of Mandarin that emerged as the lingua franca among the speakers of various Mandarin and other varieties of C ...
concludes that the Chinese writing system is multifunctional, conveying both semantic and phonetic content.Ghil'ad Zuckermann (2003)
''Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew''
Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 255.
The variation in vocabulary among dialects has also led to the informal use of "dialectal characters", as well as standard characters that are nevertheless considered archaic by today's standards. Cantonese is unique among non-Mandarin regional languages in having a written colloquial standard, used in Hong Kong and overseas, with a large number of unofficial characters for words particular to this language. Written colloquial Cantonese has become quite popular in online chat rooms and instant messaging, although for formal written communications Cantonese speakers still normally use Vernacular Chinese. To a lesser degree
Hokkien Hokkien () is a Southern Min Southern Min (), Minnan (Mandarin Mandarin may refer to: * Mandarin (bureaucrat), a bureaucrat of Imperial China (the original meaning of the word) ** by extension, any senior government bureaucrat A bureaucr ...
is used in a similar way in Taiwan and elsewhere, although it lacks the level of standardization seen in Cantonese. However, the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China is currently releasing a standard character set for Hokkien, which is to be taught in schools and promoted amongst the general population.


Other languages

Chinese characters were first introduced into Japanese sometime in the first half of the first millennium AD, probably from Chinese products imported into Japan through Korea. At the time, Japanese had no native written system, and Chinese characters were used for the most part to represent Japanese words with the corresponding meanings, rather than similar pronunciations. A notable exception to this rule was the system of
man'yōgana is an ancient writing system A writing system is a method of visually representing verbal communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the act of developing Semantics, meaning among Subject (philosop ...
, which used a small set of Chinese characters to help indicate pronunciation. The man'yōgana later developed into the phonetic syllabaries,
hiragana is a Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat ...

hiragana
and
katakana is a Japanese , one component of the along with , and in some cases the (known as ). The word ''katakana'' means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana characters are derived from components or fragments of more complex kanji. Katakana and hi ...
. Chinese characters are called ''hànzì'' in Mandarin, after the
Han Dynasty#REDIRECT Han dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), established by the rebel leader Liu Bang and ruled by the House of Liu. Preceded by the short-lived Qin dynas ...

Han Dynasty
of China; in Japanese, this was pronounced ''
kanji are a set of from which forms a major part of the alongside with syllabic scripts ' and '. The Japanese term ''kanji'' for the Chinese characters literally means " characters". It is written with the same characters as in to refer to the ...

kanji
''. In modern
written Japanese The modern Japanese writing system uses a combination of Logogram, logographic kanji, which are adopted Chinese characters, and Syllabary, syllabic kana. Kana itself consists of a pair of syllabary, syllabaries: hiragana, used primarily for nat ...
, kanji are used for most nouns, verb stems, and adjective stems, while hiragana are used for grammatical elements and miscellaneous words that have no common kanji rendition; katakana are used for transliteration of loanwords from other languages, the names of plants, animals and certain scientific or technical words, onomatopoeia and emphasis. The
Jōyō kanji The is the guide to kanji are a set of from which forms a major part of the alongside with syllabic scripts ' and '. The Japanese term ''kanji'' for the Chinese characters literally means " characters". It is written with the same cha ...
, a list of kanji for common use standardized by the Japanese government, contains 2,136 characters—about half the number of characters commanded by literate Chinese speakers. When used for Korean, Chinese characters are called
hanja Hanja (; Hanja: , , or Hancha) is the Korean name for a traditional writing system consisting mainly of Chinese characters () that was incorporated and used since the Gojoseon period (400 BC). More specifically, it refers to the C ...

hanja
, which served as the first writing system for the language. Many Chinese characters were introduced into Korean for their meaning, just as in Japanese. However, with the creation during the reign of
King Sejong Sejong the Great (; 15 May 1397 – 8 April 1450) was the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty The Joseon dynasty (also transcribed as Chosŏn or Chosun, ko, 대조선국; 大朝鮮國, ) was a Korean Korean may refer to: People and cu ...
of
Hangeul The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul (Hangeul), .Hangul may also be written as following South Korea's Revised Romanization of Korean, standard Romanization. in South Korea and Chosŏn'gŭl in North Korea, is a writing system for the Kore ...

