CHINESE CHARACTERS are logograms used in the writing of Chinese ,
Japanese , Korean and some other Asian languages. In Standard Chinese
, they are called HàNZì (simplified Chinese : 汉字; traditional
Chinese : 漢字). They have been adapted to write a number of other
languages, including Japanese , where they are known as _kanji _
(漢字); Korean , where they are known as _hanja _ (漢字); and
Vietnamese , in a system known as _chữ
Nôm _. Collectively, they
are known as CJK CHARACTERS . In English, they are sometimes called
In Japan, common characters are written in post-WWII Japan-specific
simplified forms (_shinjitai _), which are closer to traditional forms
than Chinese simplifications, while uncommon characters are written in
Japanese traditional forms (_kyūjitai _), which are virtually
identical to Chinese traditional forms. In
Modern Chinese has many homophones ; thus the same spoken syllable
may be represented by many characters, depending on meaning. A single
character may also have a range of meanings, or sometimes quite
distinct meanings; occasionally these correspond to different
pronunciations. Cognates in the several varieties of Chinese are
generally written with the same character. They typically have similar
meanings, but often quite different pronunciations. In other languages
, most significantly today in Japanese and sometimes in Korean ,
characters are used to represent Chinese loanwords , to represent
native words independently of the Chinese pronunciation (e.g., kunyomi
in Japanese), and as purely phonetic elements based on their
pronunciation in the historical variety of Chinese from which they
were acquired. These foreign adaptations of Chinese pronunciation are
Sino-Xenic pronunciations and have been useful in the
* 1 Function
* 2 Principles of formation
* 2.1 Pictograms
* 2.2 Simple ideograms
* 2.3 Compound ideograms
* 3 History
* 3.1 Legendary origins
* 3.2 Early sign use
Oracle bone script
* 3.6.1 Proto-clerical evolving to clerical * 3.6.2 Clerical and clerical cursive * 3.6.3 Neo-clerical * 3.6.4 Semi-cursive
* 3.7 Wei to Jin period
* 3.7.1 Regular script * 3.7.2 Modern cursive
* 3.8 Dominance and maturation of regular script * 3.9 Modern history
* 4 Adaptation to other languages
* 4.1 Japanese * 4.2 Korean * 4.3 Okinawan * 4.4 Vietnamese * 4.5 Other languages * 4.6 Transcription of foreign languages
* 5 Simplification
* 5.1 Simplification in
* 6 Written styles
* 7 Variants
* 7.1 Regional standards * 7.2 Polysyllabic morphemes * 7.3 Polysyllabic characters * 7.4 Rare and complex characters
* 8 Number of characters
* 8.1 Chinese * 8.2 Japanese * 8.3 Modern creation
* 9 Indexing * 10 See also * 11 Notes
* 12 References
* 12.1 Citations * 12.2 Works cited
* 13 Further reading * 14 External links
When the script was first used in the late 2nd millennium BC, words
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 affixes , reduplication and borrowing from
other languages. Polysyllabic words are generally written with one
character per syllable. In most cases the character denotes a
morpheme descended from an
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
* 传/傳 has readings OC *drjon > MC _drjwen_ > Mod. _chuán_ 'to transmit' and *drjons > _drjwenH_ > _zhuàn_ 'a record'. (Middle Chinese forms are given in Baxter\'s transcription , in which _H_ denotes the departing tone.) * 磨 has readings *maj > _ma_ > _mó_ 'to grind' and *majs > _maH_ > _mò_ 'grindstone'. * 宿 has readings *sjuk > _sjuwk_ > _sù_ 'to stay overnight' and *sjuks > _sjuwH_ > _xiù_ 'celestial "mansion"'. * 说/説 has readings *hljot > _sywet_ > _shuō_ 'speak' and *hljots > _sywejH_ > _shuì_ '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,
* 见/見 has readings *kens > _kenH_ > _jiàn_ 'to see' and *gens > _henH_ > _xiàn_ 'to appear'. * 败/敗 has readings *prats > _pæjH_ > _bài_ 'to defeat' and *brats > _bæjH_ > _bài_ 'to be defeated'. (In this case the pronunciations have converged in Standard Chinese, but not in some other varieties.) * 折 has readings *tjat > _tsyet_ > _zhé_ 'to bend' and *djat > _dzyet_ > _shé_ 'to break'.
