Chinese characters (traditional Chinese and Japanese: 漢字; simplified Chinese: 汉字; pinyin: hànzì; Cantonese Jyutping: hon3 zi6; Wade–Giles: han4 tzŭ4; rōmaji: kanji; "Han characters") are the logograms used to write several languages historically influenced by Chinese culture, including the Chinese languages and Japanese.[2][3] Evolving in orthography and style over the course of millennia, Chinese characters are the oldest continuously used system of writing in the world.[4] Due to their widespread use in East and Southeast Asia throughout human history, Chinese characters have been among the most widely adopted of all writing systems.

Chinese characters
Script type
Time period
c. 13th century BCE–present
DirectionLeft-to-right (modern)
Top-to-bottom, columns right-to-left (traditional)
LanguagesChinese languages, Japanese, Korean, Ryukyuan, Vietnamese, Zhuang, Miao, Hachijō, among others
Related scripts
Parent systems
Oracle bone script
  • Chinese characters
Child systems
Zhuyin, Hiragana, Katakana, Khitan script, Jurchen script, Tangut script, Yi script
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Hani (500), ​Han (Hanzi, Kanji, Hanja)
Unicode alias
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and  , see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.
Chinese characters
Hanzi ('Chinese character') written in traditional (left) and simplified (right) forms.
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese汉字
Traditional Chinese漢字
Literal meaning"Han characters"
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetchữ Hán
chữ Nho
Hán tự
Chữ Hán漢字
Thai name
Zhuang name
Korean name
Japanese name
Khmer name

Waves of innovation and reform characterize the history of the system. Most recently, governments of countries that write with Chinese characters have published standardized lists of characters, variant forms, and pronunciations. To broadly categorize, simplified characters are usually used in mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia, while traditional characters are usually used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. Chinese characters have been adapted for writing other languages spoken by peoples historically influenced by China: they feature most notably today in the Japanese writing system, where they are known as kanji. Chinese characters were also historically used to write the Korean language, where they are known as hanja—their use remains significant in South Korean academia, especially in the study of literature, history, and philology. The states of Vietnam had previously introduced Chinese characters in order to write their language, with borrowed characters known as chữ Hán, as well as autochthonously-developed characters known as chữ Nôm. Each of these languages belong to their own language families, and on the whole have very different properties from Chinese and from one another. Today, both Korean and Vietnamese are now written almost exclusively with alphabets designed specifically for their languages: Hangul and the Vietnamese alphabet respectively. In Japan, some characters are often written in simplified forms known as shinjitai, with the original traditional characters known as kyūjitai. During the 1970s, Singapore briefly attempted its own simplification campaign, but eventually settled on adopting the simplifications from mainland China, favoring uniformity.

In modern varieties of Chinese, most words are compounds written with two or more characters.[5] Unlike in phonetic writing systems, where individual letters roughly correspond to phonemes, the Chinese writing system associates each logogram with an entire syllable, in this way it may be compared to a syllabary. Additionally, a single syllable almost always corresponds to a morpheme.[a][b][7]

Modern Chinese has many homophones: to a higher degree than most major languages, the same spoken syllable may have many meanings dictated by surrounding context, represented by one of many different characters. Additionally, a particular character may possess a range of distinct meanings, sometimes ones quite divergent from one another, and different 'senses' of the same written character may have different pronunciations. In modern Standard Chinese, one-fifth of the 2,400 most common characters have multiple possible pronunciations.[c] In other languages, most significantly in modern Japanese and sometimes in Korean, characters are used to represent Chinese loanwords, or to represent native words regardless of the character's Chinese pronunciation, called kun'yomi in Japanese. Some characters retained their phonetic elements based on their pronunciation in a historical variety of Chinese from which they were acquired. These foreign adaptations of Chinese pronunciation are known as Sino-Xenic pronunciations and have been useful in the reconstruction of Middle Chinese.

Function Edit

In the late 2nd millennium BCE, when the Chinese writing system was first emerging, Old Chinese words were generally monosyllabic, with each character denoting a single independent word.[9] Polysyllabic words began entering the language starting from the Western Zhou period; it is estimated that between 25% and 30% of the vocabulary used in Warring States period texts is polysyllabic. Over time, with numerous sound mergers occurring throughout the various varieties of Chinese, the introduction of polysyllabic words has increasingly served the function of reducing ambiguity between words that had since become homophonic.[10] The process has accelerated over the centuries as phonetic change has increased the number of homophones.[11] Today, it has been estimated that over two-thirds of the 3,000 most common words in modern Standard Chinese are polysyllables, with the vast majority of these being two-syllable words.[12]

The most common process of Chinese word formation has been to create compounds of existing, independent words. Words have also been created by appending affixes to words, by reduplicating words, and by borrowing words from other languages.[13] While polysyllabic words are generally written with one character per syllable, abbreviations are occasionally used.[14][d] In most cases, a Chinese character denotes a morpheme that has descended from an Old Chinese word; cognates among the Chinese varieties are generally written with the same character.[15]

Heterophonous readings of Chinese characters are often similar in sound and related in meaning. In the Old Chinese period, affixes could be added to a word to form a new word, which was often written with the same character. In many cases, the pronunciations diverged due to subsequent sound change. For example, many additional readings have the Middle Chinese 'departing tone', the major source of the 4th tone in modern Standard Chinese. Scholars now believe that this tone is the reflex of an Old Chinese *-s suffix, with a range of semantic functions.[16] For example:

  • ; has readings OC *drjon > MC drjwen' > mod. chuán with the meaning 'to transmit', and OC *drjons > MC drjwenH > mod. zhuàn meaning 'a record'.[17] (Middle Chinese forms are denoted using Baxter's system of transcription, wherein ⟨H⟩ denotes the departing tone.)
  • has readings *maj > OC ma > mod. meaning 'to grind', and *majs > maH > mod. mod. 'grindstone'.[17]
  • 宿 has readings OC *sjuk > MC sjuwk > mod. meaning 'to stay overnight', and OC *sjuks > MC sjuwH > mod. xiù meaning 'celestial mansion'.[18]
  • ; has readings OC *hljot > MC sywet > mod. shuō meaning 'speak', and OC *hljots > MC sywejH > mod. shuì meaning 'exhort'.[19]

Another common alteration is between voiced and voiceless initials, though the phonemic voicing distinction has disappeared in most modern varieties. This is believed to reflect an ancient prefix, but scholars disagree on whether the voiced or voiceless form is the original root. For example,

  • ; has readings OC *kens > MC kenH > mod. jiàn meaning 'to see', and OC *gens > MC henH > mod. xiàn meaning 'to appear'.[20]
  • ; has readings OC *prats > MC pæjH > mod. bài meaning 'to defeat', and OC *brats > MC bæjH > mod. bài meaning 'to be defeated'.[20] In this case, the pronunciations have converged in Standard Chinese, but they have not in other varieties.
  • has readings OC *tjat > MC tsyet > mod. zhé meaning 'to bend', and OC *djat > MC dzyet > mod. shé meaning 'to break by bending'.[21]

Character composition Edit

Excerpt from a 1436 primer on Chinese characters
Evolution of pictograms

Chinese characters use one of several strategies to represent spoken words. A relatively small number of characters, including some of the most common, were originally pictograms, which directly depicted the objects described, or ideograms, in which meaning was expressed through an abstract symbol illustrating the idea. However, the vast majority of Chinese characters have been created using the rebus principle, where a character with a similar pronunciation was either borrowed for the new meaning, or more commonly extended with an added semantic marker to disambiguate the new character, forming what is called a phono-semantic compound.[22]

The traditional six-fold classification of Chinese characters (六書; 六书; liùshū; 'six writings') was first described by the scholar Xu Shen in the postface of his Shuowen Jiezi dictionary c. 100 CE.[23] While this analysis is occassionally problematic, arguably failing to fully capture the nature of the Chinese writing system, it has proven resilient and pervasive, and continues to serve as a rough model for people encountering the language.

Pictograms Edit

Pictograms are highly stylized and simplified pictures of material objects. Examples of pictograms include ; ; 'sun', ; yuè; 'moon', and ; ; 'tree'. Xu Shen placed approximately 4% of all characters into this category. Though few in number and limited in scope, pictograms and ideograms form the basis from which all of the more complex characters are derived. Over time, pictograms became increasingly stylized, simplified, and standardized, in order to make them easier to write.

The same Kangxi radical character element can be used to depict different objects. Thus, the image depicted by most pictograms is not often immediately evident. For example, may indicate 'the mouth', or it may alternatively represent something like a window, as in the character , where it is part of a depiction of a tall building, as a symbol of the idea of 'tallness'. In still another representation, it stands for the lip of a vessel in the character , a wine jar under a roof as symbolic of wealth. That is, pictograms have extended from concrete depictions of physical objects to take on metaphorical meanings, sometimes even displacing the previous literal use of the character, or creating ambiguity later resolved through character determinants, more generally known as 'radicals', i.e. the concept keys in phono-semantic characters.

Simple ideograms Edit

Also called simple indicatives, this small category contains characters that are direct iconic illustrations of concepts. Examples include ; 'up' and ; 'down', originating as dots above and below a line respectively. Indicative characters are symbols for abstract concepts which could not be depicted literally but nonetheless can be expressed as a visual symbol: for example, ; 'convex', ; 'concave', and ; 'flat-and-level'.