Hangeul
, an alphabetic writing system in which letters are grouped into syllabic square blocks, the use of hanja in Korean has largely been replaced by Hangeul in
South Korea South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea (ROK), is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an individual's birth, residence or citizenship. A cou ...

South Korea
and almost exclusively replaced by
Chosŏn'gŭl The Korean alphabet, known as Hangul, . Hangul may also be written as following South Korea's standard Romanization. in South Korea South Korea (Korean language, Korean: /, Revised Romanization of Korean, RR: ''Hanguk''; litera ...

Chosŏn'gŭl
(the North Korean term for Hangeul) in
North Korea North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), is a country in , constituting the northern part of the n Peninsula. It borders and to the north, at the (Amnok) and rivers, and to the south at the . Its wes ...

North Korea
. Similarly, Vietnamese was originally written using Chinese-derived characters called
chữ nôm Chữ Nôm (, , literally 'Southern characters') is a logographic In a written language A written language is the representation of a spoken or gestural language by means of a writing system. Written language is an invention in that it mu ...
script, which has been supplanted by the Latin-based
Vietnamese alphabet The Vietnamese alphabet ( vi, Chữ Quốc Ngữ, "script of the national language") is the modern Latin writing script or writing system for the Vietnamese language Vietnamese ( vi, Tiếng Việt, links=no) is an Austroasiatic language tha ...
in modern usage. Chinese characters are also used within China to write non-Han languages. The largest non-Han group in China, the
ZhuangZhuang may refer to: *Zhuang people (or Bouxcuengh people), ethnic group in China *Zhuang languages *Zhuang logogram *Zhuang Zhou, ancient Chinese philosopher *Zhuang (surname) (庄/莊), a Chinese surname {{disambiguation Language and nationality ...
, have for over 1300 years used Chinese characters. Despite both the introduction of an official alphabetic script in 1957 and lack of a corresponding official set of Chinese characters, more Zhuang people can read the than the alphabetic script.


Media

Over the history of written Chinese, a variety of media have been used for writing. They include: *
Bamboo and wooden slips Bamboo and wooden slips () were the main media for writing documents in China before the widespread introduction of paper during the first two centuries AD. (Silk was occasionally used, for example in the Chu Silk Manuscript, but was prohibiti ...
, from at least the thirteenth century BC *
Paper Paper is a thin sheet material Material is a substance Substance may refer to: * Substance (Jainism), a term in Jain ontology to denote the base or owner of attributes * Chemical substance, a material with a definite chemical composition * ...
, invented no later than the second century BC *
Silk Silk is a natural fiber, natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be weaving, woven into textiles. The protein fiber of silk is composed mainly of fibroin and is produced by certain insect larvae to form cocoon (silk), cocoons. The be ...

Silk
, since at least the Han dynasty * Stone, metal, wood, bamboo, plastic and ivory on
seals Seals may refer to: * Pinniped, a diverse group of semi-aquatic marine mammals, many of which are commonly called seals, particularly: ** Earless seal, or "true seal" ** Fur seal * Seal (emblem), a device to impress an emblem, used as a means of a ...
. Since at least the Han dynasty, such media have been used to create
hanging scroll A hanging scroll is one of the many traditional ways to display and exhibit East Asian painting and calligraphy. The hanging scroll was displayed in a room for appreciation; it is to be distinguished from the handscroll, which was narrower and des ...
s and
handscroll The handscroll is a long, narrow, horizontal scroll format in East Asia used for calligraphy or paintings. A handscroll usually measures up to several meters in length and around 25–40 cm in height. Handscrolls are generally viewed starting ...
s.


