Simplified Chinese character

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Simplified Chinese



Spoken languages


Time period

since 1956

Parent systems

 → Oracle Bone Script
 → Seal Script
 → Clerical Script
 → Traditional Chinese
 → Simplified Chinese

Sister systems

Kanji, Chữ Nôm, Hanja, Khitan script, Zhuyin

ISO 15924


Hanzi (simplified).png

Simplified Chinese Characters (Simplified Chinese: 简化字; Traditional Chinese: 簡化字; pinyin: Jiǎnhuàzì or Simplified Chinese: 简体字; Traditional Chinese: 簡體字; pinyin: Jiǎntǐzì) are one of two standard sets of Chinese characters of the contemporary Chinese written language. They are based mostly on popular cursive (caoshu) forms embodying graphic or phonetic simplifications of the "traditional" forms that were used in printed text for over a thousand years. In 1956 and in 1964, the government of the People's Republic of China issued official documents listing simplified characters, and began promoting them for use in printing in an attempt to increase literacy. Simplified character forms were created by decreasing the number of strokes and simplifying the forms of a sizable proportion of traditional Chinese characters. Some characters were simplified by applying regular rules; for example, by replacing all occurrences of a certain component with a simpler variant. Some characters were simplified irregularly, however, and some simplified characters are very dissimilar to traditional characters. Many characters were left untouched by simplification, and are identical in both the traditional and simplified Chinese orthographies.

Simplified Chinese characters are officially used in the People's Republic of China on Mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia, and the United Nations. Overseas Chinese communities typically use the traditional characters, but simplified characters are gradually gaining popularity among mainland Chinese emigrants. At the same time, the prestige of traditional characters is increasing in the People's Republic of China. A heated debate, tinged with political implications, exists between those who support the use of simplified characters and those who believe that they undermine traditional Chinese culture and have only created more confusion and greater opportunity for miscommunication among Chinese speakers.

Zhongwen.png This article contains Chinese text.
Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.


Jianhuazi zong biao, "Complete List of Simplified Characters" or the final list of simplified characters announced in 1986, contains the following:

  • Chart 1, which contains 350 singly simplified characters, whose simplifications cannot be generalized to other characters
  • Chart 2, which contains 132 simplified characters and 14 simplified radicals, which can all be generalized to other characters
  • Chart 3, a list of 1,753 characters which are simplified in accordance with Chart 2. This list is non-exhaustive, so a character that can be simplified in accordance with Chart 2 should be simplified, even if it does not appear in Chart 3.
  • Appendix, which contains:
    • 39 characters that are officially considered to be cases where a complicated variant character has been abolished in favour of a simpler variant character, rather than where a complicated character is replaced by a newly-created simpler character. However, these characters are commonly considered to have been simplifications, so they are included here for reference purposes.
    • 35 place names that have been modified to replace rare characters with more common ones. These are not character simplifications, because it is the place names that were being modified, not the characters themselves. One place name has since been reverted to its original version.

Di yi pi yitizi zhengli biao ("Series One Organization List of Variant Characters") also accounts for some of the orthography difference between Mainland China on the one hand, and Hong Kong and Taiwan on the other. Although these are not technically "simplifications," they are often regarded as such, because the end effect is the same. It contains:

  • 1,027 variant characters deemed obsolete as of the final revision in 1993. Some of these are obsolete in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well, but others remain in use.

After World War II, Japan also simplified a number of Chinese characters (kanji) used in the Japanese language. The new forms are called shinjitai. Compared to Chinese, the Japanese reform was more directed, affecting only a few hundred characters and replacing them with simplified forms, most of which were already in use in Japanese cursive script. The number of characters in circulation was also reduced, and formal lists of characters to be learned during each grade of school were established. The overall effect was to standardize teaching and the use of Kanji in modern literature and media.

Origins and history

Mainland China

Although most of the simplified Chinese characters in use today are the result of efforts moderated by the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the 1950s and 1960s, character simplification has always existed in some form. Cursive written text almost always includes character simplification. Simplified forms used in print date back to as early as the Qin Dynasty (221 - 206 B.C.E.), though early attempts at simplification actually resulted in more characters being added to the lexicon.