Compound ideographs Edit

Also translated as 'logical aggregates' or 'associative idea characters', this class has been interpreted as combining two or more pictographs or ideographs to suggest a synthesized third meaning. The canonical example is ; míng; 'bright', often interpreted as the juxtaposition of the two brightest objects in the sky: ; 'the Sun', and ; 'the Moon', together expressing the shared idea of brightness. Though the historicity of this particular etymology has come into question with recent scholarship, it is definitively a canonical reading: for example, the term 明白 has a meaning of 'understanding'. Adding the abbreviated radical for grass above this character creates it to ; méng; 'to sprout', 'bud', alluding to the heliotropic behavior of plant life. Other commonly cited examples include ; 'rest' (composed of the pictograms ; 'person' and ; 'tree'), and ; 'good' (composed of ; 'woman' and ; 'child'.

Xu Shen placed approximately 13% of characters in this category, but many of his examples are now believed to be phono-semantic compounds, whose origin has been obscured by subsequent changes in their form.[24] Peter Boodberg and William Boltz go so far as to deny that any of the compound characters devised in ancient times were of this type, maintaining that now-lost "secondary readings" are responsible for the apparent absence of phonetic indicators,[25] but their arguments have been rejected by other scholars.[26]

In contrast, associative compound characters are common among kanji originally coined in Japan. Several modern Chinese characters, such as ; 'white metal' for platinum. (See Chemical elements in East Asian languages) belong to this category.

Rebus Edit

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 ; , which has lost its original meaning of 'nose' completely, and now exclusively has the meaning of 'oneself', or ; wàn, which originally meant 'scorpion' but is now used only to mean the number 'ten thousand'.

The concept of rebus was pivotal in the literary history of China, insofar as it represented the stage at which logographic writing could acquire a more profound phonetic dimension. Chinese characters used purely for their sound values are attested in Spring and Autumn and Warring States period manuscripts, in which ; zhī was used to write ; shì and vice versa, as well as with ; sháo for ; zhào, with instances of swapping sometimes occurring within the span of just a few lines. These characters were either homophonous or nearly homophonous at the time of writing.[27]

Phonetic borrowings Edit

Chinese characters are used rebus-like and exclusively for their phonetic value when transcribing words of foreign origin, such as ancient Buddhist terms or modern foreign names. For example, in the name 罗马尼亚; 羅馬尼亞; Luómǎníyà; 'Romania', each character is only used for its sound values, and does not provide any particular meaning.[28] This usage is similar to that of Japanese katakana and hiragana, although these syllabaries use a special set of simplified forms derived from Chinese characters, in order to clarify their role as purely phonetic symbols. Use of this rebus principle has also been observed in names written with both Egyptian hieroglyphs and Maya glyphs.[29] The barrier between pronunciation and meaning is never total, however: in the Chinese system, phonetic characters may be deliberately chosen as to create certain connotations. This regularly happens for corporate brand names: for example, Coca-Cola is translated phonetically as 可口可乐; 可口可樂; Kěkǒu Kělè, with the characters selected so as to possess an additional meaning of 'delicious and enjoyable'. A more literal translation would be 'the mouth can be happy', though the phrase is technically grammatically sound.[28][29]

Phono-semantic compounds Edit

General structures used in compounds, with red marking possible positions for radicals

Also known as semantic-phonetic compounds or pictophonetic compounds, they are by far the largest class of characters. These characters are composed of at least two parts: the semantic component that suggests the general meaning of the compound character, and the phonetic component that suggests the character's pronunciation. In most cases, the semantic indicator is also the radical under which the character is categorized in dictionaries. In some examples, phono-semantic characters may also connote ancillary meaning created in the graphical synthesis. Each Chinese character attempts to combine sound, image, and abstract idea in a manner where each mutually reinforces the others.

Examples of phono-semantic characters include ; ; 'river', ; ; 'lake', ; liú; 'stream', ; chōng; 'surge', and ; huá; 'slippery'. All of these characters have on the left, three short strokes which constitute a reduced form of the character ; shuǐ; 'water', and indicate that each character has some meaning related to water. The right-hand side of each character is the phonetic indicator, with ; having an identical Standard Chinese pronunciation to ; , and ; ; 'river' pronounced similarly to ; . In the case of chōng; 'surge', the phonetic indicator is ; zhōng, which by itself means 'middle'. Baxter's reconstructions of Old Chinese provide the historical pronunciations as *ɡ-ljuŋ[30] and *k-ljuŋ[31] respectively. In these cases the discrepancy is somewhat tame; however, the historical sound changes can have the effect of making the composition of characters seem totally arbitrary today.

In general, phonetic components do not provide the pronunciation of a character exactly, but only a clue as to its pronunciation. While some characters do take the exact pronunciation of their phonetic component, others may only share the initial or final sounds.[32] In fact, some characters' pronunciations may not seem to correspond to the pronunciations of their phonetic parts at all, which is sometimes the case with characters that have undergone simplification. The 8 characters in the following table all take ; for their phonetic part—however, it is apparent that none of them share 's modern pronunciation. The character's OC pronunciation has been reconstructed as *lajʔ. The table below shows some of the sound changes that have taken place since the Shang and Zhou dynasties, during which time most of these characters were originally created. The drift can be dramatic, sometimes to the point of no longer providing any useful hint whatsoever as to the modern pronunciation.

Eight phono-semantic compounds with phonetic component ; [33]
Character Semantic part Phonetic part Modern Mandarin
Modern Cantonese
Modern Japanese
(originally a pictograph of a vulva)[34] jaa5 ya jiaX *lajʔ PTC, 'also'
; 'water' chí ci4 chi ɖje *Cə.lraj 'pool'
; ; 'horse' chí ci4 chi ɖje *lraj 'gallop'
; 'bow (bend)' chí (mainland, Taiwan)
shǐ (Taiwan)
ci4 chi, shi ɕjeX *l̥ajʔ 'loosen', 'relax'
; 'flag' shī si1 se, shi ɕje *l̥aj 'spread', 'set up', 'use'
; 'earth' dei6 ji, chi dijH *lˤej-s 'ground', 'earth'
de, di ADV-PTC (Mandarin)
; 'person' taa1 ta tʰa *l̥ˤaj 3M, 'other'
; 'female' 3F
; 'hand' tuō to1 ta, da tʰaH *l̥ˤaj 'drag'

Xu Shen placed approximately 82% of characters into this category, while the figure from the 18th-century Kangxi Dictionary is closer to 90%, due to the extreme proficiency of this technique in extending the Chinese vocabulary.[citation needed] The chữ Nôm characters of Vietnam were also created using this principle.

This method is used to form new characters: for example ; ; ; 'plutonium' is the 'metal' radical plus the phonetic ; , described in Chinese as " gives sound, gives meaning". Many Chinese names for chemical elements and other characters related to chemistry were formed in this way. In fact, it is possible to tell just by glancing at a Chinese periodic table which elements are metals (), solid non-metals (; 'stone'), liquids (), or gases (; 'breath') at standard temperature and pressure.

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 . A notable example is pipa, a Chinese lute—also the name of a fruit of similar shape, known in English as the loquat—originally written as 批把, with the 'hand' radical referring to the upward and downward strokes made when playing the instrument. The name for the fruit later changed to 枇杷 (with 'tree' radical ), which is the name still in use, while the name for the instrument was changed to 琵琶 (with radical ).[citation needed] In other cases, a compound word may coincidentally share a radical between its characters, without it being meaningful.

Derivative cognates Edit

The smallest category of characters is also the least understood.[35] In the postface to the Shuowen Jiezi, Xu Shen gave the example pair of ; kǎo; 'to verify' and ; lǎo; 'old', which have the similar OC pronunciations *khuʔ and *C-ruʔ respectively,[36] and may once have been the same word, meaning 'elderly person', and later lexicalizing into two separate words. The term does not appear in the actual body of the dictionary, and is often omitted from modern systems.[37]

History Edit

Comparative evolution from pictograms to abstract shapes, in cuneiform, Egyptian and Chinese characters

Legendary origins Edit

Several works of classical Chinese literature indicate that, prior to the invention of characters, knotted cords were used to keep records.[38][39] The practice had some similarities to the Incan technique of quipu.[40] Works that reference the practice include chapter 80 of the Tao Te Ching[41] and the Yijing ("Xici II").[42]

According to traditional legend, Chinese characters were invented by Cangjie, a figure said to have been a scribe to the legendary Yellow Emperor during the 3rd millennium BCE. Frustrated by the limitations of knotting, and inspired by his study of the animals of the world, the landscape of the earth, and the stars in the sky, Cangjie is said to have invented symbols called ; —the first Chinese characters. The legend relates that on the day the characters were created, grain rained down from the sky and that night the people heard ghosts wailing and demons crying because the human beings could no longer be cheated.[43]

Neolithic symbols Edit

In recent decades, a series of inscribed graphs and pictures have been found at Neolithic sites in China, including Jiahu (c. 6500 BCE), Dadiwan and Damaidi from the 6th millennium BCE, and Banpo (5th millennium BCE). Often these finds are accompanied by media reports that push back the purported beginnings of Chinese writing by thousands of years.[44][45] However, because these marks occur singly without any implied context and are made crudely, Qiu Xigui concluded that "we do not have any basis for stating that these constituted writing nor is there reason to conclude that they were ancestral to Shang dynasty Chinese characters."[46] They do however demonstrate a history of sign use in the Yellow River valley during the Neolithic through to the Shang period.[45]

Oracle bone script Edit

Ox scapula with oracle bone inscription

The earliest confirmed evidence of Chinese script is the body of inscriptions carved on bronze vessels and oracle bones from the late Shang dynasty (c. 1250–1050 BCE).[47][48] The earliest of these is dated to around 1200 BC.[49][50] 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, which was excavated by the Academia Sinica between 1928 and 1937. Over 150,000 fragments have been found.[47]

Oracle bone inscriptions are records of divinations performed in communication with royal ancestral spirits.[47] The shortest are only a few characters long, while the longest are 30 to 40 characters in length. The Shang king would communicate with his ancestors on topics relating to the royal family, military success, weather forecasting, ritual sacrifices, and related topics by means of scapulimancy, and the answers would be recorded on the divination material itself.[47]

Oracle bone script is a well-developed writing system,[51][52] suggesting that the Chinese script's origins may lie earlier than the late second millennium BC.[53] 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.[53]

Bronze Age Edit

The Shi Qiang pan, a bronze ritual basin dated to around 900 BCE. Long inscriptions on the surface describe the deeds and virtues of the first seven Zhou kings.