PRINCIPLES OF FORMATION
The traditional six-fold classification (_liùshū_ 六书 / 六書
"six writings") was first described by the scholar
* 象形字 _xiàngxíngzì_
Pictograms make up only a small portion of Chinese characters. Characters in this class derive from pictures of the objects they denote. Over time they have been standardized, simplified, and stylized to make them easier to write, and their derivation is therefore not always obvious. Examples include 日 _rì_ for "sun", 月 _yuè_ for "moon", 木 _mù_ for "tree" or "wood", and 麻 _má_ for "hemp".
There is no concrete number for the proportion of modern characters
that are pictographic in nature; however,
* 指事字 _zhǐshìzì_
Also called _simple indicatives,_ this small category contains characters that are direct iconic illustrations. Examples include 上 _shàng_ "up" and 下 _xià_ "down", originally a dot above and below a line.
* 会意字 / 會意字 _huìyìzì_
Also translated as logical aggregates or associative compounds, these characters have been interpreted as combining two or more pictographic or ideographic characters to suggest a third meaning. Commonly cited examples include 休 "rest" (composed of the pictograms 人 "person" and 木 "tree") and 好 "good" (composed of 女 "woman" and 子 "child").
In contrast, ideographic compounds are common among characters coined
* 假借字 _jiǎjièzì_
Also called _borrowings_ or _phonetic loan characters,_ the rebus 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 自 _zì_, which has lost its original meaning of "nose" completely and exclusively means "oneself", or 萬 _wàn_, which originally meant "scorpion" but is now used only in the sense of "ten thousand".
* 形声字 / 形聲字 _xíngshēngzì_
Structures of compounds, with red marked positions of radicals
_Semantic-phonetic compounds_ or _pictophonetic compounds_ are by far the most numerous characters. These characters are composed of two parts: one of a limited set of characters (the semantic indicator, often graphically simplified) which suggests the general meaning of the compound character, and another character (the phonetic indicator) whose pronunciation suggests the pronunciation of the compound character. In most cases the semantic indicator is also the radical under which the character is listed in dictionaries.
Examples are 河 _hé_ "river", 湖 _hú_ "lake", 流 _liú_
"stream", 沖 _chōng_ "surge", 滑 _huá_ "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 example,
in the case of 沖 _chōng_ (
This method is still sometimes used to form new characters, for example 钚 / 鈈 _bù_ ("plutonium ") is the metal radical 金 _jīn_ plus the phonetic component 不 _bù_, described in Chinese as "不 gives sound, 金 gives meaning". Many Chinese names of elements in the periodic table 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 (金), solid nonmetal (石, "stone"), liquid (氵), or gas (气).
Occasionally a bisyllabic word is written with two characters that contain the same radical, as in 蝴蝶 _húdié_ "butterfly", where both characters have the insect radical 虫. A notable example is pipa (a Chinese lute, also a fruit, the loquat , of similar shape) – originally written as 批把 with the hand radical, referring to the down and up strokes when playing this instrument, which was then changed to 枇杷 (tree radical), which is still used for the fruit, while the character was changed to 琵琶 when referring to the instrument. In other cases a compound word may coincidentally share a radical without this being meaningful.
* 转注字 / 轉注字 _zhuǎnzhùzì_
The smallest category of characters is also the least understood. In
the postface to the _Shuowen Jiezi_,
According to legend,
EARLY SIGN USE
Main article: Neolithic signs in China
In recent decades, a series of inscribed graphs and pictures have
been found at
ORACLE BONE SCRIPT
Oracle bone script
The earliest confirmed evidence of the Chinese script yet discovered
is the body of inscriptions carved on oracle bones from the late Shang
dynasty (c. 1200–1050 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 in Henan
Province , which was excavated by the
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 thirty to forty 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 , and the answers would be recorded on the divination material itself.
