Traditional Chinese characters

Last updated

Traditional Chinese
Hanzi (traditional).svg
Script type
Time period
Since 2nd century AD [1]
DirectionHistorically: top-to-bottom, columns right-to-left
Currently: left-to-right
Languages Chinese, Korean (Hanja)
Related scripts
Parent systems
Child systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924 Hant, 502  OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg ,Han (Traditional variant)
 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.
Traditional Chinese characters
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaningStandard form characters
Countries and regions using Chinese characters as a writing system:
Dark Green: Traditional Chinese used officially (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau)
Green: Simplified Chinese used officially but traditional form is also used in publishing (Singapore and Malaysia)
Light Green: Simplified Chinese used officially, traditional form in daily use is uncommon (China, Kokang and Wa State of Myanmar)
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) Map-Chinese Characters.png
Countries and regions using Chinese characters as a writing system:
Dark Green: Traditional Chinese used officially (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau)
Green: Simplified Chinese used officially but traditional form is also used in publishing (Singapore and Malaysia)
Light Green: Simplified Chinese used officially, traditional form in daily use is uncommon (China, Kokang and Wa State of Myanmar)
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)

Traditional Chinese characters are one type of standard Chinese character sets of the contemporary written Chinese. The traditional characters had taken shapes since the clerical change and mostly remained in the same structure they took at the introduction of the regular script in the 2nd century. [1] Over the following centuries, traditional characters were regarded as the standard form of printed Chinese characters or literary Chinese throughout the Sinosphere until the middle of the 20th century, [1] [3] [4] before different script reforms initiated by countries using Chinese characters as a writing system. [3] [5] [6]


Traditional Chinese characters remain in common use in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, as well as in most overseas Chinese communities outside Southeast Asia; [7] In addition, Hanja in Korean language remains virtually identical to traditional form, which is still used to a certain extent in South Korea, though there are a few debates over some Variant Chinese characters. In Taiwan, the standardisation of traditional characters is stipulated through the promulgation of the Standard Form of National Characters, which is regulated by Taiwan's Ministry of Education. In contrast, simplified Chinese characters are used in Mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore in official publications.

The debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters has been a long-running issue among Chinese communities. [8] [9] Currently, many Chinese online newspapers allow users to switch between both character sets. [2]


The modern shapes of traditional Chinese characters first appeared with the emergence of the clerical script during the Han dynasty and have been more or less stable since the 5th century (during the Southern and Northern Dynasties).

The retronym "Traditional Chinese" is used to contrast traditional characters with "simplified Chinese characters", a standardized character set introduced in the 1950s by the government of the People's Republic of China on Mainland China.

Modern usage in Chinese-speaking areas

Mainland China

The east square of Guangzhou railway station in 1991. Notice the prevalence of traditional Chinese characters as brand logos during that time, including Jianlibao (Jian Li Bao ), Rejoice (Piao Rou ) and Wan Jia Le , only Head & Shoulders (Hai Fei Si ) printed in simplified. In Mainland China, it is legal to design brand logos in traditional characters, yet by 2020, apart from Jianlibao, the other three have changed to simplified. Guangzhou 1991.jpg
The east square of Guangzhou railway station in 1991. Notice the prevalence of traditional Chinese characters as brand logos during that time, including Jianlibao (健力寶), Rejoice (飄柔) and 萬家樂, only Head & Shoulders (海飞丝) printed in simplified. In Mainland China, it is legal to design brand logos in traditional characters, yet by 2020, apart from Jianlibao, the other three have changed to simplified.
The character Fan 
(Pinyin: fan) meaning "complex, complicated (Chinese characters)" Traditional chinese.svg
The character (Pinyin: fán) meaning "complex, complicated (Chinese characters)"

Although simplified characters are endorsed by the government of China and taught in schools, there is no prohibition against using traditional characters. Traditional characters are used informally, primarily in handwriting, but also for inscriptions and religious text.[ citation needed ] They are often retained in logos or graphics to evoke yesteryear. Nonetheless, the vast majority of media and communications in China use simplified characters.