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.[54] 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.

Based on studies of these bronze inscriptions, it is clear that, from the Shang dynasty writing to that of the Western Zhou and early Eastern Zhou, the mainstream script evolved in a slow, unbroken fashion, until assuming the form that is now known as seal script in the late Eastern Zhou in the state of Qin, without any clear line of division.[55][56] Meanwhile, other scripts had evolved, especially in the eastern and southern areas during the late Zhou dynasty, including regional forms, such as the 'ancient forms' of the eastern Warring States preserved as variant forms in the Han dynasty character dictionary Shuowen Jiezi, as well as decorative forms such as bird and insect scripts.

Unification under the Qin and Han Edit

Seal script, which had evolved slowly in the state of Qin during the Eastern Zhou dynasty, became standardized and adopted as the formal script for all of China in the Qin 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 Han dynasty period. However, despite the Qin script standardization, more than one script remained in use at the time. For example, a little-known, rectilinear and roughly executed kind of common (vulgar) writing had for centuries coexisted with the more formal seal script in the Qin state, and the popularity of this vulgar writing grew as the use of writing itself became more widespread.[57] By the Warring States period, an immature form of clerical script called "early clerical" or "proto-clerical" had already developed in the state of Qin[58] based upon this vulgar writing, and with influence from seal script as well.[59] The coexistence of the three scripts – small seal, vulgar and proto-clerical, with the latter evolving gradually in the Qin to early Han dynasties into clerical script – runs counter to the traditional belief that the Qin dynasty had one script only, and that clerical script was suddenly invented in the early Han dynasty from the small seal script.

Han dynasty Edit

Evolvolution from proto-clerical to clerical Edit

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.[60] Recently discovered bamboo slips show the script becoming mature clerical script by the middle-to-late reign of Emperor Wu of the Western Han,[61] who ruled from 141 to 87 BCE.

Clerical and clerical cursive Edit

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.[62] Although mature clerical script, also called 八分; bāfēn script,[63] was dominant at that time. An early type of cursive script was also in use by the Han, at least as early as 24 BCE, during the very late Western Han;[e] it incorporated cursive forms popular at the time, as well as many elements from the vulgar writing of the Warring State of Qin.[64] By around the time of the Eastern Jin dynasty, this Han cursive became known as 章草; zhāngcǎo, known in English sometimes as 'clerical cursive', 'ancient cursive', or 'draft cursive'. Some believe that the name, based on ; zhāng; 'orderly', arose because the script was a more orderly form[65] of cursive than the modern form, which emerged during the Eastern Jin dynasty and is still in use today, called 今草; jīncǎo; 'modern cursive'.[66]

Neo-clerical Edit

Around the middle of the Eastern Han period,[65] a simplified and easier form of clerical script appeared, which Qiu terms 新隶体; 新隸體; xīnlìtǐ; 'neo-clerical').[67] By the late Eastern Han, this had become the dominant daily script,[65] although the formal, mature bāfēn clerical script remained in use for formal works such as engraved stelae.[65] Qiu describes this neo-clerical script as a transition between clerical and regular script,[65] and it remained in use through the Cao Wei and Jin dynasties.[68]

Semi-cursive Edit

By the late Eastern Han period, an early form of semi-cursive script appeared,[67] developing out of a cursively written form of neo-clerical script[f] and simple cursive.[69] This semi-cursive script was traditionally attributed to Liu Desheng c. 147–188 CE,[68][g] although such attributions refer to early masters of a script rather than to their actual inventors, since the scripts generally evolved into being over time. Qiu gives examples of early semi-cursive script, showing that it had popular origins rather than being purely Liu's invention.[70]

Wei to Jin Edit

Regular script Edit

A page from a Song dynasty publication in a regular script typeface which resembles the handwriting of Ouyang Xun from Tang Dynasty

Regular script has been attributed to Zhong Yao (c. 151–230 CE), during the period at the end of the Han dynasty in the state of Cao Wei. Zhong Yao has been called the "father of regular script". However, some scholars[71] 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 Zhong 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 ; ; dùn; 'pause' technique to end horizontal strokes, plus heavy tails on strokes which are written to the downward-right diagonal.[72] 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,[72] while the conservative bafen clerical script remained in use on some stelae, alongside some semi-cursive, but primarily neo-clerical.[73]

Modern cursive Edit

Meanwhile, modern cursive script slowly emerged from the clerical cursive script during the Cao Wei to Jin period, under the influence of both semi-cursive and the newly emerged regular script.[74] Cursive was formalized in the hands of a few master calligraphers, the most famous and influential of whom was Wang Xizhi.[h]

Dominance and maturation of the regular script Edit

It was not until the Northern and Southern dynasties that regular script rose to dominant status.[75] 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 Ouyang Xun (557–641) the first mature regular script. After this point, although developments in the art of calligraphy and in character simplification still lay ahead, there were no more major stages of evolution for the mainstream script.

Modern history Edit

Although most simplified Chinese characters in use today are the result of the works moderated by the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the 1950s and 60s, the use of some of these forms predates the PRC's formation in 1949. Caoshu, cursive written text, was the inspiration of some simplified characters, and for others, some are attested as early as the Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE) as either vulgar variants or original characters.

The first batch of simplified characters, introduced in 1935, consisted of 324 characters

One of the earliest proponents of character simplification was Lufei Kui, 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 as quickly as possible. Traditional culture and values such as Confucianism were challenged and subsequently blamed for their problems. Soon, people in the Movement started to cite the traditional Chinese writing system as an obstacle in modernising China and therefore proposed that a reform be initiated. It was suggested that the Chinese writing system should be either simplified or completely abolished. Lu Xun, a renowned Chinese author in the 20th century, stated 漢字不滅,中國必亡; 'If Chinese characters are not destroyed, then China will die'. Recent commentators have claimed that Chinese characters were blamed for the economic problems in China during that time.[76]

In the 1930s and 1940s, discussions on character simplification took place within the Kuomintang government, and a large number of the intelligentsia maintained that character simplification would help boost literacy in China.[77] In 1935, 324 simplified characters collected by Qian Xuantong were officially introduced as the table of first batch of simplified characters, but they were suspended in 1936 due to fierce opposition within the party.

The PRC 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' is an effort by the Unicode Consortium to map the multiple character sets of the 'CJK' languages—Chinese, Japanese, and Korean—into a single set of unified characters and was in large part completed with the first release of the Unicode standard in 1991.

Apart from Chinese ones, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese normative medium of record-keeping, written historical narratives and official communication are in adaptations and variations of Chinese script.[78]

Use in other languages Edit

Current (dark and medium green) and former extension (light green) of the use of Chinese characters
Countries and regions using Chinese characters in their writing system:
Dark Green: Traditional characters used officially (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau)
Green: Simplified characters used officially, but traditional characters also used in publishing (Singapore, Malaysia)[79]
Light Green: Simplified characters used officially, traditional characters in daily use is uncommon (China, Kokang, and Myanmar's Wa State)
Cyan: Chinese characters are used in parallel with other scripts in respective native languages (South Korea, Japan)
Yellow: Chinese characters were once used officially, but this is now obsolete (Mongolia, North Korea, Vietnam)

The Chinese script spread to Korea together with Buddhism from the 2nd century BCE to 5th century CE (hanja).[80] This was adopted for recording the Japanese language from the 5th century CE.[i]

Chinese characters were first used in Vietnam during the millennium of Chinese rule starting in 111 BCE. They were used to write Classical Chinese, adapted around the 13th century to create the chữ Nôm script for Vietnamese.

Currently, the only non-Chinese language outside of China that regularly uses the Chinese script is Japanese. Vietnam abandoned its use in the early 20th century in favour of a Latin-based script, and Korea in the late 20th century in favour of its homegrown hangul script. Since the education of Chinese characters is not mandatory in South Korea,[81] the usage of Chinese characters is rapidly disappearing.