The oracle-bone script 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
Chinese bronze inscriptions
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 books (preserved in typical bronze inscriptions ), as well as the extra-elaborate pictorial forms (often clan emblems) found on many bronzes. Left: Bronze fāngzūn (方樽) ritual wine container dated about 1000 BC. The written inscription cast in bronze on the vessel commemorates a gift of cowrie shells (then used as currency in China) from someone of presumably elite status in Zhou dynasty society. Right: Bronze fāngyí (方彝) ritual container dated about 1000 BC. A written inscription of some 180 Chinese characters appears twice on the vessel. The written inscription comments on state rituals that accompanied court ceremony, recorded by an official scribe.
Based on studies of these bronze inscriptions, it is clear that, from
UNIFICATION: SEAL SCRIPT, VULGAR WRITING AND PROTO-CLERICAL
* Arabic * Chinese * Georgian * Indian * Islamic * Japanese * Korean * Mongolian * Persian * Tibetan * Western
* v * t * e
Seal script , which had evolved slowly in the state of Qin during the
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 , also called 八分 (bāfēn) 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 章草 _zhāngcǎo_ (also known as 隶草 / 隸草 _lìcǎo_ today), or in English sometimes clerical cursive, ancient cursive, or draft cursive. Some believe that the name, based on 章 _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 今草 _jīncǎo_ or "modern cursive".
Around the mid-
By the late
WEI TO JIN PERIOD
Regular script has been attributed to Zhong Yao , of the Eastern Han to Cao Wei period (c. 151–230 AD), who has been called the "father of regular script". However, some scholars postulate that one person alone could not have developed a new script which was universally adopted, but could only have been a contributor to its gradual formation. The earliest surviving pieces written in regular script are copies of Yao's works, including at least one copied by Wang Xizhi . 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 (頓/顿 _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 , 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 bafen clerical script remained in use on some stelae, alongside some semi-cursive, but primarily neo-clerical.
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 .
DOMINANCE AND MATURATION OF REGULAR SCRIPT
It was not until the
Northern and Southern dynasties that regular
script rose to dominant status. During that period, regular script
continued evolving stylistically, reaching full maturity in the early
Tang dynasty . Some call the writing of the early Tang calligrapher
Although most of the simplified
ADAPTATION TO OTHER LANGUAGES
See also: Chinese family of scripts
The Chinese script spread to
Currently, the only non-
Chinese language outside of
Main article: Kanji
Written Japanese also includes a pair of syllabaries known as kana ,
derived by simplifying
Main article: Hanja
In times past, until the 15th century, in Korea,
Literary Chinese was
the dominant form of written communication, prior to the creation of
hangul , the Korean alphabet. Much of the vocabulary, especially in
the realms of science and sociology, comes directly from Chinese,
comparable to Latin or Greek root words in European languages.
However, due to the lack of tones in Korean, as the words were
imported from Chinese, many dissimilar characters took on identical
sounds, 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
In Korea, _hanja _ 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.
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. Since there is little need to use hanja in everyday life, young adult Koreans are seldom able to read more than a few hundred characters.
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 (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 homonyms that have resulted from extensive borrowing of Chinese words.
The issue of ambiguity is the main hurdle in any effort to "cleanse" the Korean language of Chinese characters. 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 기사 _gisa_ yields more than 30 different entries. In the past, this ambiguity had been efficiently resolved by parenthetically displaying the associated 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 水 is 물 수 (mul-su) in which 물 (mul) is the native Korean pronunciation for "water", while 수 (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 사람 인 (saram-in) for 人 "person/people", 큰 대 (keun-dae) for 大 "big/large//great", 작을 소 (jakeul-so) for 小 "small/little", 아래 하 (arae-ha) for 下 "underneath/below/low", 아비 부 (abi-bu) for 父 "father", and 나라이름 한 (naraireum-han) for 韓 "Han/Korea".