Hong Kong and Macau

In Hong Kong and Macau, Traditional Chinese has been the legal written form since colonial times. In recent years, however, simplified Chinese characters are used to accommodate Mainland Chinese tourists and immigrants. [10] The use of simplified characters has led to residents being concerned about protecting their local heritage. [11] [12]


Taiwan has never adopted simplified characters. The use of simplified characters in government documents and educational settings is prohibited or discouraged by the government of Taiwan. [13] [14] [15] [16] Nevertheless, simplified characters (簡體字) usually can be understood by an educated Taiwanese person, as it may take little effort to learn them. Some writing stroke simplifications have long been in folk handwriting from the ancient time, existing as an informal variant form (俗字) of the traditional characters. [17] [18]


Job announcement in a Filipino Chinese daily newspaper written in traditional Chinese characters Announcement in a Filipino Chinese daily newspaper (Traditional Chinese).jpg
Job announcement in a Filipino Chinese daily newspaper written in traditional Chinese characters

The Chinese Filipino community continues to be one of the most conservative in Southeast Asia regarding simplification.[ citation needed ] Although major public universities teach simplified characters, many well-established Chinese schools still use traditional characters. Publications such as the Chinese Commercial News , World News , and United Daily News all use traditional characters. So do some magazines from Hong Kong, such as the Yazhou Zhoukan . On the other hand, the Philippine Chinese Daily uses simplified characters.

DVD subtitles for film or television mostly use traditional Characters, that subtitling being influenced by Taiwanese usage and by both countries being within the same DVD region, 3.[ citation needed ]

United States

Having immigrated to the United States during the second half of the 19th century, well before the institution of simplified characters, Chinese-Americans have long used traditional characters. Therefore, US public notices and signage in Chinese are generally in traditional Chinese. [19]


Traditional Chinese characters are known by different names within the Chinese-speaking world. The government of Taiwan officially calls traditional Chinese characters standard characters or orthodox characters (traditional Chinese:正體字; simplified Chinese:正体字; pinyin:zhèngtǐzì; Zhuyin Fuhao:ㄓㄥˋ ㄊㄧˇ ㄗˋ). [20] However, the same term is used outside Taiwan to distinguish standard, simplified, and traditional characters from variant and idiomatic characters. [21]

In contrast, users of traditional characters outside Taiwan—such as those in Hong Kong, Macau, and overseas Chinese communities, and also users of simplified Chinese characters—call the traditional characters complex characters (traditional Chinese:繁體字; simplified Chinese:繁体字; pinyin:fántǐzì; Zhuyin Fuhao:ㄈㄢˊ ㄊㄧˇ ㄗˋ), old characters (Chinese:老字; pinyin:lǎozì; Zhuyin Fuhao:ㄌㄠˇ ㄗˋ), or full Chinese characters (traditional Chinese:全體字; simplified Chinese:全体字; pinyin:quántǐ zì; Zhuyin Fuhao:ㄑㄩㄢˊ ㄊㄧˇ ㄗˋ) to distinguish them from simplified Chinese characters.

Some users of traditional characters argue that traditional characters are the original form of the Chinese characters and cannot be called "complex". Similarly, they argue that simplified characters cannot be called "standard" because they are not used in all Chinese-speaking regions. Conversely, supporters of simplified Chinese characters object to the description of traditional characters as "standard", since they view the new simplified characters as the contemporary standard used by the vast majority of Chinese speakers. They also point out that traditional characters are not truly traditional, as many Chinese characters have been made more elaborate over time. [22]

Some people refer to traditional characters as simply proper characters (Chinese:正字; pinyin:zhèngzì or Chinese:正寫; pinyin:zhèngxiě ) and to simplified characters as "simplified-stroke characters" (traditional Chinese:簡筆字; simplified Chinese:简笔字; pinyin:jiǎnbǐzì) or "reduced-stroke characters" (traditional Chinese:減筆字; simplified Chinese:减笔字; pinyin:jiǎnbǐzì) (simplified- and reduced- are actually homophones in Mandarin Chinese, both pronounced jiǎn).

Printed text

When printing text, people in mainland China and Singapore use the simplified system. In writing, most people use informal, sometimes personal simplifications. In most cases, an alternative character (異體字) will be used in place of one with more strokes, such as for . In the old days,[ when? ] there were two main uses for alternative characters. First, alternative characters were used to name an important person in less formal contexts, reserving traditional characters for use in formal contexts, as a sign of respect, an instance of what is called "offence-avoidance" (避諱) in Chinese. Secondly, alternative characters were used when the same characters were repeated in context to show that the repetition was intentional rather than a mistake (筆誤).

Computer encoding and fonts

In the past, Traditional Chinese was most often rendered using the Big5 character encoding scheme, a scheme that favours Traditional Chinese. However, Unicode, which gives equal weight to both simplified and traditional Chinese characters, has become increasingly popular as a rendering method. There are various IMEs (Input Method Editors) available to input Chinese characters. There are still many Unicode characters that cannot be written using most IMEs, one example being the character used in the Shanghainese dialect instead of , which is U+20C8E 𠲎 ( with a radical).[ citation needed ]

In font filenames and descriptions, the acronym TC is used to signify the use of traditional Chinese characters to differentiate fonts that use SC for Simplified Chinese characters. [23]

Web pages

The World Wide Web Consortium recommends the use of the language tag zh-Hant as a language attribute and Content-Language value to specify web-page content in Traditional Chinese. [24]

Usage in other languages

In Japanese, kyūjitai is the now-obsolete, non-simplified form of simplified ( shinjitai ) Jōyō kanji . These non-simplified characters are mostly congruent with the traditional characters in Chinese, save for a few minor regional graphical differences. Furthermore, characters that are not included in the Jōyō list are generally recommended to be printed in their original non-simplified forms, save for a few exceptions.