Japanese Edit

Chinese characters adapted to write Japanese words are known as kanji. Chinese words borrowed into Japanese could be written with Chinese characters, while native Japanese words could also be written using the character(s) for a Chinese word of similar meaning. Most kanji have both the native (and often multi-syllabic) Japanese pronunciation, known as kun'yomi, and the (mono-syllabic) Chinese-based pronunciation, known as on'yomi. For example, the native Japanese word katana is written as in kanji, which uses the native pronunciation since the word is native to Japanese, while the Chinese loanword nihontō (meaning "Japanese sword") is written as 日本刀, which uses the Chinese-based pronunciation. While nowadays loanwords from non-Sinosphere languages are usually just written in katakana, one of the two syllabary systems of Japanese, loanwords that were borrowed into Japanese before the Meiji Period were typically written with Chinese characters whose on'yomi had the same pronunciation as the loanword itself, words like Amerika (kanji: 亜米利加, katakana: アメリカ, meaning: America), karuta (kanji: 歌留多, 加留多, katakana: カルタ, meaning: card, letter), and tenpura (kanji: 天婦羅, 天麩羅, katakana: テンプラ, meaning: tempura), although the meanings of the characters used often had no relation to the words themselves. Only some of the old kanji spellings are in common use, like kan (, meaning: can). Kanji that are used to only represent the sounds of a word are called ateji (当て字). Because Chinese words have been borrowed from varying dialects at different times, a single character may have several on'yomi in Japanese.[82]

Written Japanese also includes a pair of syllabaries known as kana, derived by simplifying Chinese characters selected to represent syllables of Japanese. The syllabaries differ because they sometimes selected different characters for a syllable, and because they used different strategies to reduce these characters for easy writing: the angular katakana were obtained by selecting a part of each character, while hiragana were derived from the cursive forms of whole characters.[83] Modern Japanese writing uses a composite system, using kanji for word stems, hiragana for inflectional endings and grammatical words, and katakana to transcribe non-Chinese loanwords as well as serve as a method to emphasize native words (similar to how italics are used in Latin-script languages).[84]

Korean Edit

Throughout most of Korean history as early as the Gojoseon period up until the Joseon Dynasty, Literary Chinese was the dominant form of written communication. Although the Korean alphabet hangul was created in 1443, it did not come into widespread official use until the late 19th and early 20th century.[85][86]

Even today, much of the vocabulary, especially in the realms of science and sociology, comes directly from Chinese. However, due to the lack of tones in Modern Standard Korean, as the words were imported from Chinese, many dissimilar characters and syllables took on identical pronunciations, and subsequently identical spelling in hangul.[citation needed] Chinese characters are sometimes used to this day for either clarification in a practical manner, or to give a distinguished appearance, as knowledge of Chinese characters is considered by many Koreans a high class attribute and an indispensable part of a classical education. It is also observed that the preference for Chinese characters is treated as being culturally Confucian.[86]

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 Hanja education in public schools. Other Koreans support the revival of Hanja in everyday usage, like in the 1970s and 80s.[87] 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,[87] albeit with the principal focus on recognition, with the aim of achieving newspaper literacy.[86] Hanja retains its prominence, especially in Korean academia, as the vast majority of Korean documents, history, literature and records (such as the Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty, among others) were written in Literary Chinese using Hanja as its primary script. Therefore, a good working knowledge of Chinese characters is still important for anyone who wishes to interpret and study older texts from Korea, or anyone who wishes to read scholarly texts in the humanities. Hanja is also useful for understanding the etymology of Sino-Korean vocabulary.[88]

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.[89] 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. While hanja is sometimes used for Sino-Korean vocabulary, native Korean words are rarely, if ever, written in hanja.

When learning how to write hanja, students are taught to memorize the native Korean pronunciation for the hanja's meaning and the Sino-Korean pronunciations (the pronunciation based on the Chinese pronunciation of the characters) for each hanja respectively so that students know what the syllable and meaning is for a particular hanja. For example, the name for the hanja is (mul-su) in which (mul) is the native Korean pronunciation for "water", while (su) is the Sino-Korean pronunciation of the character. The naming of hanja is similar to if "water" were named "water-aqua", "horse-equus", or "gold-aurum" based on a hybridization of both the English and the Latin names. Other examples include 사람 (saram-in) for "person/people", (keun-dae) for "big/large/great", 작을 (jakeul-so) for "small/little", 아래 (arae-ha) for "underneath/below/low", 아비 (abi-bu) for "father", and 나라이름 (naraireum-han) for "Han/Korea".[90]

North Korea Edit

In North Korea, the hanja system was once completely banned since June 1949 due to fears of collapsed containment of the country; during the 1950s, Kim Il Sung had condemned all sorts of foreign languages (even the then-newly proposed New Korean Orthography). The ban continued into the 21st century. However, a textbook for university history departments containing 3,323 distinct characters was published in 1971. In the 1990s, school children were still expected to learn 2,000 characters (more than in South Korea or Japan).[91]

After Kim Jong Il, the second ruler of North Korea, died in December 2011, his successor Kim Jong Un began mandating the use of Hanja as a source of definition for the Korean language. Currently, it is said that North Korea teaches around 3,000 Hanja characters to North Korean students, and in some cases, the characters appear within advertisements and newspapers. However, it is also said that the authorities implore students not to use the characters in public.[92] Due to North Korea's strict isolationism, accurate reports about hanja use in North Korea are hard to obtain.

Okinawan Edit

Chinese characters are thought to have been first introduced to the Ryukyu Islands in 1265 by a Japanese Buddhist monk.[93] After the Okinawan kingdoms became tributaries of Ming China, especially the Ryukyu Kingdom, Classical Chinese was used in court documents, but hiragana was mostly used for popular writing and poetry. After Ryukyu became a vassal of Japan's Satsuma Domain, Chinese characters became more popular, as well as the use of Kanbun. In modern Okinawan, which is labeled as a Japanese dialect by the Japanese government, katakana and hiragana are mostly used to write Okinawan, but Chinese characters are still used.

Vietnamese Edit

The first two lines of the classic Vietnamese epic poem The Tale of Kiều, written in the chữ Nôm and the modern Vietnamese alphabet. Chinese characters representing Sino-Vietnamese words are shown in green, characters borrowed for similar-sounding native Vietnamese words in purple, and invented characters in brown.

In Vietnam, Chinese characters (called chữ Hán, chữ Nho, or Hán tự in Vietnamese) are now limited to ceremonial uses, but they were once in widespread use. Until the early 20th century, Literary Chinese was used in Vietnam for all official and scholarly writing.

The oldest writing Chinese materials found in Vietnam is an epigraphy dated 618, erected by local Sui dynasty officials in Thanh Hóa.[94] Around the 13th century, a script called chữ Nôm was developed to record folk literature in the Vietnamese language. Similar to Zhuang Sawndip, the chữ Nôm (demotic script) and its characters formed by fusing phonetic and semantic values of Chinese characters that resemble Vietnamese syllables.[95] This process resulted in a highly complex system that was never mastered by more than 5% of the population.[96] The oldest chữ Nôm written alongsicd with Chinese is a Buddhist inscription, dated 1209.[95] In total, about 20,000 Chinese and Vietnamese epigraphy rubbings throughout Indochina were collected by the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO) library in Hanoi before 1945.[97]

The oldest surviving extant manuscript in Vietnam is a late 15th-century bilingual Buddhist sutra Phật thuyết đại báo phụ mẫu ân trọng kinh, which is currently kept by the EFEO. The manuscript features Chinese texts in larger characters, and Vietnamese translation in smaller characters in Old Vietnamese.[98] Every Sino-Vietnamese book in Vietnam after the Phật thuyết are dated either from 17th century to 20th century, and most are hand-written/copied works, only few are printed texts. The Institute of Hán-Nôm Studies's library in Hanoi had collected and kept 4,808 Sino-Vietnamese manuscripts in total by 1987.[99]

During French colonization in the late 19th and early 20th century, Literary Chinese fell out of use and chữ Nôm was gradually replaced with the Latin-based Vietnamese alphabet.[100][101] Currently this alphabet is the main script in Vietnam, but Chinese characters and chữ Nôm are still used in some activities connected with Vietnamese traditional culture (e.g. calligraphy).

Other languages Edit

Several minority languages of south and southwest China were formerly written with scripts based on Hanzi but also including many locally created characters. The most extensive is the sawndip script for the Zhuang language of Guangxi which is still used to this day. Other languages written with such scripts include Miao, Yao, Bouyei, Mulam, Kam, Bai, and Hani.[102] All these languages are now officially written using Latin-based scripts, while Chinese characters are still used for the Mulam language.[citation needed] Even today for Zhuang, according to survey, the traditional sawndip script has twice as many users as the official Latin script.[103]

The foreign dynasties that ruled northern China between the 10th and 13th centuries developed scripts that were inspired by Hanzi but did not use them directly: the Khitan large script, Khitan small script, Tangut script, and Jurchen script. Other scripts in China that borrowed or adapted a few Chinese characters but are otherwise distinct include Geba script, Sui script, Yi script, and the Lisu syllabary.[102]

Transcription of foreign languages Edit

Mongolian text from The Secret History of the Mongols in Chinese transcription, with a glossary on the right of each row

Along with Persian and Arabic, Chinese characters were also used as a foreign script to write the Mongolian language, where characters were used to phonetically transcribe Mongolian sounds. Most notably, the only surviving copies of The Secret History of the Mongols were written in such a manner; the Chinese characters 忙豁侖紐察 脫[卜]察安 (nowadays pronounced "Mánghuōlún niǔchá tuō[bo]chá'ān" in Chinese) is the rendering of Mongγol-un niγuca tobčiyan, the title in Mongolian.

Hanzi was also used to phonetically transcribe the Manchu language in the Qing dynasty.

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."[104]

Simplification Edit

Chinese character simplification is the overall reduction of the number of strokes in the regular script of a set of Chinese characters.