One of the earliest modern proponents of character simplification was Lu Feikui, who proposed in 1909 that simplified characters should be used in education. In the years following the May Fourth Movement in 1919, many anti-imperialist Chinese intellectuals sought ways to modernize China and challenged traditional culture and values such as Confucianism. Some of them viewed the traditional Chinese writing system as an obstacle to modernizing China and proposed that the Chinese writing system should be either simplified or completely abolished. Fu Sinian( (傅斯年), a leader of the May Fourth Movement, called Chinese characters the “writing of ox-demons and snake-gods” (niúguǐ shéshén de wénzì (牛鬼蛇神的文字). Lu Xun( 魯迅), a renowned twentieth century Chinese author, stated, “If Chinese characters are not destroyed, then China will die.” (漢字不滅,中國必亡。) Some historians claim that Chinese characters were blamed for the economic problems in China during that time.[1]

During the 1930s and 1940s, discussions on character simplification took place within the Kuomintang government. A large number of Chinese intellectuals and writers have maintained that character simplification would help boost literacy in China. Literacy has been promoted as a justification for spelling reforms in many world languages,.

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. During the 1950s and 1960s, while confusion about simplified characters was still rampant, transitional characters that combined simplified components with yet-to-be simplified components appeared briefly, then disappeared.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976), extremists within the PRC further promoted character simplification, resulting in a second round of character simplifications known as erjian 二简, or "Second-round simplified characters," in 1977. The second-round of simplifications was poorly received, partly because of the shock and unease felt in the wake of the Cultural Revolution and Mao's death in 1976. In 1986, the authorities retracted the second round completely. Later the same year, a final list of simplifications was issued, identical to the 1964 list except for six changes (including the restoration of three characters that had been simplified in the First Round: , , ; note that the form is used instead of in regions using Traditional Chinese). Although no longer recognized officially, some second-round characters appear in informal contexts, as many people learned second-round simplified characters in school.

Some simplification initiatives aimed to entirely eradicate Chinese characters and establish the Hanyu Pinyin romanization as the official written system of the PRC, but this reform has never received much popular support. Since the retraction of the second round of simplification, the PRC has stated that it wishes to keep Chinese orthography stable and does not appear to anticipate any further reforms in the future, nor restoration of any characters that have already been simplified.

Singapore and Malaysia

Singapore underwent three successive rounds of character simplification, eventually arriving at the same set of simplified characters as 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 2,287 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. Unlike in Mainland China, where personal names may only be registered using simplified characters, in Singapore parents have the option of registering their children's names in traditional characters.

Malaysia promulgated a set of simplified characters in 1981, completely identical to the simplified characters used in Mainland China.

Method of simplification

Several methods were used to simplify characters:

  1. Replacing complicated components of common characters with simpler shapes:
    • ; ; ; etc.
  2. Changing the phonetic:
    • ; ; ; etc.
  3. Omitting entire components:
    • 广; ; ; etc.
  4. Using printed forms of cursive shapes (Traditional Chinese: 草書楷化; Simplified Chinese: 草书楷化; pinyin: cǎoshūkǎihuà):
    • ; ; ; etc.
  5. Adopting ancient forms that are simpler in form:
    • ; ; ; etc.
  6. Creating new radical-radical compounds:
    • ; ; ; etc.
  7. Creating new radical-phonetic compounds:
    • ; ; ; etc.
  8. Merging a character into another one that sounds the same or similar:
    • ; ; ; etc.
  9. Merging several characters into a newly created and simpler character:
    • & ; & ; etc.
  10. Systematically simplifying a shape, so that every character that uses it is simplified:
    • ; ; ; etc (two exceptions to this type of simplifying are the word for "open": , and the word for "close" where the door radical () is entirely omitted.)