In North Korea, the hanja system was once completely banned since
June 1949 due to fears of collapsed containment of the country; during
Kim Il Sung
Kim Jong Il , the second ruler of North Korea, died in December
Kim Jong Un stepped up and began mandating the use of
Hanja as a
source of definition for the Korean language. Currently, it is said
Main article: Okinawan language
Main articles: Chữ Nôm and History of writing in Vietnam "My mother eats vegetarian food at the pagoda every Sunday", written in the modern Vietnamese alphabet (blue) and Nom. Characters borrowed unchanged from Chinese are shown in green, while invented characters are brown.
Several minority languages of south and southwest
The foreign dynasties that ruled northern
TRANSCRIPTION OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES
Along with Persian and Arabic ,
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."
Main articles: Simplified Chinese character and Japanese script reform
Chinese character simplification is the overall reduction of the number of strokes in the regular script of a set of Chinese characters.
SIMPLIFICATION IN CHINA
The use of traditional
Although most often associated with the People's Republic of China,
character simplification predates the 1949 communist victory.
cursive written text, almost always includes character simplification,
and simplified forms have always existed in print, albeit not for the
most formal works. In the 1930s and 1940s, discussions on character
simplification took place within the
Kuomintang government, and a
large number of Chinese intellectuals and writers have long maintained
that character simplification would help boost literacy in China.
Indeed, this desire by the
Kuomintang to simplify the Chinese writing
system (inherited and implemented by the Communist Party of
The People's Republic of
The majority of simplified characters are drawn from conventional abbreviated forms, or ancient standard forms. For example, the orthodox character 來 _lái_ ("come") was written with the structure 来 in the clerical script (隶书 / 隸書, _lìshū_) of the Han dynasty . This clerical form uses one fewer stroke, and was thus adopted as a simplified form. The character 雲 _yún_ ("cloud") was written with the structure 云 in the oracle bone script of the Shang dynasty , and had remained in use later as a phonetic loan in the meaning of "to say" while the 雨 radical was added to differentiate meanings. The simplified form adopts the original structure.
In the years after
World War II
SOUTHEAST ASIAN CHINESE COMMUNITIES
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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.
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 the North America are also printed in Traditional Characters.
COMPARISONS OF TRADITIONAL CHINESE, SIMPLIFIED CHINESE, AND JAPANESE
The following is a comparison of
Comparisons of a sample of traditional Chinese characters, simplified Chinese characters, and simplified Japanese characters in their modern standardized forms
CHINESE JAPANESE MEANING
Simplified in mainland China, not Japan (Some radicals were simplified) 電 电 電 electricity
買 买 買 buy
開 开 開 open
東 东 東 east
車 车 車 car, vehicle
紅 红 紅 red (crimson in Japanese)
馬 马 馬 horse
無 无 無 nothing
鳥 鸟 鳥 bird
熱 热 熱 hot
時 时 時 time
語 语 語 spoken language
Simplified in Japan, not Mainland China (In some cases this represents the adoption of different variants as standard) 假 假 仮 false
罐 罐 缶 Tin can
佛 佛 仏 Buddha
德 德 徳 moral, virtue
拜 拜 拝 kowtow , pray to, worship
黑 黑 黒 black
冰 冰 氷 ice
兔 兔 兎 rabbit
妒 妒 妬 jealousy
壤 壤 壌 soil
每 每 毎 every
步 步 歩 step
Simplified differently in Mainland
實 实 実 real
證 证 証 certificate, proof
龍 龙 竜 dragon
賣 卖 売 sell
龜 龟 亀 turtle, tortoise
藝 艺 芸 art, arts
戰 战 戦 fight, war
繩 绳 縄 rope
關 关 関 to close, relationship
鐵 铁 鉄 iron, metal
圖 图 図 picture, diagram
團 团 団 group, regiment
轉 转 転 turn
廣 广 広 wide, broad
惡 恶 悪 bad, evil
豐 丰 豊 abundant
腦 脑 脳 brain
雜 杂 雑 miscellaneous
壓 压 圧 pressure, compression
雞 鸡 鶏 chicken
價 价 価 price
樂 乐 楽 fun
氣 气 気 air
廳 厅 庁 hall, office
發 发 発 emit, send
勞 劳 労 labor
劍 剑 剣 sword
歲 岁 歳 age, years
權 权 権 authority, right
燒 烧 焼 burn
贊 赞 賛 praise
兩 两 両 two, both
譯 译 訳 translate
觀 观 観 look, watch
營 营 営 camp, battalion
處 处 処 processing
SIMPLIFIED (ALMOST) IDENTICALLY IN MAINLAND CHINA AND JAPAN 聲 声 声 sound, voice
學 学 学 learn
體 体 体 body
點 点 点 dot, point
麥 麦 麦 wheat
蟲 虫 虫 insect
舊 旧 旧 old, bygone, past
會 会 会 can (verb), meeting
萬 万 万 ten-thousand
盜 盗 盗 thief
寶 宝 宝 treasure
國 国 国 country
醫 医 医 medicine
雙 双 双 pair
觸 触 触 contact
參 参 参 ginseng
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
Scripts that are still used regularly are the "
Clerical Script "
(隸書(隶书), _lìshū_) of the
The cursive script (草書(书), _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
There also exist scripts created outside China, such as the Japanese _ Edomoji _ styles; these have tended to remain restricted to their countries of origin, rather than spreading to other countries like the Chinese scripts.
