Simplified Chinese characterSimplified Chinese Type LogographicSpoken languages ChineseTime period since 1956 Parent systems Chinese
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Simplified Chinese Characters (simplified Chinese: 简化字; traditional Chinese: 簡化字; pinyin: Jiǎnhuàzì) 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. The government of the People's Republic of China has promoted them for use in printing in an attempt to increase literacy. They are officially used in Mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia and the United Nations.
Traditional Chinese is currently used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Overseas Chinese communities generally use the traditional characters, but simplified characters are gradually gaining popularity as more mainland Chinese emigrate and travel abroad. At the same time, the prestige of traditional characters is increasing in the People's Republic of China.
Simplified character forms were created by decreasing the number of strokes and simplifying the forms of a sizeable 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 and unpredictable from traditional characters. Finally, many characters were left untouched by simplification, and are thus identical between the traditional and simplified Chinese orthographies.Chinese charactersPrecursorsTraditional ChineseVariant charactersSimplified Chinese Simplified Chinese (2nd-round)Traditional/Simplified (debate)Kanji Hanja Hán tự East Asian calligraphy
- Oracle bone script
- Bronze inscriptions
- Seal script
- Clerical script
- Standard script
- Semi-cursive script
- Cursive script
- 1 Extent
- 2 Origins and history
- 3 Method of simplification
- 4 Distribution and use
- 5 Education
- 6 Computer encoding
- 7 Web pages
- 8 Debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters
- 9 See also
- 10 Further reading
- 11 Notes
Jianhuazi zong biao (简化字总表), or 简体字 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 (第一批异体字整理表, "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
Although most of the simplified Chinese characters in use today are the result of the works moderated by the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the 1950s and 60s, character simplification predates the PRC's formation in 1949. Cursive written text almost always includes character simplification. Simplified forms used in print have always existed (they date back to as early as the Qin Dynasty (221 - 206 BC), though early attempts at simplification actually resulted in more characters being added to the lexicon).
One of the earliest proponents of character simplification was Lu Feikui, who proposed in 1909 that simplified characters should be used in education. In the years following the May Fourth Movement in 1919, many anti-imperialist Chinese intellectuals sought ways to modernise China. Traditional culture and values such as Confucianism were challenged. 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. Fu Sinian, 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, a renowned Chinese author in the 20th century, stated that, “If Chinese characters are not destroyed, then China will die.” (漢字不滅，中國必亡。) Recent commentators have claimed that Chinese characters were blamed for the economic problems in China during that time.
In the 1930s and 1940s, discussions on character simplification took place within the Kuomintang government, and a large number of Chinese intellectuals and writers have long maintained that character simplification would help boost literacy in China. In many world languages, literacy has been promoted as a justification for spelling reforms.
The People's Republic of China issued its first round of official character simplifications in two documents, the first in 1956 and the second in 1964. In the 1950s and 1960s, while confusion about simplified characters was still rampant, transitional characters that mixed simplified parts with yet-to-be simplified parts of characters together appeared briefly, then disappeared.
Within the PRC, further character simplification became associated with the leftists of the Cultural Revolution, culminating in a second round of character simplifications (known as erjian 二简), or "Second-round simplified characters", which were promulgated in 1977. In part due to the shock and unease felt in the wake of the Cultural Revolution and Mao's death, the second-round of simplifications was poorly received, and in 1986 the authorities retracted the second round completely. Later in the same year, the authorities promulgated a final list of simplifications, which is identical to the 1964 list except for six changes (including the restoration of three characters that had been simplified in the First Round: 叠, 覆, 像; note that the form 疊 is used instead of 叠 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.
Simplification initiatives have been aimed at eradicating characters entirely and establishing the Hanyu Pinyin romanization as the official written system of the PRC, but the reform never gained quite as much popularity as the leftists had hoped. After 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 plan any further reforms in the future, nor restore 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 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.
Method of simplification
There are several methods in which characters were simplified:
- Replacing complicated components of common characters with simpler shapes:
- 對 → 对; 觀 → 观; 風 → 风; etc.
- Changing the phonetic:
- 潔 → 洁; 鄰 → 邻; 極 → 极; etc.
- Omitting entire components:
- 廣 → 广; 寧 → 宁; 滅 → 灭; etc.
- Using grass script shapes:
- 書 → 书; 長 → 长; 馬 → 马; etc.
- Adopting ancient forms that are simpler in form:
- 涙 → 泪; 網 → 网; 傑 → 杰; etc.
- Creating new radical-radical compounds:
- 體 → 体; 塵 → 尘; 竃 → 灶; etc.
- Creating new radical-phonetic compounds:
- 護 → 护; 驚 → 惊; 膚 → 肤; etc.
- Merging a character into another one that sounds the same or similar:
- 餘 → 余; 穀 → 谷; 後 → 后; etc.
- Merging several characters into a newly created and simpler character:
- 髮 & 發 → 发; 儘 & 盡 → 尽; etc.
- Systematically simplifying a shape, so that every character that uses it is
- 門 → 门; 閉 → 闭; 問 → 问; etc (an exception to this type of simplifying is the word for "open": 開 → 开, where the door radical (門) is entirely omitted.)
Since traditional characters are sometimes merged, 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 搾 mapping to the previously existing variant form 榨. Note that the "hand" radical on the left (扌), with three strokes, is replaced with the "tree" radical (木), 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, the mainland is seeing an increase in the use of traditional forms, where they are often used on signs and in logos.
The Law of the People's Republic of China on the National Common Language and Characters implies simplified Chinese as the standard script, and relegates Traditional Chinese to certain aspects and purposes such as ceremonies, cultural purposes (e.g. calligraphy), decoration, publications and books on ancient literature and poetry, and research purposes. 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 shopfront displays and advertisements, though this is officially discouraged.