Since two or more traditional characters are sometimes represented by a single simplified character, confusion may arise when Classical Chinese texts are printed in simplified characters. In rare instances, simplified characters actually became one or two strokes more complex than their traditional counterparts due to logical revision. An example of this is mapping to the previously existing variant form . Note that the "hand" radical on the left (), with three strokes, is replaced with the "tree" radical (), with four strokes.

Distribution and use

Mainland China and Singapore generally use simplified characters. They appear very sparingly in printed text produced in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese communities, although they are becoming more prevalent as China opens to the world. Conversely, mainland China is seeing an increase in the use of traditional forms, where they are often used on signs and in logos.

Mainland China

The Law of the People's Republic of China on the National Common Language and Characters makes simplified Chinese the standard script, and relegates Traditional Chinese to specific uses in ceremonies, cultural activities such as calligraphy, decoration, publications and books on ancient literature and poetry, and research. Traditional Chinese remains ubiquitous on buildings predating communist rule, such as former government buildings, religious buildings, educational institutions, and historical monuments. Traditional Chinese is also often used for commercial purposes, such as shop front displays and advertisements, though this is officially discouraged.

The PRC also prints material intended for Taiwanese, people in Hong Kong and Macau, and overseas Chinese in traditional characters. For example, the PRC prints versions of the People's Daily in traditional characters and both the People's Daily and Xinhua websites have versions in traditional characters using Big5 encoding. Mainland companies selling products in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan use traditional characters on their displays and packaging to communicate with consumers; the reverse is true for products manufactured for sale in mainland China. As part of the one country, two systems model, the PRC has not attempted to force Hong Kong or Macau into using simplified characters.

Dictionaries published in mainland China generally show both simplified characters and their traditional counterparts. Some literature other than dictionaries is published in mainland China using traditional characters, for domestic consumption. Digital media imported from Hong Kong and Taiwan into mainland China, such as music videos, karaoke videos, subtitled movies, and subtitled dramas, uses traditional Chinese characters, thereby exposing mainlanders to the use of traditional characters.

The PRC enforces a law imposing a fine of 1000 yuan if traditional characters are used in place of the legally sanctioned simplified characters.[2]

Hong Kong

With the growing influence of Mainland China, simplified Chinese characters often appear in tourist areas in Hong Kong; textbooks, official statements, and newspapers, including PRC-funded media, show no signs of moving to simplified Chinese characters. Simplified Chinese character versions of publications are nevertheless becoming popular, because these mainland editions are often cheaper.

It is common for people in Hong Kong to learn traditional Chinese characters in school, and some simplified Chinese through exposure to books published in mainland China or other media. On computers, people generally type Chinese characters using a traditional character set such as Big5. In Hong Kong, as well as elsewhere, it is common for people who use both sets to use simplified characters when they are easier to write, or when ancient characters are simpler than traditional characters.


Simplified Chinese characters are not officially used in governmental and civil publications in Taiwan, but it is legal to import simplified character publications and distribute them. Simplified characters that have existed in informal writing for centuries have popular usage, while those simplified characters created by the PRC government are much less common in daily use.

In all areas, most handwritten text will include informal character simplifications (alternative script), and some characters (such as the "Tai" in Taiwan: traditional 臺 simplified/alternative 台) have informal simplified forms that appear more commonly than the official forms, even in print. A proliferation of the Japanese hiragana character の [no] being used in place of the more complex 的 [de] is common (both mean "of," although the pronunciation is unrelated). Japanese characters and Chinese simplified characters are not acceptable in official documents in Taiwan.


Simplified characters are the official standard in Singapore and are used in all official publications as well as the government-controlled press. While simplified characters are taught exclusively in schools, unlike in China, the government does not officially discourage the use of traditional characters. Many shop signs continue to display traditional characters, and menus in street restaurants and coffee shops are usually written in traditional characters.

There are no restrictions on the use of traditional characters in the mass media. Television programs, books, magazines and music CD's imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan are widely available, and these almost always use traditional characters. Most karaoke discs imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan have song lyrics in traditional characters. While all official publications are in simplified characters, the government allows parents to choose whether to have their child's Chinese name registered in simplified or traditional characters.