Asia Edit

China Edit

The use of traditional Chinese characters versus simplified Chinese characters varies greatly, and can depend on both the local customs and the medium. Before the official reform, character simplifications were not officially sanctioned and generally adopted vulgar variants and idiosyncratic substitutions. Orthodox variants were mandatory in printed works, while the (unofficial) simplified characters would be used in everyday writing or quick notes. Since the 1950s, and especially with the publication of the 1964 list, the People's Republic of China has officially adopted simplified Chinese characters for use in mainland China, while Hong Kong, Macau, and the Republic of China (Taiwan) were not affected by the reform. There is no absolute rule for using either system, and often it is determined by what the target audience understands, as well as the upbringing of the writer.

Although most often associated with the People's Republic of China, character simplification predates the 1949 communist victory. Caoshu, cursive written text, are what inspired some simplified characters, and for others, some were already in use in print text, albeit not for most formal works. In the period of Republican China, discussions on character simplification took place within the Kuomintang government and the intelligentsia, in an effort to greatly reduce functional illiteracy among adults, which was a major concern at the time. Indeed, this desire by the Kuomintang to simplify the Chinese writing system (inherited and implemented by the Chinese Communist Party after its subsequent abandonment) also nursed aspirations of some for the adoption of a phonetic script based on the Latin script, and spawned such inventions as the Gwoyeu Romatzyh.

The People's Republic of China issued its first round of official character simplifications in two documents, the first in 1956 and the second in 1964. A second round of character simplifications (known as erjian, or "second-round simplified characters") was promulgated in 1977. It was poorly received, and in 1986 the authorities rescinded the second round completely, while making six revisions to the 1964 list, including the restoration of three traditional characters that had been simplified: dié, , xiàng.

As opposed to the second round, a majority of simplified characters in the first round were drawn from conventional abbreviated forms, or ancient forms.[105] For example, the orthodox character lái ("come") was written as 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 yún ("cloud") was written with the structure 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 radical was added a semantic indicator to disambiguate the two. Simplified Chinese merges them instead.

Japan Edit

In the years after World War II, the Japanese government also instituted a series of orthographic reforms. Some characters were given simplified forms called shinjitai (新字体, lit. "new character forms"); the older forms were then labelled the kyūjitai (旧字体, lit. "old character forms"). The number of characters in common use was restricted, and formal lists of characters to be learned during each grade of school were established, first the 1850-character tōyō kanji (当用漢字) list in 1945, the 1945-character jōyō kanji (常用漢字) list in 1981, and a 2136-character reformed version of the jōyō kanji in 2010. Many variant forms of characters and obscure alternatives for common characters were officially discouraged. This was done with the goal of facilitating learning for children and simplifying kanji use in literature and periodicals. These are common guidelines, hence many characters outside these standards are still widely known and commonly used, especially those used for personal and place names (for the latter, see jinmeiyō kanji),[citation needed] as well as for some common words such as "dragon" (竜/龍, tatsu) in which both old and new forms of the character are both acceptable and widely known amongst native Japanese speakers.

Singapore Edit

Singapore underwent three successive rounds of character simplification. These resulted in some simplifications that differed from those used in mainland China.

The first round, consisting of 498 Simplified characters from 502 Traditional characters, was promulgated by the Ministry of Education in 1969. The second round, consisting of 2287 Simplified characters, was promulgated in 1974. The second set contained 49 differences from the Mainland China system; those were removed in the final round in 1976.

In 1993, Singapore adopted the six revisions made by Mainland China in 1986. However, unlike in mainland China where personal names may only be registered using simplified characters, parents have the option of registering their children's names in traditional characters in Singapore.[106]

It ultimately adopted the reforms of the People's Republic of China in their entirety as official, and has implemented them in the educational system. However, unlike in China, personal names may still be registered in traditional characters.

Malaysia Edit

Malaysia started teaching a set of simplified characters at schools in 1981, which were also completely identical to the Mainland China simplifications. Chinese newspapers in Malaysia are published in either set of characters, typically with the headlines in traditional Chinese while the body is in simplified Chinese.

Although in both countries the use of simplified characters is universal among the younger Chinese generation, a large majority of the older Chinese literate generation still use the traditional characters. Chinese shop signs are also generally written in traditional characters.

Philippines Edit

In the Philippines, most Chinese schools and businesses still use the traditional characters and bopomofo, owing from influence from the Republic of China (Taiwan) due to the shared Hokkien heritage. Recently, however, more Chinese schools now use both simplified characters and pinyin. Since most readers of Chinese newspapers in the Philippines belong to the older generation, they are still published largely using traditional characters.

North America Edit

Canada & United States Edit

Public and private Chinese signage in the United States and Canada most often use traditional characters.[107] There is some effort to get municipal governments to implement more simplified character signage due to recent immigration from mainland China.[108] Most community newspapers printed in North America are also printed in traditional characters.

Comparisons of traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, and Japanese Edit

The following is a comparison of Chinese characters in the Standard Form of National Characters, a common traditional Chinese standard used in Taiwan, the Table of General Standard Chinese Characters standard for mainland simplified characters, and the Jōyō kanji standard for Japanese kanji. Generally, jōyō kanji are more similar to traditional characters than simplified characters are. 'Simplified' is often used more generally to refer to any variant from the Taiwan standard character, and not necessarily a newly created character or a newly performed substitution. The characters in the Hong Kong standard and the Kangxi Dictionary are also known as "traditional", but are not shown.

Simplified only in Japan
J Gloss
'false', 'day off', 'borrow'
'moral', 'virtue'
'kowtow', 'pray to', 'worship'

Written styles Edit

Sample of the cursive script by Chinese Tang dynasty calligrapher Sun Guoting, c. 650 CE

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

The Shang dynasty oracle bone script and the Zhou dynasty scripts found on Chinese bronze inscriptions are no longer used; the oldest script that is still in use today is the seal script (篆书; 篆書; 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 used only in artistic seals. Few people are still able to read it effortlessly today, although the art of carving a traditional seal in the script remains alive; some calligraphers also work in this style.

The clerical script still sees use, as well as the weibei (魏碑; wèibēi), the regular script, used mostly for printing, and the (行书; 行書; xíngshū; 'semi-cursive script', used mostly in handwriting.

The cursive script (草书; 草書; cǎoshū; 'grass script') is used informally. The basic character shapes are suggested, rather than explicitly realized, and the abbreviations are sometimes extreme. Despite being cursive to the point where individual strokes are no longer differentiable and the characters often illegible to the untrained eye, this script (also known as draft) is highly revered for the beauty and freedom that it embodies. Some of the simplified Chinese characters adopted by the People's Republic of China, and some 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 Chinese scripts.

Calligraphy Edit

Chinese calligraphy of mixed styles written by Song dynasty (1051–1108 CE) poet Mifu. For centuries, the Chinese literati were expected to master the art of calligraphy.

The art of writing Chinese characters is called Calligraphy, usually done with ink brush. Calligraphy was one of the Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar. There is a minimalist set of rules. Each character has a set number of brushstrokes. Strict regularity is not required, since strokes may be accentuated for dramatic effect of individual style. Calligraphy was the means by which scholars could mark their thoughts and teachings.[citation needed]

Typography and design Edit

The first four characters of Thousand Character Classic in different type and script styles. From right to left: seal script, clerical script, regular script, Ming, and sans-serif.

Three major families of typefaces are used in Chinese typography:

Ming and sans-serif are the most popular in body text and are based on regular script for Chinese characters akin to Western serif and sans-serif typefaces, respectively. Regular script typefaces emulate regular script.

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 Taiwan and Hong Kong. The names of these styles come from the Song and Ming dynasties, when block printing flourished in China.

Sans-serif typefaces, called (黑体; 黑體; hēitǐ; 'black form') 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 Arial and Helvetica in Western typography.

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 Song dynasty were regular script typefaces which resembled a particular person's handwriting (e.g. the handwriting of Ouyang Xun, Yan Zhenqing, or Liu Gongquan), while most modern regular script typefaces tend toward anonymity and regularity.

Variants Edit

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, , though may look slightly different, or even like the second variant from the left, depending on font. The modern simplified forms used in China, , and in Japan, , 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', .
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 () wèi "due to", "this", suǒ "place", néng "be able to", jiān "concurrently". (Although the form of is not very different, and in fact is used today in Japan, the radical has been obliterated.) Another variant from the preface, for lái "to come", also not listed in the dictionary, has been adopted as the standard in Mainland China and Japan.
The character in Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. If you have an appropriate font installed, you can see the corresponding character in Vietnamese: .

Just as Roman letters have a characteristic shape (lower-case letters mostly occupying the x-height, with ascenders or descenders on some letters), Chinese characters occupy a more or less square area in which the components of every character are written to fit in order to maintain a uniform size and shape, especially with small printed characters in Ming and sans-serif styles. Because of this, beginners often practise writing on squared graph paper, and the Chinese sometimes use the term (方块字; 方塊字; fāngkuàizì; 'square-block characters'), sometimes translated as 'tetragraph',[109] in reference to Chinese characters.

Despite standardization, some nonstandard forms are commonly used, especially in handwriting. In older sources, even authoritative ones, variant characters are commonplace. For example, in the preface to the Kangxi Dictionary, there are 30 variant characters which are not found in the dictionary itself.[110] A few of these are reproduced at right.

Regional standards Edit

The nature of Chinese characters makes it very easy to produce variants, or allographs, for many characters, and there have been many efforts at orthographical standardization throughout history. In recent times, the widespread usage of the characters in several nations has prevented any particular system becoming universally adopted and the standard form of many Chinese characters thus varies in different regions.

