Chinese character

Traditional Chinese "(hanzi, kanji, hanja," and "hán tự)"
Right: "Chinese character" in Simplified Chinese
j=hon3 zi6
teo=hang3 ri7
lmz=IPA| [høz]
qn= Hán Tự (Sino-Viet.)
Chữ Nho (native tongue)
hantu=漢字 (Sino-Viet.)
字儒 (native tongue)
Infobox Writing system
languages=Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese
time= Bronze Age China to present
fam1=Oracle Bone Script
iso15924=Hani, Hans, Hant

A Chinese character, also known as a Han character (zh-stp|t=|s=|p=Hànzì), is a logogram used in writing Chinese "(hanzi)," Japanese "(kanji)," less frequently Korean "(hanja)," and formerly Vietnamese "(hán tự)."

The number of Chinese characters contained in the Kangxi dictionary is approximately 47,035, although a large number of these are rarely used variants accumulated throughout history. Studies carried out in China have shown that full literacy in the Chinese language requires a knowledge of only between three and four thousand characters. [cite web|url=|title=Chinese Writing: Transitions and Transformations|author=Norman, Jerry|date=2005|accessdate=2006-12-11]

In the Chinese writing system, each character corresponds to a single spoken syllable. A majority of words in all modern varieties of Chinese are poly-syllabic and thus require two or more characters to write. Cognates in the various Chinese languages/dialects which have the same or similar meaning but different pronunciations can be written with the same character. In addition, many Chinese characters were adopted according to their meaning by the Japanese and Korean languages to represent native words, disregarding pronunciation altogether. Chinese characters are also considered to be the world's longest continuously used writing system.

Chinese characters are also known as sinographs, and the Chinese writing system as sinography. Non-Chinese languages which have adopted sinography—and, with the orthography, a large number of loanwords from the Chinese language—are known as Sinoxenic languages, whether or not they still use the characters. The term does not imply any genetic affiliation with Chinese. The major Sinoxenic languages are Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese.



In the last 50 or so years, inscriptions have been found on Neolithic pottery in a variety of locations in China such as Bànpō near Xī’ān, as well as on bone and bone artifacts at Hualouzi, Chang'an County near Xi'an. These simple, often geometric marks have been frequently compared to some of the earliest known Chinese characters, on the oracle bones, and some have taken them to mean that the history of Chinese writing extends back over six millennia. However, because these marks occur singly, without any context to imply usage as writing, and because they are generally extremely crude and simple, Qiú Xīguī (2000, p.31) concluded that "we do not have any basis for stating that these constituted writing, nor is there reason to conclude that they were ancestral to Shang dynasty Chinese characters." Isolated graphs and pictures continue to be found periodically, frequently accompanied by media reports pushing back the purported beginnings of Chinese writing a few thousand years. For example, at Damaidi in Ningxia, 3,172 pictorial cliff carvings dating to 6000–5000 BC have been discovered, leading to headlines such as "Chinese writing '8,000 years old.'" [ [ BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Chinese writing '8,000 years old' ] ; cite news|url=|title=Carvings may rewrite history of Chinese characters|publisher=Xinhua online|date=2007-05-18|accessdate=2007-05-19; cite news|url=|title='Chinese writing 8,000 years old'|author=Unknown|publisher=BBC News|date=2003-05-18|accessdate=2007-11-17] Similarly, archaeologists report finding a few inscribed symbols on tortoise shells at the Neolithic site of Jiahu in Henan, dated to around 6,600–6,200BCE, leading to headlines of "'Earliest writing' found in China.cite news|title="BBC News |Science/Nature |'Earliest writing' found in China"|author=Paul Rincon|publisher=BBC News|date=2003-04-17|url=] However, each time, scholars urge caution and skepticism. Professor David Keightley, a renowned expert on Shang script, urged caution in the latter instance, noting "There is a gap of about 5,000 years. It seems astonishing that they would be connected," adding "we can't call it writing until we have more evidence."