Overseas Chinese

Among overseas Chinese communities (except for Singapore and Malaysia), traditional characters are most commonly used.[3]


As a rule, schools in Mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore teach simplified characters exclusively, while schools in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan teach traditional characters exclusively.

Children of overseas Chinese are typically enrolled in "Chinese schools" that teach the script used by their parents. Descendants of Hong Kongers and people who emigrated before the simplification are likely to be taught traditional characters (in Cantonese), while children whose parents are of more recent mainland origin will probably learn simplified characters.

The teaching of Chinese as a foreign language to non-Chinese students is mainly carried out in simplified characters and Hanyu Pinyin.

Mainland China

In December 2004, Beijing's educational authorities rejected a proposal from a member of the Beijing Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC, (Simplified Chinese: 中国人民政治协商会议; Traditional Chinese: 中國人民政治協商會議; pinyin: Zhōngguó Rénmín Zhèngzhì Xiéshāng Huìyì) that called for elementary schools to teach traditional Chinese characters in addition to the simplified ones. The organization, a political advisory body, consists of both Party members and non-Party members, who discuss principles of Chinese communism. The conference member pointed out that most mainland Chinese, especially young people, have difficulties with traditional Chinese characters; this is a setback in dealing with non-mainland communities such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. The educational authorities did not approve the recommendation, saying that it did not fit in with the "requirements as set out by the law" and it could potentially complicate the curriculum.[4] A similar proposal was delivered to the 1st Plenary Session of the 11th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in the March of 2008.

Hong Kong

Most, if not all, Chinese language textbooks in Hong Kong are written in traditional characters. Before 1997, the use of simplified characters was generally discouraged by educators. After 1997, while students are still expected to be proficient and use traditional characters in formal settings, they may sometimes adopt a hybrid written form in informal settings to speed up writing. With the exception of open examinations, Simplified Chinese characters are considered acceptable by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority for their speed.


Chinese text books in Singapore are written exclusively in simplified characters, and only simplified characters are taught in school. Traditional characters are only taught to those taking up calligraphy as an extracurricular activity (or an official co-curricular activity).

Chinese as a foreign language

The source of many Chinese Mandarin textbooks is mainland China, so the majority of textbooks teaching Chinese language are now based on simplified characters and Hanyu Pinyin, although there are textbooks originating in China which have a traditional version. For practical reasons, universities and schools who are preparing their students to be able to communicate with People's Republic of China use simplified characters.

Most universities on the west coast of the United States previously taught the traditional character set, probably because the west coast has a large population of Chinese Americans who continue to use the traditional forms. The largest Mandarin Chinese program in North America, at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, switched to simplified characters at least ten years ago, although the majority of the surrounding Chinese Canadian population, who are non-Mandarin speaking, were users of traditional characters at that time. In places such as Europe and the United States where a particular set of characters is not locally entrenched, the tendency is to teach simplified characters because of the increasing economic importance of mainland China, and because inexpensive textbooks of acceptable quality are printed there. Teachers of international students often recommend learning both systems.

In the United Kingdom, universities mainly teach Chinese at undergraduate level using the simplified characters coupled with pinyin. Students are required to learn and be able to recognize the traditional forms by the last year of the course; by then the students will have completed a year's study either in China or Taiwan.

In Australia and New Zealand, schools, universities and TAFEs (technical institutions) predominantly use simplified characters.

Russia and most East European nations traditionally follow the PRC's system for teaching Chinese, using simplified characters but exposing students to both systems.

In South Korea, universities have used predominantly simplified characters since the 1990s. Chinese is an elective subject in Korean high schools. The national curriculum standards had mandated the use of MPS I and traditional characters since the 1940s, but a new regulation in 1966 required students entering high school that year to begin studying pinyin and simplified characters. MPS I and traditional characters disappeared after 1998 in the South Korean high school Chinese curriculum.

Computer encoding

In computer text applications, the GB encoding scheme most often renders simplified Chinese characters, while Big5 most often renders traditional characters. Although neither encoding has an explicit connection with a specific character set, the lack of a one-to-one mapping between the simplified and traditional sets of characters established a de facto linkage.