Mainland China adopted simplified Chinese characters in 1956. They are also used in Singapore and Malaysia. Traditional Chinese characters are used in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Postwar Japan has used its own less drastically simplified characters, Shinjitai, since 1946, while South Korea has limited its use of Chinese characters, and Vietnam and North Korea have completely abolished their use in favour of Vietnamese alphabet and Hangul, respectively.

The standard character forms of each region are described in:

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 Chinese characters has standardized character forms, each also has standardized stroke orders, with each standard being different. Most characters can be written with just one correct stroke order, though some words also have many valid stroke orders, which may occasionally result in different stroke counts. Some characters are also written with different stroke orders due to character simplification.

Polysyllabic morphemes Edit

Chinese characters are primarily morphosyllabic, meaning that most Chinese morphemes are monosyllabic and are written with a single character, though in modern Chinese most words are disyllabic and dimorphemic, consisting of two syllables, each of which is a morpheme. In modern Chinese, 10% of morphemes only appear in compound words. However, a few morphemes are disyllabic, some of them even dating back to Classical Chinese.[111] Excluding foreign loan words, these are typically words for plants and small animals. They are usually written with a pair of phono-semantic compound characters sharing a common radical. Examples are 蝴蝶; húdié; 'butterfly' and 珊瑚; shānhú; 'coral'. Note that the ; of húdié and the of shānhú have the same phonetic component Chinese: , but different radicals ("insect" and "jade", respectively). Neither exists as an independent morpheme except as a poetic abbreviation of the disyllabic word.

Polysyllabic characters Edit

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 '&' for the digraph 'et'), and as non-standard. These do see use, particularly in handwriting or decoration, but also in some cases in print. In Chinese, these ligatures are called 合文; héwén, 合书; 合書; héshū or (合体字; 合體字; hétǐzì, and in the special case of combining two characters, they are known as 双音节汉字; 雙音節漢字; shuāng-yīnjié hànzì; 'two-syllable characters'.

A commonly seen example is the Double Happiness symbol , formed as a ligature of 喜喜 and referred to by its disyllabic name (双喜; 雙喜; 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, ; ; 'thirty', normally read as 三十; sānshí, and ; ; 'forty', normally read as 四十; sìshí in Standard Mandarin,[112][6] though other Chinese varieties may differ. For example 廿 is given a monosyllabic reading in Cantonese, romanized as jaa6 in Jyutping and yaa6 in Yale.[113] Calendars often use numeral ligatures in order to save space, and in modern printings of the traditional Chinese calendar, the use of 廿 is standard. Thus, one would generally write 三月廿一; 'the 21st day of the third month'.

Modern examples particularly include Chinese characters for SI units. In Chinese these units are disyllabic and standardly written with two characters, as 厘米; límǐ; 'centimeter'" (; 'centi-', ; 'meter') or 千瓦; qiānwǎ; 'kilowatt'. However, in the 19th century these were often written via compound characters, pronounced disyllabically, such as for 千瓦 or for 厘米—some of these characters were also used in Japan, where they were pronounced with borrowed European readings instead. These have now fallen out of general use, but are occasionally seen. Less systematic examples include ; ; túshūguǎn; 'library', a contraction of 图书馆; 圖書館).[114][115] Since polysyllabic characters are often non-standard, they are often excluded in character dictionaries.

The use of such contractions is as old as Chinese characters themselves, and they have frequently been found in religious or ritual use. In the Oracle Bone script, personal names, ritual items, and even phrases such as 受又; shòu yòu; 'receive blessings'() are commonly contracted into single characters. A dramatic example is that in medieval manuscripts 菩萨; 菩薩; púsà; 'bodhisattva' is sometimes written with a single character formed on top of a 2×2 grid populated with four (derived from the 'grass' radical positioned over two ).[6] However, for the sake of consistency and standardization, the Chinese government seeks to limit the use of such polysyllabic characters in public writing to ensure that every character only has one syllable.[6]

Conversely, with the fusion of the diminutive ; ; er suffix in Mandarin, some monosyllabic words may even be written with two characters, such as in 花儿; 花兒; huār; 'flower'.

In most other languages that use the Chinese family of scripts, notably Korean, Vietnamese, and Zhuang, Chinese characters are typically monosyllabic, but in Japanese a single character is generally used to represent a borrowed monosyllabic Chinese morpheme (the on'yomi), a polysyllabic native Japanese morpheme (the kun'yomi), or even (in rare cases) a foreign loanword. These uses are completely standard and unexceptional.

Rare and complex characters Edit

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 often used characters. This is especially a problem for personal names which often contain rare or classical, antiquated characters.

One man who has encountered this problem is Taiwanese politician Yu Shyi-kun, due to the rarity of the last character (堃; pinyin: kūn) in his name. Newspapers have dealt with this problem in varying ways, including using software to combine two existing, similar characters, including a picture of the character, or, especially as is the case with Yu Shyi-kun, substituting a homophone for the rare character in the hope that the reader would be able to make the correct inference. Taiwanese political posters, movie posters etc. will often add the bopomofo phonetic symbols next to such a character. Japanese newspapers may render such names and words in katakana instead, and it is accepted practice for people to write names for which they are unsure of the correct kanji in katakana instead.[citation needed]

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, meaning "verbose" and containing 64 strokes; this character fell from use around the 5th century. It might be argued, however, that while containing the most strokes, it is not necessarily the most complex character (in terms of difficulty), as it requires writing the same 16-stroke character lóng (lit. "dragon") four times in the space for one. Another 64-stroke character is  /𠔻 (U+2053B) zhèng composed of xīng/xìng (lit. "flourish") four times.

One of the most complex characters found in modern Chinese dictionaries[j] is (U+9F49) (nàng, listen, pictured below, middle image), meaning "snuffle" (that is, a pronunciation marred by a blocked nose), with "just" thirty-six strokes. Other stroke-rich characters include 靐 (bìng), with 39 strokes and 䨻 (bèng), with 52 strokes, meaning the loud noise of thunder. However, these are not in common use. The most complex character that can be input using the Microsoft New Phonetic IME 2002a for traditional Chinese is (, "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 (, "to implore"), with 32 strokes; (, "luxuriant, lush; gloomy"), with 29 strokes, as in 憂鬱 (yōuyù, "depressed"); (yàn, "colorful"), with 28 strokes; and (xìn, "quarrel"), with 25 strokes, as in 挑釁 (tiǎoxìn, "to pick a fight"). Also in occasional modern use is (xiān "fresh"; variant of xiān) with 33 strokes.

In Japanese, an 84-stroke kokuji exists:  , normally read taito. It is composed of triple "cloud" character () on top of the abovementioned triple "dragon" character (). Also meaning "the appearance of a dragon in flight", it has been pronounced おとど otodo, たいと [ja] taito, and だいと daito.[116] The most elaborate character in the jōyō kanji list is the 29-stroke , meaning "depression" or "melancholy".

The most complex Chinese character still in use may be[according to whom?]  /𰻞 (U+30EDE) (biáng, pictured right, bottom), with 58 strokes, which refers to biangbiang noodles, a type of noodle from China's Shaanxi province. This character along with the syllable biáng cannot be found in dictionaries. The fact that it represents a syllable that does not exist in any Standard Chinese word means that it could be classified as a dialectal character.

Number of characters Edit

The total number of Chinese characters from past to present remains unknowable because new ones are being developed all the time – for instance, brands may create new characters when none of the existing ones allow for the intended meaning – or they have been invented by whoever wrote them and have never been adopted as official characters. Chinese characters are theoretically an open set and anyone can create new characters, though such inventions are rarely included in official character sets.[117] The number of entries in major Chinese dictionaries is the best means of estimating the historical growth of character inventory.

Number of characters in monolingual Chinese dictionaries
Year Name of dictionary Number of characters
100 Shuowen Jiezi (說文解字) 9,353[118]
230 Shenglei (聲類) 11,520[118]
350 Zilin (字林) 12,824[118]
543 Yupian (玉篇) 16,917[119][120]
601 Qieyun (切韻) 12,158[121]
732 Tangyun (唐韻) 15,000[118]
753 Yunhai jingyuan (韻海鏡源) 26,911[122]
997 Longkan Shoujian (龍龕手鑒) 26,430[123]
1011 Guangyun (廣韻) 26,194[120][124]
1066 Leipian (類篇) 31,319[122]
1039 Jiyun (集韻) 53,525[125]
1615 Zihui (字彙) 33,179[120][126]
1675 Zhengzitong (正字通) 33,440[127]
1716 Kangxi Zidian (康熙字典) 47,035[120][128]
1915 Zhonghua Da Zidian (中華大字典) 48,000[120]
1989 Hanyu Da Zidian (漢語大字典) 54,678[118]
1994 Zhonghua Zihai (中华字海) 85,568[129]
2004 Yitizi Zidian (異體字字典) 106,230[130]
Number of characters in bilingual Chinese dictionaries
Year Country Name of dictionary Number of characters
2003 Japan Dai Kan-Wa Jiten (大漢和辞典) 50,305
2008 South Korea Han-Han Dae Sajeon (漢韓大辭典) 53,667

Even the Zhonghua Zihai does not include characters in the Chinese family of scripts created to represent non-Chinese languages, except the unique characters in use in Japan and Korea. Characters formed by Chinese principles in other languages include the roughly 1,500 Japanese-made kokuji given in the Kokuji no Jiten,[131] the Korean-made gukja, the over 10,000 Sawndip characters still in use in Guangxi, and the almost 20,000 Nôm characters formerly used in Vietnam.[citation needed] More divergent descendants of Chinese script include Tangut script, which created over 5,000 characters with similar strokes but different formation principles to Chinese characters.