In Korean, traditional Chinese characters are identical with Hanja (now almost completely replaced by Hangul for general use in most cases, but nonetheless unchanged from Chinese except for some Korean-made Hanja).

Traditional Chinese characters are also used by non-Chinese ethnic groups, especially the Maniq people—of southern Yala Province of Thailand and northeastern Kedah state of Malaysia—for writing the Kensiu language. [25] [26]

See also

Related Research Articles

Chinese input methods for computers Chinese character text entry

Chinese input methods are methods that allow a computer user to input Chinese characters. Most, if not all, Chinese input methods fall into one of two categories: phonetic readings or root shapes. Methods under the phonetic category usually are easier to learn but are less efficient, thus resulting in slower typing speeds because they typically require users to choose from a list of phonetically similar characters for input, whereas methods under the root shape category allow very precise and speedy input but have a steep learning curve because they often require a thorough understanding of a character's strokes and composition.

Chinese characters Logographic writing system used in the Sinosphere region

Chinese characters, also called hanzi, are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. They have been adapted to write other East Asian languages, and remain a key component of the Japanese writing system where they are known as kanji. Chinese characters are the oldest continuously used system of writing in the world. By virtue of their widespread current use in East Asia, and historic use throughout the Sinosphere, Chinese characters are among the most widely adopted writing systems in the world by number of users.

Simplified Chinese characters Standardized Chinese characters used in Mainland China

Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters used in Mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore, as prescribed by the Table of General Standard Chinese Characters. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one of the two standard character sets of the contemporary Chinese written language. The government of the People's Republic of China in mainland China has promoted them for use in printing since the 1950s and 1960s to encourage literacy. They are officially used in the People's Republic of China, Malaysia and Singapore, while traditional Chinese characters are used in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan as well as South Korea to a certain extent and occasionally in the Chinese community of Malaysia and Singapore.

Stroke order order in which the strokes of a Chinese character are traditionally written

Stroke order is the order in which the strokes of a Chinese character are written. A stroke is a movement of a writing instrument on a writing surface. Chinese characters are used in various forms in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and formerly Vietnamese. They are known as Hanzi in (Mandarin) Chinese, kanji in Japanese (かんじ), Hanja in Korean (한자) and Chữ Hán in Vietnamese. Stroke order is also attested in other logographic scripts, e.g. cuneiform.

Ming (typefaces)

Ming or Song is a category of typefaces used to display Chinese characters, which are used in the Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages. They are currently the most common style of type in print for Chinese and Japanese.

Simplified Cangjie, known as Quick or Sucheng is a stroke based keyboard input method based on the Cangjie IME (倉頡輸入法) but simplified with select lists. Unlike full Cangjie, the user enters only the first and last keystrokes used in the Cangjie system, and then chooses the desired character from a list of candidate Chinese characters that pops up. This method is popular in Taiwan and Hong Kong, the latter in particular.

There are and have been several Chinese alphabets, that is pre-existing alphabets adapted to write down the Chinese language. However, the standard Chinese writing system uses a non-alphabetic script with an alphabet for supplementary use. There is no original alphabet native to China. China has its Pinyin system though sometimes the term is used anyway to refer to logographic Chinese characters (sinograms). It is more appropriately used, though, for phonemic transcriptions such as pinyin. However, there were attempts to replace the whole Chinese script with alphabets but failed in the end, so the Chinese characters were kept. Simplified Chinese characters replaced Traditional Chinese characters, which the original form is still used today in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau. Simplified Chinese is used in mainland China and Singapore.

Taiwanese Mandarin Forms of Mandarin Chinese spoken in Taiwan

Taiwanese Mandarin or Guoyu refers to any of the varieties of Mandarin Chinese spoken in Taiwan. This comprises two main forms: Standard Guoyu and Taiwan Guoyu.

Kyūjitai Kyūjitai are the traditional forms of kanji, Chinese written characters used in Japanese.