Since simplified Chinese conflated many characters into one and since the initial version of the Guobiao encoding scheme, known as GB2312-80, contained only one code point for each character, it is impossible to use GB2312 to map to the bigger set of traditional characters. It is theoretically possible to use Big5 code to map to the smaller set of simplified character glyphs, although there is little market for such a product. Newer and alternative forms of GB have support for traditional characters. Mainland authorities have now established GB 18030 as the official encoding standard for use in all mainland software publications. GB 18030 encoding contains all East Asian characters from Unicode 3.0, including both simplified and traditional characters found in Big-5 and GB, as well as all characters found in Japanese and Korean encodings.

Since there is not a one-to-one correspondence between traditional and simplified characters, as part of the Han unification project Unicode deals with simplified and traditional characters by including code points for each. While this means that a Unicode system can display both simplified and traditional characters, different localization files are needed for each type.

Chinese characters used in modern Japanese have also undergone simplification as part of post-WWII|Japanese language reforms. Some of the Chinese characters used in Japan are neither 'traditional' nor 'simplified' and cannot be found in traditional/simplified Chinese dictionaries. Reconciling these different character sets in Unicode became part of the controversial process of Han unification.

Web pages

The World Wide Web Consortium recommends the use of the language tag zh-Hans as a language attribute value and Content-Language value to specify web-page content in simplified Chinese characters.[5]

Traditional versus simplified Chinese characters

A heated debate over the use of traditional versus simplified Chinese characters, with its implications of political ideology and cultural identity, continues between supporters of both sides in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and among overseas Chinese communities.[3] The effect of simplified characters on the language remains controversial decades after their introduction.

Obstacle to communication

One question in the debate is whether the creation of simplified characters created an obstacle to communication between Mainland China and Chinese-speakers in other areas. Even non-Chinese speakers in countries such as Japan and Vietnam had been able to communicate by means of commonly-understood written Chinese characters. Supporters of simplified Chinese characters insist that it is not difficult for people familiar with one character set to become familiarized with the other system quickly through exposure and experience. The biggest obstacle has been the translation of documents from one system to the other. Since several different traditional characters are often written using one simplified Chinese character, it is necessary to look at a character’s context in a sentence to understand its meaning correctly. Computer programs that translate from one character set to the other are not yet able to do this accurately, and every document must be reviewed and corrected by a human.

Cultural legitimacy

Another issue is whether the simplified Chinese characters are culturally legitimate, or whether they are an unnatural imposition of the government of the People's Republic of China. Supporters of simplified characters point out that the Chinese writing system has been undergoing continual change through history, and that some abbreviated forms, such as the use of 礼 instead of 禮,[6] have been in use for centuries. Some simplified characters are in fact restorations of ancient forms that had become more complicated over time. For instance, the character for "cloud" was originally 云, but the character was borrowed to write a homophonous word meaning "to say." To disambiguate the two uses of the character, the "rain" radical (雨) was added on top when it meant "cloud," forming the current traditional character 雲. The homophonous word meaning "to say," however, has become archaic in modern Chinese, though 雲 continues to be used for "cloud." The simplified version simply restores 云 to its original use as "cloud".[6]

Supporters of traditional characters claim that characteristics underlying various Chinese characters, including radicals, etymologies and phonetics, were ignored and destroyed in their simplified form. Some claim that certain characters were arbitrarily changed by the government of the PRC to pervert traditional Chinese culture and promote its political objectives. They cite examples such as the removal of the symbol for heart (心) from the word love (愛) into the new character (爱) [7]; and the replacement of the king radical (王) in the character for "sage" or "holy" (圣 in simplified and 聖 in traditional) and its replacement with the radical for soil (土).


The original reason for simplifying Chinese characters was the belief that doing so would increase literacy rates by making Chinese language easier to read and write. Though literacy rates in China have increased, the simplification of Chinese characters does not appear to have been a major contributing factor. It is recognized that access to a better public education system and more efficient management of rural areas were the main reasons for improved literacy rates, and that students are equally capable of learning either set of characters if they are given the opportunity.