An additional problem with many such claims of connections to later Chinese writing is the lack of any direct cultural connection to Shāng culture, combined with gaps between them of many millennia. One group of sites without such problems is the Dàwènkǒu culture sites (2800–2500 BCE, only one millennium earlier than the early Shāng culture sites, and positioned so as to be plausibly albeit indirectly ancestral to the Shāng). There, a few inscribed pottery and jade pieces have been found [Qiú 2000, p.38.] , one of which combines pictorial elements (resembling, according to some, a sun, moon or clouds, and fire or a mountain) in a stack which brings to mind the compounding of elements in Chinese characters. Major scholars are divided in their interpretation of such inscribed symbols. Some, such as Yú Xĭngwú [于省吾 Yú Xĭngwú 1973, p.32; cited in Qiú 2000, p.35.] , Táng Lán [唐蘭 Táng Lán 1975, p.72–73; cited in Qiú 2000, p.35.] and Lĭ Xuéqín [Lĭ Xuéqín 李學勤 1985; cited in Qiú 2000, p.35.] , have identified these with specific Chinese characters. Others such as Wang Ningsheng [Wang Ningsheng 1981, p.27; cited in Qiú 2000, p.35.] interpret them as pictorial symbols such as clan insignia, rather than writing. But as Wang Ningsheng points out, "True writing begins when it represents sounds and consists of symbols that are able to record language. The few isolated figures found on pottery still cannot substantiate this point." [Wang, Ningsheng 1981, p.28; cited in Qiú 2000, p.38.]

Legendary origins

According to legend, Chinese characters were invented by Cangjie (c. 2650 BC), a bureaucrat under the legendary emperor, Huangdi. The legend tells that Cangjie was hunting on Mount Yangxu (today Shanxi) when he saw a tortoise whose veins caught his curiosity. Inspired by the possibility of a logical relation of those veins, he studied the animals of the world, the landscape of the earth, and the stars in the sky, and invented a symbolic system called "zì"—Chinese characters. It was said that on the day the characters were born, Chinese heard the devil mourning, and saw crops falling like rain, as it marked the beginning of the world.

Oracle bone script

The oldest Chinese inscriptions that are indisputably writing are the Oracle bone script (zh-cpl|c=甲骨文|p=jiǎgǔwén|l=shell-bone-script). These were identified by scholars in 1899 on pieces of bone and turtle shell being sold as medicine, and by 1928, the source of the oracle bones had been traced back to modern Xiǎotún (小屯) village at Ānyáng in Hénán Province, where official archaeological excavations in 1928–1937 discovered 20,000 oracle bone pieces, about 1/5 of the total discovered. The inscriptions were records of the divinations performed for or by the royal Shāng household. The oracle bone script is a well-developed writing system, attested from the late Shang Dynasty (1200–1050 BC).William G. Boltz, Early Chinese Writing, World Archaeology, Vol. 17, No. 3, Early Writing Systems. (Feb., 1986), pp. 420–436 (436).] 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] ] Only about 1,400 of the 2,500 known oracle bone script logographs can be identified with later Chinese characters and thus deciphered by paleographers.

Bronze Age: Parallel script forms and gradual evolution

The traditional picture of an orderly series of scripts, each one invented suddenly and then completely displacing the previous one as implied by neat series of graphs in popular books on the subject, has been conclusively demonstrated to be fiction by the archaeological finds and scholarly research of the last half century [Qiú 2000 pp.63–4, 66, 86, 88–9, 104–7 & 124.] . Gradual evolution and the coexistence of two or more scripts was more often the case. As early as the Shāng dynasty, oracle bone script coexisted as a simplified form alongside the normal script of bamboo books (preserved for us in typical bronze inscriptions) as well as extra-elaborate pictorial forms (often clan emblems) found on many bronzes. as variant forms, as well as decorative forms such as bird and insect scripts.

Unification: Seal script, vulgar writing and proto-clerical

Seal script, which had evolved slowly in the state of Qín during the Eastern Zhōu dynasty, became standardized and adopted as the formal script for all of China in the Qín dynasty (leading to a popular misconception that it was invented at that time), and was still widely used for decorative engraving and seals (name chops, or signets) in the Hàn dynasty onward. But despite the Qín script standardization, more than one script remained in use at the time. For example, a little-known, rectilinear and roughly executed kind of "common (vulgar) writing" had for centuries coexisted with the more formal seal script in the Qín state, and the popularity of this vulgar writing grew as the use of writing itself became more widespread [Qiú 2000, p.104.] . By the Warring States period, an immature form of clerical script called “early clerical” or “proto-clerical” had already developed in the state of Qín [Qiú 2000; p.59 & p.104–7.] based upon thus vulgar writing, and with influence from seal script as well [Qiú 2000, p.119.] . The coexistence of the three scripts, small seal, vulgar and proto-clerical, with the latter evolving gradually in the Qín to early Hàn dynasties into clerical script, runs counter to the traditional beliefs that the Qín dynasty had one script only, and that clerical script was suddenly invented in the early Hàn dynasty from the small seal script.

Hàn Dynasty

Proto-clerical evolving to clerical

Proto-clerical, which had emerged by the Warring States period from vulgar Qín writing, matured gradually, and by the early Western Hàn, was little different from that of the Qín [Qiú 2000, p.l23.] . Recently discovered bamboo slips show the script becoming mature clerical script by the middle to late reign of Emperor Wǔ of the W. Hàn [Qiú 2000, p.119 & 123–4.] , who ruled 141 BCE to 87 BCE.