Kyūjitai are the traditional forms of kanji, Chinese written characters used in Japanese. Their simplified counterparts are shinjitai (新字体), "new character forms". Some of the simplified characters arose centuries ago and were in everyday use in both China and Japan, but they were considered inelegant, even uncouth. After World War II, simplified character forms were made official in both these countries. However, in Japan fewer and less drastic simplifications were made: for example, "electric" is still written as "電" in Japan, as it is also written in Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea and Taiwan, which continue to use traditional Chinese characters, but has been simplified to 电 in mainland China. Prior to the promulgation of the tōyō kanji list in 1946, kyūjitai were known as seiji or seijitai (正字體). Even after kyūjitai were officially marked for discontinuation with the promulgation of the tōyō kanji list, they were used in print frequently into the 1950s due to logistical delays in changing over typesetting equipment. Kyūjitai continue in use to the present day because when the Japanese government adopted the simplified forms, it did not ban the traditional forms. Thus, traditional forms are used when an author wishes to use them and the publisher agrees.

Variant Chinese character Chinese characters of non-standard application

Variant Chinese characters are Chinese characters that are homophones and synonyms. Almost all variants are allographs in most circumstances, such as casual handwriting. Some contexts require the usage of certain variants, such as in textbook editing.

Debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters

The debate on traditional Chinese characters and simplified Chinese characters is an ongoing dispute concerning Chinese orthography among users of Chinese characters. It has stirred up heated responses from supporters of both sides in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and among overseas Chinese communities with its implications of political ideology and cultural identity. Simplified characters here exclusively refer to those characters simplified by the People's Republic of China (PRC), instead of the concept of character simplification as a whole. The effect of simplified characters on the language remains controversial, decades after their introduction.

Bopomofo (Chinese: 注音符號; pinyin: zhùyīnfúhào; Wade–Giles: chu⁴yin¹fu²hao⁴, or Mandarin Phonetic Symbols, also named Zhuyin, is a major Chinese transliteration system for Mandarin Chinese and other related languages and dialects that is nowadays most commonly used in Taiwanese Mandarin. It is also used to transcribe other varieties of Chinese, particularly other varieties of Mandarin Chinese dialects, as well as Taiwanese Hokkien. Consisting of 37 characters and four tone marks, it transcribes all possible sounds in Mandarin.

The Cyrillization of Chinese is the transcription of Chinese characters into the Cyrillic alphabet.

Singapore Chinese characters Chinese characters as simplified in Singapore

The development of Singapore's Chinese characters can be divided into three periods:

  1. Before 1969 : Used Traditional Chinese characters
  2. 1969–1976: The Ministry of Education promulgated the Table of Simplified Characters, which differed from the Chinese Character Simplification Scheme of the People's Republic of China
  3. After 1976: fully adopted the Simplified Chinese characters of the People's Republic of China. In 1977, the second attempt to simplify the characters was stopped, ending the long period of confusion associated with simplification.
Mandarin Chinese in the Philippines

Mandarin Chinese, also known simply as just "Chinese" referring to Standard Chinese as locally referred to in the Philippines, is taught academically to Chinese Filipinos in Chinese Filipino schools and across other schools and institutions in the Philippines. Both Standard Chinese (PRC) and Taiwanese Mandarin (ROC) are taught and spoken in the Philippines depending on the school, with some schools and speakers using Simplified Chinese characters, some using Traditional Chinese characters, and some using a mixture of both.

Zhonghua Zihai is the largest Chinese character dictionary available for print, compiled in 1994 and consisting of 85,568 different characters.

Chinese Character Simplification Scheme PRC official reform of simplified Chinese characters

The Chinese Character Simplification Scheme is the standardized simplification of Chinese characters promulgated in the 1950s by the State Council of the People's Republic of China. It contains the existing Simplified Chinese characters that are in use today. To distinguish from the later Second round of simplified Chinese characters, this reform is also known as the First Chinese Character Simplification Scheme.

The Old National Pronunciation was the system established for the phonology of standard Chinese as decided by the Commission on the Unification of Pronunciation from 1913 onwards, and published in the 1919 edition of the Guóyīn Zìdiǎn. Although it was mainly based on the phonology of the Beijing dialect, it was also influenced by historical forms of northern Mandarin as well as other varieties of Mandarin and even some varieties of Wu Chinese.

Jiu zixing Traditional printing press form

Jiu zixing, also known as inherited glyphs form, or traditional glyph form, is a traditional printing orthography form of Chinese character which uses the orthodox forms, mainly referring to the traditional Chinese character glyphs, especially the printed forms after movable type printing. Jiu zixing is formed in the Ming Dynasty, and is also known as Kyūjitai in Japan; it also refers to the characters used in China before the Chinese writing reform and the issuing of 1964 "List of Character Forms of Common Chinese characters for Publishing".


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