Chinese calligraphy of mixed
styles written by
The art of writing
TYPOGRAPHY AND DESIGN
_ A page from a
There are three major families of typefaces used in Chinese typography:
Ming and sans-serif are the most popular in body text and are based
on regular script for
The _Song_ typeface (宋体 / 宋體, _sòngtǐ_) is known as the
_Ming_ typeface (明朝, _minchō_) in Japan, and it is also somewhat
more commonly known as the _Ming_ typeface (明体 / 明體,
_míngtǐ_) than the _Song_ typeface in
Sans-serif typefaces, called black typeface (黑体 / 黑體,
_hēitǐ_) in Chinese and Gothic typeface (ゴシック体) in
Japanese, are characterized by simple lines of even thickness for each
stroke, akin to sans-serif styles such as
Regular script 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
Variant Chinese character _ Variants of the
Chinese character for guī_ 'turtle', collected c. 1800 from printed
sources. The one at left is the traditional form used today in Taiwan
and Hong Kong, 龜, though 龜 may look slightly different, or even
like the second variant from the left, depending on your font (see
Wiktionary). The modern simplified forms used in China, 龟, and in
Japan, 亀, are most similar to the variant in the middle of the
bottom row, though neither is identical. A few more closely resemble
the modern simplified form of the character for _diàn_ 'lightning',
电. _ Five of the 30 variant characters found in the preface of
the Imperial (Kangxi) Dictionary_ which are not found in the
dictionary itself. They are 為 (爲) _wèi_ "due to", 此 _cǐ_
"this", 所 _suǒ_ "place", 能 _néng_ "be able to", 兼 _jiān_
"concurrently". (Although the form of 為 is not very different, and
in fact is used today in Japan, the radical 爪 has been obliterated.)
Another variant from the preface, 来 for 來 _lái_ "to come", also
not listed in the dictionary, has been adopted as the standard in
Just as Roman letters have a characteristic shape (lower-case letters
mostly occupying the x-height , with ascenders or descenders on some
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.
The nature of
The standard character forms of each region are described in:
List of Frequently Used Characters in Modern Chinese for
List of Forms of Frequently Used Characters for Hong Kong.
Standard Form of National Characters for Taiwan.
* The list of
Jōyō kanji for Japan.
Han-Han Dae Sajeon
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
. Just as each region that uses
In certain cases compound words and set phrases may be contracted into single characters. Some of these can be considered logograms , where characters represent whole words rather than syllable-morphemes, though these are generally instead considered ligatures or abbreviations (similar to scribal abbreviations , such as traditional Chinese : 雙喜; pinyin : _shuāngxǐ_). In handwriting, numbers are very frequently squeezed into one space or combined – common ligatures include 廿 _niàn,_ "twenty", normally read as 二十 _èrshí,_ 卅 _sà,_ "thirty", normally read as 三十 _sānshí,_ and 卌 xì "forty", normally read as 四十 "sìshí". Calendars often use numeral ligatures in order to save space; for example, the "21st of March" can be read as 三月廿一_._ In some cases counters are also merged into one character, such as 七十人 _qīshí rén_ "seventy people". Another common abbreviation is 门 with a "T" written inside it, for 問題, 问题, _wèntí_ ("question; problem"), where the "T" is from pinyin for the second syllable _tí_ 题. Since polysyllabic characters are often non-standard, they are often excluded in character dictionaries.