Clerical & clerical cursive

Contrary to popular belief of one script per period, there were in fact multiple scripts in use during the Hàn [Qiú 2000, p.130.] . Although mature clerical script, also called bāfēn [Qiú 2000, p.121.] script (Chinese 八分), was dominant at that time, an early type of cursive script was also in use in the Hàn by at least as early as 24 BCE (very late W. Hàn) [Qiú 2000, p.132–3 provides archaeological evidence for this dating, in contrast to unsubstantiated claims dating the beginning of cursive anywhere from the Qín to the Eastern Hàn.] , incorporating cursory (sic) forms popular at that period as well as many [Qiú 2000, p.131 &133.] from the vulgar writing of the Warring State of Qín. By around the Eastern Jìn dynasty this Hàn cursive became known as zhāngcǎo (Chinese 章草; sometimes called lìcǎo (隸草) today), or in English sometimes clerical cursive, ancient cursive, or draft cursive. Some believe that the name, based on zhāng (章), meaning “orderly”, is due to the fact that this was a more orderly form [Qiú 2000, p.138.] of cursive than the modern form of cursive emerging around the E. Jìn and still in use today, called jīncǎo (今草) or “modern cursive” [Qiú 2000, p.131.] .


Around the mid Eastern Hàn [Qiú 2000, p.138.] , a simplified and easier to write form of clerical appeared, which Qiú (2000, p.113 & 139) terms “neo-clerical” (Chinese 新隸體 xīnlìtĭ) and by the late E. Hàn it had become the dominant daily script [Qiú 2000, p.138.] , although the formal, mature bāfēn (八分) clerical script remained in use for formal situations such as engraved stelae [Qiú 2000, p.138.] . Some have described this neo-clerical script as a transition between clerical and standard script [Qiú 2000, p.138.] , and it remained in use through the Cáo Wèi and Jìn dynasties [Qiú 2000, p.139.] .


By the late E. Hàn, an early form of semi-cursive script appeared [Qiú 2000 p.113 & 139.] , developing out of a somewhat cursively written kind of neo-clerical script [Qiú 2000, p.140–1 mentions examples of neo-clerical with “strong overtones of cursive script” from the late E. Hàn.] and cursive [Qiú 2000 p.142.] . It was traditionally attributed to Liú Déshēng ca. 147–188 CE [Qiú 2000, p.139.] [ Liú is then said to have taught Zhōng Yáo and Wáng Xīzhī.] , although such attributions refer to early masters of a script rather than to their actual inventors, since the scripts generally evolved into being over time. Qiú 2000, p.140 gives examples of early semi-cursive showing that it had popular origins rather than being only Liú’s invention.

Wèi to Jìn period

tandard script

Standard script has been attributed to Zhōng Yáo, of the E. Hàn to Cáo Wèi period (ca 151–230 CE), who has been called the “father of standard script”. The earliest surviving pieces written in standard script are copies of his works, including at least one copied by Wáng Xīzhī. This new script, which is the dominant modern Chinese script, developed out of a neatly written form of early semi-cursive, with addition of the pause (dùn 頓) technique to end horizontal strokes, plus heavy tails on strokes which are written to downward right diagonal. [Qiú 2000, p.143.] . Thus, early standard script emerged from a neat, formal form of semi-cursive which had emerged from neo-clerical (a simplified, convenient form of clerical). It then matured further in the Eastern Jìn dynasty in the hands of the “Sage of Calligraphy” Wáng Xīzhī and his son Wáng Xiànzhī. It was not, however, in widespread use at that time, and most continued using neo-clerical or a somewhat semi-cursive form of it for daily writing [Qiú 2000, p.143.] , while the conservative bāfēn clerical script remained in use on some stelae, alongside some semi-cursive, but primarily neo-clerical [Qiú 2000, p.144.] .

Modern cursive

Meanwhile, modern cursive script slowly emerged out of the clerical cursive (zhāngcǎo) script during the Cáo Wèi to Jìn period, under the influence of both semi-cursive and the newly emerged standard script [Qiú 2000, p.148.] . Cursive was formalized in the hands of a few master calligraphers, the most famous and influential of which was Wáng Xīzhī [ Wáng Xīzhī is so credited by essays by other calligraphers in the 6th to early 7th centuries, and most of his extant pieces are in modern cursive script (Qiú 2000, p.148).] . However, because modern cursive is so "cursive", it is hard to read, and never gained widespread use outside of literati circles.