Stepping stone to romanization

The earliest members of the Communist Party of China including intellectuals like Lu Xun were convinced alphabetization was necessary to improve literacy. The suggestion was made that changes should begin with simplified characters first, then eventually give way to an alphabet system. In fact, the planners continued to reiterate that an alphabet system was the "ultimate objective."[8] In 1936 Mao Zedong told American journalist Edgar Snow that the Latin alphabet was a good instrument to promote literacy.[9] At the height of Communist party victory in July 1950, the possibility of continuing with an alphabet system disappeared when Mao Zedong brought up Chinese nationalism and suggested Latin alphabets were "too foreign." The original plan of "using alphabets" to improve literacy has since faded.[8] The change from an alphabet reform to a simplified reform is considered a U-turn in Mao's policy.[1]


Proponents of simplified characters feel that some traditional characters, such as 書 (shū) "book," 晝 (zhòu) "daytime" and 畫 (huà) "drawing" are too similar in appearance; the simplified forms are 书, , and , which look much more distinct. Opponents claim the reverse, saying that simplifications make many distinct characters more similar to each other in appearance, giving the "shape recognition" mechanism of the reading part of the brain ambiguous clues. An example is 無 (wú) "none," simplified into , which looks very similar to the existing character 天 (tiān) "sky." Another instance is 設 (shè) "designate" and 沒 (méi) "without," which are quite similar in their simplified forms 设 and and can result in confusion in rapid handwriting. Another example of the same kind is 活 (huó) "to live" and 話 (huà) "talk," which in simplified characters are 活 and 话 and can be misinterpreted in rapid handwriting.

Speed of writing

Simplified characters have fewer strokes; for example, the common character 邊 (biān, meaning "side") has 18 strokes in traditional form, while its simplified form 边 has only 5. Proponents of simplification claim this makes them easier to write.[10] Characters with more than 15 strokes are especially difficult to write.[11]

Opponents point out that the speed advantage of simplified Chinese has become less relevant in the computer age. The rate at which Chinese characters can be typed on a computer is dependent on the convenience of input method editors or IMEs. Some IMEs use phoneme-based input, such as pinyin romanization or bopomofo, while others are grapheme-based, such as cangjie and wubi. Traditional and simplified Chinese often have the same input speed, especially with phoneme-based IMEs. Even when writing by hand, a majority of people resort to semi-cursive script to reduce strokes and save time. Cursive script is also commonly seen in personal notes as shorthand, which is even more simplified than simplified characters, though it may legible only to the writer.


Chinese characters are most often made up of a pronunciation-indicating part (called the phonetic) and a part that indicates the general semantic domain (called the radical). During the process of simplification, attempts have been made to bring greater coherence to this system. For example, the shape of 憂 (yōu), meaning "anxious," is not a good indicator of its pronunciation, because there are no clear radical and phonetic components. The simplified version is 忧, a straightforward combination of the "heart" radical to the left (indicating emotion) and the phonetic 尤 (yóu) to the right.

Supporters of traditional characters point out that some simplified forms undermine the phonetics of the original characters, for example 盤 (pán, plate) has the phonetic component 般 (bān) on top, but the simplified form is 盘, whose upper part is now 舟 (zhōu). 盧 (lú, a family name) and 爐 (lú, "furnace") share the same component “盧” in their original forms, but they were inconsistently simplified into 卢 and 炉 respectively, so that 炉 now has the less helpful 户 (hù) as its phonetic. Some characters were radically stripped of all phonetic elements. Perhaps because of its common recurrence in political vocabulary, the second character in 主義 (zhǔyì), "doctrine", had its phonetic element 我 (wǒ) reduced, and was turned into the unrecognizable 义 .