Modern examples particularly include
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 受又(祐) _shòu yòu_ "receive blessings" are commonly contracted into single characters. A dramatic example is that in medieval manuscripts 菩薩 _púsà_ "bodhisattva" (simplified: 菩萨) is sometimes written with a single character formed of a 2×2 grid of four 十 (derived from the grass radical over two 十). However, for the sake of consistency and standardization, the CPC 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 花儿 _huār_ "flower", which was formerly disyllabic.
In most other languages that use the
Chinese family of scripts ,
notably Korean, Vietnamese, and Zhuang,
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 ,
Japanese name ,
One man who has encountered this problem is Taiwanese politician Yu Shyi-kun , due to the rarity of the last character 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 personality, or, especially as is the case with Yu Shyi-kun, simply 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 phonetic symbols next to such a character. Japanese newspapers may render such names and words in katakana instead of kanji, 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 _ /𪚥 (U+2A6A5) zhé_ _ listen (help ·info ), meaning "verbose" and containing sixty-four 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 simply requires writing the same sixteen-stroke character 龍 lóng_ (lit. "dragon") four times in the space for one. Another 64-stroke character is _ /𠔻 (U+2053B) zhèng_ composed of 興 _xīng/xìng_ (lit. "flourish") four times.
One of the most complex characters found in modern Chinese dictionaries is 齉 (U+9F49) (_nàng_, _ listen (help ·info ), pictured below, middle image), meaning "snuffle" (that is, a pronunciation marred by a blocked nose), with "just" thirty-six strokes. However, this is not in common use. The most complex character that can be input using the Microsoft New Phonetic IME 2002a for traditional Chinese is 龘 (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 籲 (_yù_, "to implore"), with 32 strokes; 鬱 (_yù_, "luxuriant, lush; gloomy"), with 29 strokes, as in 憂鬱 (_yōuyù_, "depressed"); 豔 (_yàn_, "colorful"), with 28 strokes; and 釁 (_xìn_, "quarrel"), with 25 strokes, as in 挑釁 (_tiǎoxìn_, "to pick a fight"). Also in occasional modern use is 鱻 (_xiān_ "fresh"; variant of 鮮 _xiān_) with 33 strokes.
In Japanese , an 84-stroke _kokuji _ exists: _ , normally read taito _. It is composed of three "cloud" (雲) characters on top of the abovementioned triple "dragon" character (龘). Also meaning "the appearance of a dragon in flight", it has been pronounced おとど _otodo_, たいと _taito_, and だいと _daito_. The most elaborate character in the jōyō kanji list is the 29-stroke 鬱, meaning "depression" or "melancholy".
The most complex Chinese character still in use may be _biáng_
(pictured right, bottom), with 58 strokes, which refers to Biang biang
noodles , a type of noodle from
_Zhé_, "verbose" *
_Zhèng_ "flourish" *
_Nàng_, "poor enunciation due to snuffle" *
_Taito _, "the appearance of a dragon in flight" *
alternate form of _Taito _ *
NUMBER OF CHARACTERS
The total number of
Number of characters in monolingual Chinese dictionaries YEAR NAME OF DICTIONARY NUMBER OF CHARACTERS
100 _ Shuowen Jiezi _ 9,353
230 _ Shenglei _ 11,520
350 _ Zilin _ 12,824
543 _ Yupian _ 16,917
601 _ Qieyun _ 12,158
732 _ Tangyun _ 15,000
997 _ Longkan Shoujian _ 26,430
1011 _ Guangyun _ 26,194
1066 _ Leipian _ 31,319
1039 _ Jiyun _ 53,525
1615 _ Zihui _ 33,179
1675 _ Zhengzitong _ 33,440
1716 _Kangxi Zidian _ 47,035
1916 _ Zhonghua Da Zidian _ 48,000
Hanyu Da Zidian
1994 _ Zhonghua Zihai _ 85,568
2004 _Yitizi Zidian _ 106,230
Number of characters in bilingual Chinese dictionaries YEAR COUNTRY NAME OF DICTIONARY NUMBER OF CHARACTERS
2003 Japan _ Dai Kan-Wa Jiten _ 50,305
Han-Han Dae Sajeon
Even the _Zhonghua Zihai_ does not include characters in the Chinese
family of scripts created to represent non-Chinese languages.