The PRC also tends to print 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 its displays and packaging to communicate with consumers (the reverse is true as well). Also, 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 and their traditional counterparts. Some traditional character publications other than dictionaries are published in mainland China, for domestic consumption. In digital media, any cultural phenomena imported from Hong Kong and Taiwan into mainland China, such as music videos, karaoke videos, subtitled movies, and subtitled dramas, use traditional Chinese characters, thereby exposing mainlanders to the use of traditional characters.
With the growing influence of Mainland China, simplified Chinese characters often appear in tourist areas; however textbooks, official statements, newspapers, including the PRC-funded media, show no signs of moving to simplified Chinese characters. However simplified Chinese character version of publications are becoming popular, because these mainland editions are often cheaper.
It is common for Hong Kong people to learn traditional Chinese characters in school, and some simplified Chinese in passing (either through reading mainland-published books or other media). For use on computers, however, people tend to 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 do so because it is much easier to convert from the traditional character set to the simplified character set because of the usage of the aforementioned methods 8 and 9 of simplification.
Simplified Chinese characters are not officially used in governmental and civil publications in Taiwan. However, it is legal to import simplified character publications and distribute them. Certain simplified characters that have long existed in informal writing for centuries also have popular usage, while those characters simplified originally by the PRC government are much less common in daily appearance.
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 to use in official documents in Taiwan.
Simplified characters are the official standard and 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. Therefore, many shop signs continue to be written in traditional characters. Menus in hawker centres and coffeeshops are also usually written in traditional characters.
As there is no restriction of the use of traditional characters in the mass media, television programmes, books, magazines and music CD's that have been imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan are widely available, and these almost always use traditional characters. Most karaoke discs, being imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan, have song lyrics in traditional characters as well. While all official publications are in simplified characters, the government still allows parents to choose whether to have their child's Chinese name registered in simplified or traditional characters.
In general, schools in Mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore use simplified characters exclusively, while schools in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan use traditional characters exclusively.
For overseas Chinese going to "Chinese school", which character set is used depends very much on which school one attends. Not surprisingly, parents will generally enroll their children in schools that teach the script they themselves use. Descendants of Hong Kongers and people who emigrated before the simplification will therefore generally be taught traditional (and in Cantonese), whereas children whose parents are of more recent mainland origin will probably be taught simplified.
Teaching Chinese to non-Chinese kids as a foreign language is mainly carried out in simplified characters and Hanyu Pinyin.
In December 2004, Beijing's educational authorities rejected a proposal from a Beijing CPPCC political conference member that called for elementary schools to teach traditional Chinese characters in addition to the simplified ones. The conference member pointed out that most mainland Chinese, especially young people, have difficulties with traditional Chinese characters; this is especially important 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 curricula. A similar proposal was delivered to the 1st Plenary Session of the 11th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in the March of 2008.
Most, if not all, Chinese language text books 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 utilise 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 as extra-curricular activity (or officially co-curricular activity).
Chinese as a foreign language
Most universities on the west coast of the United States teach the traditional character set, most likely due to the 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 a decade ago, although the majority of the surrounding Chinese Canadian population, who are non-Mandarin speaking, at that time were users of traditional characters. In places where a particular set is not locally entrenched, e.g., Europe and some of the east coast and midwest of the United States, instruction is in or is swinging towards simplified, as the economic importance of mainland China increases, and also because of the availability of inexpensive decent quality textbooks printed in mainland China. 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. However, they will require the students to learn and be able to recognise the traditional forms by the last year of the course, by which time the students will have completed a year's study either in China or Taiwan.
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 established a de facto linkage.
Since simplified Chinese conflated many characters into one and since the initial version of the GB 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. In particular, mainland authorities have now established GB 18030 as the official encoding standard for use in all mainland software publications. The encoding contains all East Asian characters included in Unicode 3.0. As such, GB 18030 encoding contains both simplified and traditional characters found in Big-5 and GB, as well as all characters found in Japanese and Korean encodings.
Unicode deals with the issue of simplified and traditional characters as part of the project of Han unification by including code points for each. This was rendered necessary by the fact that the linkage between simplified characters and traditional characters is not one-to-one. While this means that a Unicode system can display both simplified and traditional characters, it also means that different localization files are needed for each type.
The Chinese characters used in modern Japanese have also undergone simplification, but generally to a lesser extent than with simplified Chinese, it's worth mentioning that Japanese writing system reduced the number of Chinese characters in daily use, which was also part of the Japanese language reforms, thus, a number of complex characters were written phonetically. Reconciling these different character sets in Unicode became part of the controversial process of Han unification. Not surprisingly, some of the Chinese characters used in Japan are neither 'traditional' nor 'simplified'. In this case, these characters cannot be found in traditional/simplified Chinese dictionaries.
Debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters
- Main article: Debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters
The use of traditional versus simplified Chinese characters debate has existed for a long time.
- Bökset, R. (2006). Long story of short forms: the evolution of simplified Chinese characters. Stockholm East Asian monographs, No. 11. Stockholm: Dept. of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University. ISBN 9162868322
- Chen, H. (1987). Simplified Chinese characters. Torrance, CA: Heian. ISBN 0893462934
- Bergman, P. M. (1980). 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, N.Y.: New American Library. ISBN 0451092627
- ^ Yen, Yuehping.  (2005). Calligraphy and Power in Contemporary Chinese Society. Routledge. ISBN 0415317533
- ^ 千龙网-北京-市教委驳回政协委员普及繁体字教学建议
- ^ Debate: A need to introduce traditional characters to schools?
- ^ www.w3.org
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