Modified radicals and new variants are two common reasons for the ever-increasing number of characters. There are about 300 radicals and 100 are in common use. Creating a new character by modifying the radical is an easy way to disambiguate 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 ( "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 ( "she") with the "woman radical", ( "it") with the "animal radical", ( "it") with the "roof radical", and ( "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 "harmony, peace", which combines the "grain radical" with the "mouth radical", has infrequent variants with the radicals reversed and with the "flute radical".

Chinese Edit

Cumulative frequency of simplified Chinese characters in Modern Chinese text[132]

Chinese characters (Chinese: ; pinyin: , meaning the semiotic sign, symbol, or glyph part) should not be confused with Chinese words (Chinese: ; pinyin: , meaning phrases or vocabulary words, consisting from a group of characters or possibly a single character), as the majority of modern Chinese words, unlike their Old Chinese and Middle Chinese counterparts, are more frequently written with two or more characters, each character representing one syllable and/or morpheme. Knowing the meanings of the individual characters of a word will often allow the general meaning of the word to be inferred, but this is not always the case.

Studies in China have shown that literate individuals know and use between 3,000 and 4,000 characters. Specialists in classical literature or history, who would often encounter characters no longer in use, are estimated to have a working vocabulary of between 5,000 and 6,000 characters.[133]

In China, which uses simplified Chinese characters, the Xiàndài Hànyǔ Chángyòng Zìbiǎo (现代汉语常用字表, List of Commonly Used Characters in Modern Chinese) lists 2,500 common characters and 1,000 less-than-common characters, while the Xiàndài Hànyǔ Tōngyòng Zìbiǎo (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. In June 2013, the Tōngyòng Guīfàn Hànzì Biǎo (通用规范汉字表, Table of General Standard Chinese Characters) became the current standard, replacing the previous two lists. It includes 8,105 characters, 3,500 as primary, 3,000 as secondary, and 1,605 as tertiary. GB 2312, an early version of the national encoding standard used in the People's Republic of China, has 6,763 code points. GB 18030, the modern, mandatory standard, has a much higher number. The Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì (汉语水平考试, Chinese Proficiency Test) cover 2,663 characters and 5,000 words at its highest level (level six), while the Guójì Zhōngwén Jiàoyù Zhōngwén Shuǐpíng Děngjí Biāozhǔn (国际中文教育中文水平等级标准, Chinese Proficiency Grading Standards for International Chinese Language Education) would cover 3,000 characters and 11,092 words at its highest level (level nine).[134][135][136]

In Taiwan, 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 in its 1992 version (currently over 96,000 characters),[137] while the most widely used encoding scheme, BIG-5, supports only 13,053. The Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (華語文能力測驗, TOCFL) covers 8,000 words at its highest level (level six). The Taiwan Benchmarks for the Chinese Language (臺灣華語文能力基準, TBCL), a guideline developed to describe levels of Chinese language proficiency, covers 3,100 characters and 14,425 words at its highest level (level seven).[138][139]

In Hong Kong, which uses traditional Chinese characters, the Education and Manpower Bureau's Soengjung Zi Zijing Biu (Chinese: 常用字字形表; Jyutping: soeng4jung6zi6 zi6jing4 biu2), intended for use in elementary and junior secondary education, lists a total of 4,759 characters.

In addition, there are a number of dialect characters (方言字) that are not generally used in formal written Chinese but represent colloquial terms in nonstandard varieties of Chinese. In general, it is common practice to use standard characters to transcribe Chinese dialects when obvious cognates with words in Standard Mandarin exist. However, when no obvious cognate could be found for a word, due to factors like irregular sound change or semantic drift in the meanings of characters, or the word originates from a non-Chinese source like a substratum from an earlier displaced language or a later borrowing from another language family, then characters are borrowed and used according to the rebus principle or invented in an ad hoc manner to transcribe it. These new characters are generally phonosemantic compounds (e.g., 侬, 'person' in Min), although a few are compound ideographs (e.g., 孬, 'bad', in Northeast Mandarin). Except in the case of written Cantonese, there is no official orthography, and there may be several ways to write a dialectal word, often one that is etymologically correct and one or several that are based on the current pronunciation (e.g., 觸祭 (etymological) vs. 戳鸡/戳雞 (phonetic), 'eat' (low-register) in Shanghainese). Speakers of a dialect will generally recognize a dialectal word if it is transcribed according to phonetic considerations, while the etymologically correct form may be more difficult or impossible to recognize. For example, few Gan speakers would recognize the character meaning 'to lean' in their dialect, because this character (隑) has become archaic in Standard Mandarin. The historically "correct" transcription is often so obscure that it is uncovered only after considerable scholarly research into philology and historical phonology and may be disputed by other researchers.

As an exception, written Cantonese is 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 a body of semi-official characters used to represent Taiwanese Hokkien and Hakka. For example, the vernacular character , pronounced cii11 in Hakka, means "to kill".[140] Other varieties of Chinese with a significant number of speakers, like Shanghainese Wu, Gan Chinese, and Sichuanese, also have their own series of characters, but these are not often seen, except on advertising billboards directed toward locals and are not used in formal settings except to give precise transcriptions of witness statements in legal proceedings. Written Standard Mandarin is the preference for all mainland regions.

Japanese Edit

Kanji for 剣道 (Kendo), pronounced differently from the Korean term 劍道 (Kumdo), or the Chinese words 劍道 (jiàndào;[k] it is more common to use the expressions 劍術 jiànshù or 劍法 jiànfǎ in Chinese).

In Japanese, there are 2,136 jōyō kanji (常用漢字, lit. "frequently used Chinese characters") designated by the Japanese Ministry of Education; these are taught during primary and secondary school. The list is a recommendation, not a restriction, and many characters missing from it are still in common use.[151]

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.[152] It currently contains 983 characters.[153]

Today, a well-educated Japanese person may know upwards of 3,500 characters.[154] 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 (corresponding to the kanji characters list of the JIS X 0208).[155][156]

Korean Edit

Basic Hanja for educational use (漢文敎育用基礎漢字) are a subset of 1,800 Hanja defined in 1972 by a South Korea education standard. 900 characters are expected to be learnt by middle school students and a further 900 at high school.[157]

In March 1991, the Supreme Court of Korea published the Table of Hanja for Personal Name Use (人名用追加漢字表), which allowed a total of 2,854 hanja in South Korean given names.[158] The list expanded gradually, and until 2015 there are 8,142 hanja (including the set of basic hanja) permitted using in Korean names.[159]

Modern creation Edit

New characters can in principle be coined at any time, just as new words can be, but they may not be adopted. Significant historically recent coinages date to scientific terms of the 19th century. Specifically, Chinese coined new characters for chemical elements – see Chemical elements in East Asian languages – which continue to be used and taught in schools in China and Taiwan. In Japan, in the Meiji era (specifically, late 19th century), new characters were coined for some (but not all) SI units, such as ( "meter" + "thousand, kilo-") for kilometer. These kokuji (Japanese-coinages) have found use in China as well – see Chinese characters for SI units for details.

While new characters can be easily coined by writing on paper, they are difficult to represent on a computer – they must generally be represented as a picture, rather than as text – which presents a significant barrier to their use or widespread adoption. Compare this with the use of symbols as names in 20th century musical albums such as Led Zeppelin IV (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.

Indexing Edit

Dozens of indexing schemes have been created for arranging Chinese characters in Chinese dictionaries. The great majority of these schemes have appeared in only a single dictionary; only one such system has achieved truly widespread use. This is the system of radicals (see for example, the 214 so-called Kangxi radicals).

Chinese character dictionaries often allow users to locate entries in several ways. Many Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dictionaries of Chinese characters list characters in radical order: characters are grouped together by radical, and radicals containing fewer strokes come before radicals containing more strokes (radical-and-stroke sorting). Under each radical, characters are listed by their total number of strokes. It is often also possible to search for characters by sound, using pinyin (in Chinese dictionaries), zhuyin (in Taiwanese dictionaries), kana (in Japanese dictionaries) or hangul (in Korean dictionaries). Most dictionaries also allow searches by total number of strokes and stroke orders, and individual dictionaries often allow other search methods as well.

For instance, to look up the character where the sound is not known, e.g., (pine tree), the user first determines which part of the character is the radical (here ), then counts the number of strokes in the radical (four), and turns to the radical index (usually located on the inside front or back cover of the dictionary). Under the number "4" for radical stroke count, the user locates , then turns to the page number listed, which is the start of the listing of all the characters containing this radical. This page will have a sub-index giving remainder stroke numbers (for the non-radical portions of characters) and page numbers. The right half of the character also contains four strokes, so the user locates the number 4, and turns to the page number given. From there, the user must scan the entries to locate the character he or she is seeking. Some dictionaries have a sub-index which lists every character containing each radical, and if the user knows the number of strokes in the non-radical portion of the character, he or she can locate the correct page directly.

Another dictionary system is the Four-Corner Method, in which characters are classified according to the shape of each of the four corners.

Most modern Chinese dictionaries and Chinese dictionaries sold to English speakers use the traditional radical-based character index in a section at the front, while the main body of the dictionary arranges the main character entries alphabetically according to their pinyin spelling.[citation needed] 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.