Characters formed by Chinese principles in other languages include the
roughly 1,500 Japanese-made _kokuji _ given in the _
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 homographs among _xíngshēngzì_ pictophonetic compounds. This practice began long before the standardization of Chinese script by Qin Shi Huang and continues to the present day. The traditional 3rd-person pronoun _tā_ (他 "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_ (她 "she") with the "woman radical", _tā_ (牠 "it") with the "animal radical", _tā_ (它 "it") with the "roof radical", and _tā_ (祂 "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 . For instance, _he_ 和 "harmony, peace", which combines the "grain radical" with the "mouth radical", has infrequent variants 咊 with the radicals reversed and 龢 with the "flute radical".
Cumulative frequency of simplified
In the Republic of
In addition, there are a number of _dialect characters_ (方言字)
that are not used in formal written Chinese but represent colloquial
terms in non-Mandarin varieties of Chinese . One such variety is
Main article: Kanji
In Japanese there are 2,136 _jōyō kanji _ (常用漢字, lit. "frequently used kanji ") 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 _ (人名用漢字, 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 kanji. The _kanji kentei _ (日本漢字能力検定試験, _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, though in practice few people attain (or need to attain) this level.
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
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 _ (1971) and _ Love Symbol Album _ (1993); an album cover may potentially contain any graphics, but in writing and other computation these symbols are difficult to use.
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 .
Chinese character dictionaries often allow users to locate entries in
several ways. Many Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dictionaries of
For instance, to look up the character where the sound is not known, e.g., 松 (pine tree), the user first determines which part of the character is the radical (here 木), 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 木, 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 , where 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 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.
_ Radical index on Wiktionary _
_ Total strokes index on Wiktionary _
Romanization of Chinese
Transcription into Chinese characters
Eight Principles of Yong
Chinese character encoding
Chinese input methods for computers
* Chinese numerals, or how to write numbers with
* ^ The character for _saw_, ⿰書史, is supposed to be one character, with a 書 radical on the left, and 史 radical on the right. Similarly, _ndip_ (⿰立生) is one character, made up of 立 and 生 radicals. As of present, there are limitations in displaying Zhuang logograms in Unicode, as they are unsupported. * ^ Abbreviations are occasionally used – see § Polysyllabic characters . * ^ Qiu 2000 , pp. 132–133 provides archaeological evidence for this dating, in contrast to unsubstantiated claims dating the beginning of cursive anywhere from the Qin to the Eastern Han. * ^ Qiu 2000 , pp. 140–1 mentions examples of neo-clerical with "strong overtones of cursive script" from the late Eastern Han. * ^ Liu is said to have taught Zhong Yao and Wang Xizhi . * ^ Wáng Xīzhī is so credited in essays by other calligraphers in the 6th to early 7th centuries, and most of his extant pieces are in modern cursive script. * ^ cf. Inariyama Sword * ^ _ (U+9F49) nàng_ is found, for instance, on p. 707 of 漢英辭典(修訂版) _A Chinese–English Dictionary_, (Revised Edition) Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, Beijing, 1995. ISBN 7-5600-0739-2 .
* ^ Guǎngxī Zhuàngzú zìzhìqū shǎoshù mínzú gǔjí zhěnglǐ chūbǎn guīhuà lǐngdǎo xiǎozǔ 广西壮族自治区少数民族古籍整理出版规划领导小组, ed. (1989). _ Sawndip Sawdenj – Gǔ Zhuàng zì zìdiǎn_ 古壮字字典 (2ND ED.). NANNING: GUANGXI MINZU CHUBANSHE. ISBN 978-7-5363-0614-1 . * ^ Potowski, Kim (2010). _Language Diversity in the USA_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-521-74533-8 .