Dominance and maturation of standard script

It was not until the Southern and Northern Dynasties that the standard script rose to dominant status [Qiú 2000, p.145.] . During that period, standard script continued evolving stylistically, reaching full maturity in the early Táng dynasty. Some call the writing of the early Táng calligrapher Ōuyáng Xún (557–641) the first mature standard script. After this point, although developments in the art of calligraphy and in character simplification still lay ahead, there were no more major stages of evolution for the mainstream script. Chinese writing had reached full maturity.

Use in other countries

The Chinese script spread to Korea together with Buddhism from the 7th century (Hanja). The Japanese Kanji were adopted for recording the Japanese language from the 8st century AD. Adaptation for Vietnamese (Chữ Nôm) emerged in the 13th century

Modern history

Although most of the simplified Chinese characters in use today are the result of the works moderated by the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the 1950s and 60s, character simplification predates the PRC's formation in 1949.One of the earliest proponents of character simplification was Lu Feikui, who proposed in 1909 that simplified characters should be used in education. In the years following the May Fourth Movement in 1919, many anti-imperialist Chinese intellectuals sought ways to modernise China. 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. In many world languages, literacy has been promoted as a justification for spelling reforms. The People's Republic of China issued its first round of official character simplifications in two documents, the first in 1956 and the second in 1964. In the 1950s and 1960s, while confusion about simplified characters was still rampant, transitional characters that mixed simplified parts with yet-to-be simplified parts of characters together appeared briefly, then disappeared.

"Han unification" was completed for the purposes of Unicode in 1991 (Unicode 1.0).

Written styles

There are numerous styles, or scripts, in which Chinese characters can be written, deriving from various calligraphic and historical models. Most of these originated in China and are now common, with minor variations, in all countries where Chinese characters are used. These characters were used over 3,000 years ago.

The Shang dynasty Oracle Bone and Zhou dynasty scripts found on Chinese bronze inscriptions being no longer used, the oldest script that is still in use today is the Seal Script (zh-stp|s=篆书|t=篆書|p=zhuànshū). It evolved organically out of the Spring and Autumn period Zhou script, and was adopted in a standardized form under the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. The seal script, as the name suggests, is now only used in artistic seals. Few people are still able to read it effortlessly today, although the art of carving a traditional seal in the script remains alive; some calligraphers also work in this style.

Scripts that are still used regularly are the "Clerical Script" (zh-stp|s=隶书|t=隸書|p=lìshū) of the Qin Dynasty to the Han Dynasty, the Weibei (zh-cp|c=魏碑|p=wèibēi), the "Regular Script" (zh-stp|s=楷书|t=楷書|p=kǎishū) used for most printing, and the "Semi-cursive Script" (zh-stp|s=行书|t=行書|p=xíngshū) used for most handwriting.

The Cursive Script (zh-stpl|s=草书|t=草書|p=cǎoshū|l=grass script) is not in general use, and is a purely artistic calligraphic style. The basic character shapes are suggested, rather than explicitly realized, and the abbreviations are extreme. Despite being cursive to the point where individual strokes are no longer differentiable and the characters often illegible to the untrained eye, this script (also known as "draft") is highly revered for the beauty and freedom that it embodies. Some of the Simplified Chinese characters adopted by the People's Republic of China, and some of the simplified characters used in Japan, are derived from the Cursive Script. The Japanese hiragana script is also derived from this script.

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 standard scripts described above.

Comparing the "Shuowen Jiezi" and "Hanyu Da Zidian" reveals that the overall number of characters recorded in dictionaries has increased 577 percent over 1,900 years. Depending upon how one counts variants, 50,000+ is a good approximation for the current total number. This correlates with the most comprehensive Japanese and Korean dictionaries of Chinese characters; the "Dai Kan-Wa jiten" has some 50,000 entries, and the "Han-Han Dae Sajeon" has over 57,000. The latest behemoth, the "Zhonghua Zihai", records a staggering 85,568 single characters, although even this fails to list all characters known, ignoring the roughly 1,500 Japanese-made "kokuji" given in the "Kokuji no Jiten" [Hida & Sugawara, 1990, Tokyodo Shuppan.] as well as the Chu Nom inventory only used in Vietnam in past days.

Modified radicals and obsolete 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".


It is usually said that about 3,000 characters are needed for basic literacy in Chinese (for example, to read a Chinese newspaper), and a well-educated person will know well in excess of 4,000 to 5,000 characters. Note that Chinese characters should not be confused with Chinese words, as the majority of modern Chinese words, unlike their Old Chinese and Middle Chinese counterparts, are multi-morphemic and multi-syllabic compounds, that is, most Chinese words are written with two or more characters; each character representing one syllable. Knowing the meanings of the individual characters of a word will often allow the general meaning of the word to be inferred, but this is not invariably the case.