Chinese characters can be sorted into different orders by their strokes as well. The important stroke-based sorting methods include stroke-count sorting, stroke-count-stroke-order sorting, GB stroke-based sorting and YES sorting.

See also Edit

Notes Edit

  1. ^ There are exceptions to these general correspondences, including § Polysyllabic morphemes, syllables written with multiple characters,[example needed] particles and affixes lacking strong independent meaning, and multiple syllables written with a single character.[6]
  2. ^ This is possible in large part because the Chinese languages are highly analytic: the pronunciation of words is not altered depending on categories such as person, number, and there is no grammatical tense. Thus, phonetic and semantic information is not lost when single graphical characters are mapped to single morphemes.
  3. ^ For the 500 most common characters, the proportion rises to 30%.[8]
  4. ^ See § Polysyllabic characters.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Qiu 2000, pp. 140–141 mentions examples of neo-clerical with "strong overtones of cursive script" from the late Eastern Han.
  7. ^ Liu is said to have taught Zhong Yao and Wang Xizhi.
  8. ^ 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.[74]
  9. ^ cf. Inariyama Sword
  10. ^   (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 978-7-5600-0739-7.
  11. ^ Jiàndào is the pronunciation of the Modern Standard Chinese, deriving from the Beijing Mandarin. There are other pronunciations of the varieties of Chinese, deriving its pronunciation from the Middle Chinese, as like:

References Edit

Citations Edit

  1. ^ Guǎngxī Zhuàngzú zìzhìqū shǎoshù mínzú gǔjí zhěnglǐ chūbǎn guīhuà lǐngdǎo xiǎozǔ Chinese: 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 [Dictionary of the Old Zhuang Script] (2nd ed.). Nanning: Guangxi minzu chubanshe. ISBN 978-7-5363-0614-1.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: editors list (link)
  2. ^ World Health Organization (2007). WHO International Standard Terminologies on Traditional Medicine in the Western Pacific Region. Manila: WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific. hdl:10665/206952. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
  3. ^ Potowski, Kim (2010). Language Diversity in the USA. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-521-74533-8.
  4. ^ (18 November 2009). "History of Chinese Writing Shown in the Museums". Archived from the original on 21 November 2009. Retrieved 20 March 2010.
  5. ^ Wood, Clare Patricia; Connelly, Vincent (2009). Contemporary Perspectives on Reading and Spelling. New York: Routledge. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-415-49716-9. Often, the Chinese character can function as an independent unit in sentences, but sometimes it must be paired with another character or more to form a word. [...] Most words consist of two or more characters, and more than 80 per cent make use of lexical compounding of morphemes (Packard, 2000).
  6. ^ a b c d Mair, Victor (2 August 2011). "Polysyllabic Characters in Chinese Writing". Language Log.
  7. ^ "East Asian Languages and Chinese Characters". Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  8. ^ Swofford, Mark (2010). "Chinese Characters with Multiple Pronunciations". Retrieved 4 July 2016.
  9. ^ Norman 1988, p. 58.
  10. ^ Wilkinson 2012, p. 22.
  11. ^ Norman 1988, p. 112.
  12. ^ Yip 2000, p. 18.
  13. ^ Norman 1988, pp. 155–156.
  14. ^ Norman 1988, p. 74.
  15. ^ Norman 1988, pp. 74–75.
  16. ^ Baxter (1992), pp. 315–317.
  17. ^ a b Baxter (1992), p. 315.
  18. ^ Baxter (1992), p. 316.
  19. ^ Baxter (1992), pp. 197, 305.
  20. ^ a b Baxter (1992), p. 218.
  21. ^ Baxter (1992), p. 219.
  22. ^ Norman 1988, pp. 58–61.
  23. ^ Norman 1988, pp. 67–69.
  24. ^ Sampson & Chen 2013, p. 261.
  25. ^ Boltz 1994, pp. 104–110.
  26. ^ Sampson & Chen 2013, pp. 265–268.
  27. ^ Boltz 1994, p. =169.
  28. ^ a b Gnanadesikan, Amalia E. (2011). The Writing Revolution: Cuneiform to the Internet. John Wiley & Sons. p. 61. ISBN 9781444359855.
  29. ^ a b Wright, David (2000). Translating Science: The Transmission of Western Chemistry Into Late Imperial China, 1840–1900. Brill. p. 211. ISBN 9789004117761.
  30. ^ Baxter 1992, p. 750.
  31. ^ Baxter 1992, p. 810.
  32. ^ Williams.
  33. ^ "Yě" . (in Chinese). Retrieved 17 February 2015.
  34. ^ The Shuowen Jiezi gives the origin of as 女陰也; 'female yin [organ]'. (The use of in the definition itself is as a declarative sentence final particle.) By the Classical period c. the 6th century BCE, the original definition had fallen into disuse, and all appearances of the character in texts of that period and in later in Literary Chinese use it as a phonetic loan for the grammatical particle. In addition to serving as a classical particle, it has acquired the modern Vernacular Chinese meaning of 'also'.
  35. ^ Norman 1988, p. 69.
  36. ^ Baxter 1992, pp. 771, 772.
  37. ^ Sampson & Chen 2013, pp. 260–261.
  38. ^ Yang, Yuxin (2018). Unveiling and Activating the "Uncertain Heritage" of Chinese Knotting (PDF). The Asian Conference on Cultural Studies 2018. p. 3.
  39. ^ Mair, Victor. "Language Log » Prehistoric notation systems in Peru, with Chinese parallels". Retrieved 31 July 2023.
  40. ^ (15 March 2017). "Ancient Chinese Version Of Quipu -Tradition Of Tying Knots Dates Back To Antiquity". Ancient Pages. Retrieved 31 July 2023.
  41. ^ Chan, Wing-tsit (1963). The Way of Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching). The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc. p. 238. ISBN 0-02-320700-0. "Let the people again knot cords and use them (in place of writing)" - Explanatory parenthetical added by the translator.
  42. ^ "Book of Changes:《系辞下 – Xi Ci II》". Archived from the original on 24 September 2020. Retrieved 13 July 2020. In the highest antiquity, government was carried on successfully by the use of knotted cords (to preserve the memory of things). In subsequent ages the sages substituted for these written characters and bonds. By means of these (the doings of) all the officers could be regulated, and (the affairs of) all the people accurately examined.
  43. ^ Yang, Lihui; An, Deming (2008). Handbook of Chinese Mythology. Oxford University Press. pp. 84–86. ISBN 978-0-19-533263-6.
  44. ^ "Carvings May Rewrite History of Chinese Characters". Xinhua Online. 18 May 2007. Archived from the original on 8 July 2007. Retrieved 19 May 2007.; "Chinese Writing '8,000 Years Old'". BBC News. 18 May 2007. Retrieved 17 November 2007.
  45. ^ a b Rincon, Paul (17 April 2003). "'Earliest Writing' Found in China". BBC News.
  46. ^ Qiu 2000, p. 31.
  47. ^ a b c d Kern 2010, p. 1.
  48. ^ Keightley 1978, p. xvi.
  49. ^ Bagley, Robert (2004). "Anyang writing and the origin of the Chinese writing system". In Houston, Stephen (ed.). The First Writing: Script Invention as History and Process. Cambridge University Press. p. 190. ISBN 9780521838610. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  50. ^ Boltz, William G. (1999). "Language and Writing". In Loewe, Michael; Shaughnessy, Edward L. (eds.). The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 BC. Cambridge University Press. p. 108. ISBN 9780521470308. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  51. ^ Boltz (1986), p. 424.
  52. ^ Keightley (1996).
  53. ^ a b Kern 2010, p. 2.
  54. ^ Qiu 2000, pp. 63–64, 66, 86, 88–89, 104–107, 124.
  55. ^ Qiu 2000, pp. 59–150.
  56. ^ Chén Zhāoróng 2003.
  57. ^ Qiu 2000, p. 104.
  58. ^ Qiu 2000, pp. 59, 104–107.
  59. ^ Qiu 2000, p. 119.
  60. ^ Qiu 2000, p. 123.
  61. ^ Qiu 2000, pp. 119, 123–124.
  62. ^ Qiu 2000, p. 130.
  63. ^ Qiu 2000, p. 121.
  64. ^ Qiu 2000, pp. 131, 133.
  65. ^ a b c d e Qiu 2000, p. 138.
  66. ^ Qiu 2000, p. 131.
  67. ^ a b Qiu 2000, pp. 113, 139.
  68. ^ a b Qiu 2000, p. 139.
  69. ^ Qiu 2000, p. 142.
  70. ^ Qiu 2000, p. 140.
  71. ^ Transcript of lecture 《楷法無欺》 by 田英章Archived 2011-07-11 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  72. ^ a b Qiu 2000, p. 143.
  73. ^ Qiu 2000, p. 144.
  74. ^ a b Qiu 2000, p. 148.
  75. ^ Qiu 2000, p. 145.
  76. ^ Yen, Yuehping (2005). Calligraphy and Power in Contemporary Chinese Society. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-31753-3.
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Works cited Edit

  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.

Further reading Edit

Early works of historical interest

External links Edit

History and construction of Chinese characters Edit

Online dictionaries and character reference Edit

Chinese characters in computing Edit

  • Unihan Database: Chinese, Japanese, and Korean references, readings, and meanings for all the Chinese and Chinese-derived characters in the Unicode character set
  • Daoulagad Han – Mobile OCR hanzi dictionary, OCR interface to the UniHan database

Early works of historical interest Edit