* ^ World Health Organization (2007). _WHO international standard
terminologies on traditional medicine in the Western Pacific Region_.
Retrieved 22 June 2015.
* ^ Shieh (2011). "The Unified Phonetic Transcription for Teaching
and Learning Chinese Languages" _Turkish Online Journal of Educational
Technology_, 10: 355–369.
* ^ "History of Chinese Writing Shown in the Museums". CCTV online.
* ^ _A_ _B_ Norman 1988 , p. 73.
* ^ Wood, Clare Patricia; Connelly, Vincent (2009). _Contemporary
perspectives on reading and spelling_. New York: Routledge. p. 203.
ISBN 978-0-415-49716-9 .
* ^ East Asian Languages at pinyin.info
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ Victor Mair, "Polysyllabic characters in Chinese
writing", _Language Log_, 2011 August 2
* ^ Norman 1988 , p. 58.
* ^ Wilkinson 2012 , p. 22.
* ^ Norman 1988 , p. 112.
* ^ Yip 2000 , p. 18.
* ^ Norman 1988 , pp. 155–156.
* ^ Norman 1988 , p. 74.
* ^ Norman 1988 , pp. 74–75.
* ^ Swofford, Mark (2010). "
* _ This article incorporates text from_ The Chinese recorder and
missionary journal, Volume 3_, a publication from 1871 now in the
public domain in the United States._
* Baxter, William H. (1992). _A Handbook of
* Galambos, Imre (2006). _Orthography of early Chinese writing: evidence from newly excavated manuscripts_ (PDF). Budapest: Eötvös Loránd University. ISBN 978-963-463-811-7 .
Early works of historical interest
* Samuel Wells Williams (1842). _Easy lessons in Chinese: or progressive exercises to facilitate the study of that language_. Printed at the Office of the Chinese Repository. * Herbert Allen Giles (1892). _A Chinese-English dictionary, Volume 1_. B. Quaritch. p. 1415. * P. Poletti (1896). _A Chinese and English dictionary, arranged according to radicals and sub-radicals_. Printed at the American Presbyterian mission press. p. 307. * William Edward Soothill (1900). _The student\'s four thousand and general pocket dictionary_ (2 ed.). American Presbyterian Mission Press. p. 420. * John Chalmers (1882). _An account of the structure of Chinese characters under 300 primary forms: after the Shwoh-wan, 100 A.D., and the phonetic Shwoh-wan, 1833_. Trübner & co. p. 199. * _Chinese and English dictionary: compiled from reliable authors_. American Tract Society. 1893. p. 348. * Joseph Edkins (1876). _Introduction to the study of the Chinese characters_. Trübner & co. p. 314. * Kangxi (Emperor of China) (1842). _Chinese and English dictionary: containing all the words in the Chinese imperial dictionary; arranged according to the radicals, Volume 1_. Printed at Parapattan. * Tai Tung (Dai Tong 戴侗) (1954). _The Six Scripts Or the Principles of Chinese Writing_. Cambridge University Press. p. 114. ISBN 1-107-60515-6 . Translated by L. C. Hopkins with a Memoir of the Translator by W. Perceval Yetts
_ Wikimedia Commons has media related to CHINESE CHARACTERS _.
History and construction of
* Excerpt from Visible Speech: The Diverse Oneness of Writing Systems 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
* Unihan Database: Chinese, Japanese, and Korean references, readings, and meanings for all the Chinese and Chinese-derived characters in the Unicode character set * cchar.com Chinese Character Software: Step by step pictures showing how to write Chinese characters. * Daoulagad Han – Mobile OCR hanzi dictionary, OCR interface to the UniHan database
Early works of historical interest
* _Chinese and English dictionary: compiled from reliable authors_. American Tract Society. 1893. Retrieved 2011-05-15. * Kangxi (Emperor of China) (1842). _Chinese and English dictionary: containing all the words in the Chinese imperial dictionary; arranged according to the radicals, Volume 1_. Printed at Parapattan. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
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