In the People's Republic of China, which uses Simplified Chinese characters, the "Xiàndài Hànyǔ Chángyòng Zìbiǎo" (现代汉语常用字表; Chart of Common Characters of Modern Chinese) lists 2,500 common characters and 1,000 less-than-common characters, while the "Xiàndài Hànyǔ Tōngyòng Zìbiǎo" (现代汉语通用字表; Chart of Generally Utilized Characters of Modern Chinese) lists 7,000 characters, including the 3,500 characters already listed above. GB2312, an early version of the national encoding standard used in the People's Republic of China, has 6,763 code points. GB18030, the modern, mandatory standard, has a much higher number. The Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì proficiency test covers approximately 5,000 characters.

In the ROC, which uses Traditional Chinese characters, the Ministry of Education's "Chángyòng Guózì Biāozhǔn Zìtǐ Biǎo" (常用國字標準字體表; Chart of Standard Forms of Common National Characters) lists 4,808 characters; the "Cì Chángyòng Guózì Biāozhǔn Zìtǐ Biǎo" (次常用國字標準字體表; Chart of Standard Forms of Less-Than-Common National Characters) lists another 6,341 characters. The "Chinese Standard Interchange Code" (CNS11643)—the official national encoding standard—supports 48,027 characters, while the most widely-used encoding scheme, BIG-5, supports only 13,053.

In Hong Kong, which uses Traditional Chinese characters, the Education and Manpower Bureau's "Soengjung Zi Zijing Biu" (常用字字形表), intended for use in elementary and junior secondary education, lists a total of 4,759 characters.

In addition, there is a large corpus of "dialect characters", which are not used in formal written Chinese but represent colloquial terms in non-Mandarin Chinese spoken forms. One such variety is Written Cantonese, in widespread use in Hong Kong even for certain formal documents, due to the former British colonial administration's recognition of Cantonese for use for official purposes. In Taiwan, there is also an informal body of characters used to represent the spoken Hokkien (Min Nan) dialect.


In Japanese there are 1,945 "Jōyō kanji" ( _ja. 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.

The 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 which have been used in personal and place names for generations, an additional list, referred to as the "Jinmeiyō kanji" ( _ja. 人名用漢字 lit. "kanji for use in personal names"), is published. It currently contains 983 characters, bringing the total number of government-endorsed characters to 2928. (See also the Names section of the kanji article.)

Today, a well-educated Japanese person may know upwards of 3,500 kanji. The "kanji kentei" ( _ja. 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 6,000 kanji, though in practice few people attain (or need to attain) this level.

Written Japanese also includes a pair of syllabic scripts known as kana, which are used in combination with kanji. Not all words in modern Japanese can be expressed with kanji alone, requiring the use of kana in written communication.


In times past, until the 15th century, in Korea, Literary Chinese was the only 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. However, due 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 knowledge of Chinese characters is considered a high class attribute and an indispensable part of a classical education.

In Korea, 한자 "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 times, middle and high school students have been formally exposed to 1,800 to 2,000 basic 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 often unable 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. 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 extended 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.

In the modern Korean writing system based on hangul, Chinese characters are not used any more to represent native morphemes.

In North Korea, the government, wielding much tighter control than its sister government to the south, has banned Chinese characters from virtually all public displays and media, and mandated the use of hangul in their place.


Although now nearly extinct in Vietnam, varying scripts of Chinese characters ("hán tự") were once in widespread use to write the language, although "hán tự" became limited to ceremonial uses beginning in the 19th century. Similarly to Japan and Korea, Chinese (especially Literary Chinese) was used by the ruling classes, and the characters were eventually adopted to write Vietnamese. To express native Vietnamese words which had different pronunciations from the Chinese, Vietnamese developed the Chữ Nôm script which used various methods to distinguish native Vietnamese words from Chinese. Vietnamese is currently exclusively written in the Vietnamese alphabet, a derivative of the Latin alphabet.

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, Korean name, and Vietnamese name, respectively). This has caused problems as many computer encoding systems include only the most common characters and exclude the less oft-used characters. This is especially a problem for personal names which often contain rare or classical, antiquated characters.

People who have run into this problem include Taiwanese politician Yu Shyi-kun ( _zh. 游錫堃, pinyin "Yóu Xíkūn") and Taiwanese singer David Tao ( _zh. 陶喆 "Táo Zhé") due to the last character in each name being very rare. 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 Bellassen (1989), the most complex Chinese character is /

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