Opponents of simplified characters argue that simplification has replaced meaningful components of traditional characters with simplified radicals that are unrelated to the character’s meaning. This makes it difficult for students to expand their vocabulary by perceiving both the meaning and pronunciation of a new character at a glance. Students must rely heavily on memorization instead. For example, 鬧 (din, fuss) is now 闹, containing the radical “door” which is not indicative of its meaning. Another instance is the simplification of 愛 (love) to 爱, where the simplified version removes the radical 心 (heart).

The round of characters simplified by the Communist party was not systematic.[12] Extensive studies have been conducted among different age groups, especially children, to show that reducing the strokes loses the radical and phonetic relationships between the characters. This actually makes it more difficult for simplified character readers to distinguish the characters. [12] Some traditional characters, such as "electricity" (電), "rope" (繩) and "turtle" (龜) are very distinct, but appear to have the same components after the simplification process even though they have no relationship at all. "Electricity" (电), "rope" (绳), "turtle" (龟) appear to be related and can be easily confused.

Supporters of simplified characters point out that the traditional radical system is imperfect in the first place; for example, 笑 ("smile, laugh") uses the "bamboo" radical.

Reduction to one simplified character

There are numerous cases where several different traditional characters have been reduced to the same simplified character; for example : 後 (hòu, "behind") and 后 (hòu, "queen") are both simplified into 后. Likewise, 隻 (zhī, a measure word) and 只 (zhǐ, "only") are both represented by 只; 發 (fā, "happening") and 髮 (fà, "hair") are both 发; 穀 (gǔ, "crop") and 谷 (gǔ, "valley") are both 谷. The traditional writing system uses a God radical (the first half of each character) to create the special terms 袮 (nǐ) "you" and 祂 (tā) "he/she," different from those used for "people", to show respect for a deity. Simplified characters refer to a deity with the normal "you" character (你), used for "people", and the "he/she" character (他) used for "humans" or the character used for inanimate objects or animals.

Opponents of simplified Chinese characters view these conflations as baseless and arbitrary, and say that they make Classical Chinese texts in simplified Chinese characters difficult to understand. Such homographs make Chinese much more easily mistranslated in foreign languages. Proponents of simplified characters claim that the wide spoken and written deviation between Classical Chinese and the modern vernacular is the real problem, and has already brought about incompatibility with ancient texts. They also claim that the ambiguity brought about by the merger of characters is minimal, as the meaning of a character can be clearly understood by its context.


Traditional Chinese characters are easy to read in hand-written calligraphy, but a number of very complex characters are much harder to identify when they are printed in smaller fonts, and complex character components can merge together in print. Simplified Chinese characters look more appealing when small fonts are used. This is especially a problem issue if the print quality is poor. Some people even claim that reading a large number of complex characters in small fonts strains their eyes. Some optical character recognition (OCR) software can not read complex characters well, but easily handles less detailed characters. Some well-known simplified characters are widely accepted to be more visually appealing than their traditional counterparts.

Traditional Chinese characters are standard in Chinese calligraphy, presumably because of their aesthetic value. This is one of the very few exceptions in which the PRC government officially permits the use of traditional Chinese Characters in mainland China.

Political and social implications

Since simplified Chinese characters are the creation of the communist government of the People’s Republic of China, in some areas their usage has political implications. Taiwanese and refugees from China sometimes refer to simplified characters as a "Communist plot," a deliberate attempt to eliminate traditional Chinese culture and values.[13] In Taiwan, simplified characters have been regarded as "Communist" and are studiously avoided.[14] Some people associate simplified characters with the conservative forces of the social state, and traditional characters with pre-Revolutionary China, Confucian literature and history, and modern Chinese life in Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas.[2]

Some users of traditional Chinese characters have the view that traditional Chinese is for the educated and cultured, while simplified Chinese is for the illiterate, dumb, and barbaric. Users of simplified characters are more tolerant towards the traditional characters.