Literacy

Because the majority of modern Chinese words contain more than one character, there are at least two measuring sticks for Chinese literacy: the number of characters known, and the number of words known.
John DeFrancis John DeFrancis (August 31, 1911January 2, 2009) was an American linguist Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (S ...
, in the introduction to his ''Advanced Chinese Reader'', estimates that a typical Chinese college graduate recognizes 4,000 to 5,000 characters, and 40,000 to 60,000 words. Jerry Norman, in ''Chinese'', places the number of characters somewhat lower, at 3,000 to 4,000. These counts are complicated by the tangled development of Chinese characters. In many cases, a single character came to be written in multiple ways. This development was restrained to an extent by the standardization of the seal script during the Qin dynasty, but soon started again. Although the ''
Shuowen Jiezi ''Shuowen Jiezi'' () is an ancient Chinese dictionary Chinese dictionaries date back over two millennia to the Han Dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), esta ...
'' lists 10,516 characters—9,353 of them unique (some of which may already have been out of use by the time it was compiled) plus 1,163 graphic variants—the ''
Jiyun The ''Jiyun'' (''Chi-yun''; ) is a Chinese Chinese can refer to: * Something related to China China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, w ...
'' of the Northern
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 Emperor Taizu of Song (21 March 927 – 14 November 976), personal name Zhao Kuan ...
, compiled less than a thousand years later in 1039, contains 53,525 characters, most of them graphic variants.


Dictionaries

Written Chinese is not based on an alphabet or syllabary, so Chinese dictionaries, as well as dictionaries that define Chinese characters in other languages, cannot easily be alphabetized or otherwise lexically ordered, as English dictionaries are. The need to arrange Chinese characters in order to permit efficient lookup has given rise to a considerable variety of ways to organize and index the characters. A traditional mechanism is the method of radicals, which uses a set of character roots. These roots, or radicals, generally but imperfectly align with the parts used to compose characters by means of logical aggregation and phonetic complex. A
canonical Canonical may refer to: Science and technology * Canonical form In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geo ...
set of 214 radicals was developed during the rule of the
Kangxi Emperor The Kangxi Emperor (Xuanye; 4 May 1654– 20 December 1722) was the third Emperor of the Qing dynasty, and the second Qing emperor to rule over China proper China proper, Inner China or the Eighteen Provinces was a term used by Western ...

Kangxi Emperor
(around the year 1700); these are sometimes called the Kangxi radicals. The radicals are ordered first by stroke count (that is, the number of strokes required to write the radical); within a given stroke count, the radicals also have a prescribed order. Every Chinese character falls (sometimes arbitrarily or incorrectly) under the heading of exactly one of these 214 radicals. In many cases, the radicals are themselves characters, which naturally come first under their own heading. All other characters under a given radical are ordered by the stroke count of the character. Usually, however, there are still many characters with a given stroke count under a given radical. At this point, characters are not given in any recognizable order; the user must locate the character by going through all the characters with that stroke count, typically listed for convenience at the top of the page on which they occur. Because the method of radicals is applied only to the written character, one need not know how to pronounce a character before looking it up; the entry, once located, usually gives the pronunciation. However, it is not always easy to identify which of the various roots of a character is the proper radical. Accordingly, dictionaries often include a list of hard to locate characters, indexed by total stroke count, near the beginning of the dictionary. Some dictionaries include almost one-seventh of all characters in this list. Alternatively, some dictionaries list "difficult" characters under more than one radical, with all but one of those entries redirecting the reader to the "canonical" location of the character according to Kangxi. Other methods of organization exist, often in an attempt to address the shortcomings of the radical method, but are less common. For instance, it is common for a dictionary ordered principally by the Kangxi radicals to have an auxiliary index by pronunciation, expressed typically in either
hanyu pinyin ''Hanyu Pinyin'' (), often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese, Standard Mandarin Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan and Singapore. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin, w ...
or zhuyin fuhao. This index points to the page in the main dictionary where the desired character can be found. Other methods use only the structure of the characters, such as the
four-corner method The Four-Corner Method () is a character-input method used for encoding In communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the act of developing Semantics, meaning among Subject (philosophy), entities or Or ...