The use of one type of characters or the other in printed media and on the Internet immediately raises suspicions that the printed material might be political propaganda of some sort. It is no longer the case that everything in simplified Chinese is produced in mainland China. Major multilingual non-Chinese news Web sites offer the Chinese version in the simplified Chinese script, and a number of websites offer an easy switch between the two versions.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Yuehping Yen, Calligraphy and Power in Contemporary Chinese Society (New York: Routledge, 2005, ISBN 0415317533).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ron Scollon and Suzie Wong Scollon, Discourses in Place: Language in the Material World (London: Routledge, 2003, ISBN 0415290481).
  3. 3.0 3.1 Andrée Tabouret Keller (ed.), Vernacular Literacy: A Re-Evaluation (Oxford University Press, 1997, ISBN 0198236352).
  4. 千龙网-北京-市教委驳回政协委员普及繁体字教学建议.
  5. Language Internationalization techniques: Authoring web pages. Retrieved February 10, 2024.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Jerry Norman, Chinese (Cambridge University Press, 1988, ISBN 0521228093), 81
  7. Bernhard Karlgren, Analytic Dictionary of Chinese and Sino-Japanese (Dover Publications, 1980, ISBN 0486218872).
  8. 8.0 8.1 Samuel Robert Ramsey, The Languages of China (Princeton University, 1989, ISBN 069101468X).
  9. Chaofen Sun, Chinese: A Linguistic Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2006, ISBN 0521823803).
  10. Richard Gunde, Culture and Customs of China (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002, ISBN 0313308764)
  11. Margaret Mian Yan and Jennifer Li-chia Liu, Interactions I-II: a cognitive approach to beginning Chinese (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997, ISBN 0253211220).
  12. 12.0 12.1 Catherine McBride-Chang and Hsuan-Chih Chen, Reading development in Chinese Children (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003, ISBN 0897898095).
  13. Marcia Farr (ed.), Ethnolinguistic Chicago: language and literacy in the city's neighborhoods (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004, ISBN 0805843450).
  14. Henry Rogers, Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005, ISBN 0631234632).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bergman, P.M. The basic English-Chinese, Chinese-English dictionary: using simplified characters (with an appendix containing the original complex characters) transliterated in accordance with the new, official Chinese phonetic alphabet. New York, NY: New American Library, 1987. ISBN 0451092627
  • Farr, Marcia (ed.). Ethnolinguistic Chicago: language and literacy in the city's neighborhoods. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004. ISBN 0805843450
  • Gunde, Richard. Culture and customs of China. (Culture and customs of Asia.) Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002. ISBN 0313308764
  • Guo, Yingjie. Cultural nationalism in contemporary China: the search for national identity under reform. (RoutledgeCurzon studies on China in transition.) London: Routledge, 2004. ISBN 0415322642
  • Karlgren, Bernhard. Analytic dictionary of Chinese and Sino-Japanese. Dover Publications, 1980. ISBN 0486218872
  • McBride-Chang, Catherine, and Hsuan-Chih Chen. Reading development in Chinese children. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003. ISBN 0897898095
  • Norman, Jerry. Chinese. (Cambridge language surveys.) Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]: Cambridge University Press. 1988. ISBN 0521228093
  • Peng, Tan Huay. Simplified Chinese characters. Stone Bridge Press, 1987. ISBN 0893462934
  • Ramsey, Samuel Robert. The Languages of China. Princeton University, 1989. ISBN 069101468X
  • Rogers, Henry. Writing systems: a linguistic approach. (Blackwell textbooks in linguistics, 18.) Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005. ISBN 0631234632
  • Scollon, Scollon, and Suzie Wong Scollon. Discourses in place: language in the material world. London: Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0415290481
  • Song, Enrong. The China—Hong Kong connection: the key to China's open-door policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. ISBN 0521382459
  • Sun, Chaofen. Chinese: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521823803.
  • Tabouret-Keller, Andrée (ed.). Vernacular literacy: a re-evaluation. (Oxford studies in anthropological linguistics, 13.) Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. ISBN 0198236352
  • Yan, Margaret Mian, and Jennifer Li-chia Liu. Interactions I-II: a cognitive approach to beginning Chinese. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997. ISBN 0253211220
  • Yen, Yuehping. Calligraphy and Power in Contemporary Chinese Society. Routledge, 2005. ISBN 0415317533

External Links

All links retrieved February 10, 2024.


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