four-corner method
, in which characters are indexed according to the kinds of strokes located nearest the four corners (hence the name of the method), or the Cangjie method, in which characters are broken down into a set of 24 basic components. Neither the four-corner method nor the Cangjie method requires the user to identify the proper radical, although many strokes or components have alternate forms, which must be memorized in order to use these methods effectively. The availability of computerized Chinese dictionaries now makes it possible to look characters up by any of the indexing schemes described, thereby shortening the search process.


Transliteration and romanization

Chinese characters do not reliably indicate their pronunciation, even for one dialect. It is therefore useful to be able to transliterate a dialect of Chinese into the Latin alphabet or the Perso-Arabic script Xiao'erjing for those who cannot read Chinese characters. However, transliteration was not always considered merely a way to record the sounds of any particular dialect of Chinese; it was once also considered a potential replacement for the Chinese characters. This was first prominently proposed during the May Fourth Movement, and it gained further support with the victory of the Communists in 1949. Immediately afterward, the mainland government began two parallel programs relating to written Chinese. One was the development of an alphabetic script for Mandarin, which was spoken by about two-thirds of the Chinese population; the other was the simplification of the traditional characters—a process that would eventually lead to simplified Chinese. The latter was not viewed as an impediment to the former; rather, it would ease the transition toward the exclusive use of an alphabetic (or at least phonetic) script. By 1958, however, priority was given officially to Simplified Chinese characters, simplified Chinese; a phonetic script, hanyu pinyin, had been developed, but its deployment to the exclusion of simplified characters was pushed off to some distant future date. The association between pinyin and Mandarin, as opposed to other dialects, may have contributed to this deferment. It seems unlikely that pinyin will supplant Chinese characters anytime soon as the ''sole'' means of representing Chinese. Pinyin uses the Latin alphabet, along with a few diacritical marks, to represent the sounds of Mandarin in standard pronunciation. For the most part, pinyin uses vowel and consonant letters as they are used in Romance languages (and also in International Phonetic Alphabet, IPA). However, although 'b' and 'p', for instance, represent the voice/unvoiced distinction in some languages, such as French language, French, they represent the aspiration (phonetics), unaspirated/aspirated distinction in Mandarin; Mandarin has few voiced consonants. Also, the pinyin spellings for a few consonant sounds are markedly different from their spellings in other languages that use the Latin alphabet; for instance, pinyin 'q' and 'x' sound similar to English 'ch' and 'sh', respectively. Pinyin is not the sole transliteration scheme for Mandarin—there are also, for instance, the zhuyin fuhao, Wade-Giles, Yale romanization, Yale, EFEO Chinese transcription, EFEO and Gwoyeu Romatzyh systems—but it is dominant in the Chinese-speaking world. All transliterations in this article use the pinyin system.


See also

*Mainland Chinese Braille *Taiwanese braille (Taiwanese Mandarin) *Cantonese braille *Chinese input methods for computers


References


Footnotes


Works cited

* * * * * * * * *


Further reading

* * (English translation of ''Wénzìxué Gàiyào'' 文字學概要, Shangwu, 1988.) *


External links


Yue E Li and Christopher Upward. "Review of the process of reform in the simplification of Chinese Characters".
(Journal of Simplified Spelling Society, 1992/2 pp. 14–16, later designated J13)
WrittenChinese.Com English to Chinese Dictionary
Includes example sentences, how to write the character, native Mandarin audio and more.
Free Online Dictionary
Look up Chinese, Pinyin or English; includes stroke animation and sound.
Mandarin Chinese children's story in simplified Chinese showing the stroke order for every character.
{{Good article Chinese language Logographic writing systems, Chinese Chinese orthography