Traditional Chinese characters

Last updated

Traditional Chinese
Hanzi (traditional).svg
Languages Chinese
Time period
Since 5th century AD
Parent systems
Child systems
ISO 15924 Hant, 502
The character Fan 
(Pinyin: fan
) meaning "complex, complicated (Chinese characters)" Traditional chinese.svg
The character (Pinyin: fán) meaning "complex, complicated (Chinese characters)"

Traditional Chinese characters (traditional Chinese : / ; simplified Chinese : / , Pinyin: Zhèngtǐzì/Fántǐzì) [1] are Chinese characters in any character set that does not contain newly created characters or character substitutions performed after 1946.[ dubious ] They are most commonly the characters in the standardized character sets of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. 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 by the government of the People's Republic of China on Mainland China in the 1950s.

Traditional Chinese characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, as well as in overseas Chinese communities outside Southeast Asia. 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. Currently, many overseas Chinese online newspapers allow users to switch between both character sets.[ citation needed ]

Modern usage in Chinese-speaking areas

Mainland China

Although simplified characters are taught and endorsed by the government of China, there is no prohibition against the use of traditional characters. Traditional characters are used informally in regions in China primarily in handwriting and also used 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 is dominated by 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, simplified Chinese characters in Hong Kong and Macau has appeared to accommodate Mainland Chinese tourists and immigrants. [2] This has led to concerns by many residents to protect their local heritage. [3] [4]


Taiwan has never adopted simplified characters. The use of simplified characters in official documents is even prohibited by the government of Taiwan. [ citation needed ] Simplified characters are understood to a certain extent by any educated Taiwanese and learning to read them takes little effort. Some stroke simplifications that have been incorporated into Simplified Chinese are in common use in handwriting. [5] [6]


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.

In Southeast Asia, the Chinese Filipino community continues to be one of the most conservative regarding simplification.[ citation needed ] While major public universities are teaching simplified characters, many well-established Chinese schools still use traditional characters. Publications like the Chinese Commercial News , World News and United Daily News still use traditional characters. On the other hand, the Philippine Chinese Daily uses simplified. Aside from local newspapers, magazines from Hong Kong, such as the Yazhou Zhoukan, are also found in some bookstores.

In case of film or television subtitles on DVD, the Chinese dub that is used in Philippines is the same as the one used in Taiwan. This is because the DVDs belongs to DVD Region Code 3. Hence, most of the subtitles are in Traditional Characters.[ citation needed ]

United States

Overseas Chinese in the United States have long used traditional characters. A major influx of Chinese immigrants to the United States occurred during the latter half of the 19th century, before the standardization of simplified characters. Therefore, United States public notices and signage in Chinese are generally in Traditional Chinese. [1]

Chinese names

Traditional Chinese characters (standard characters) are called several 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). [7] However, the same term is used outside Taiwan to distinguish standard, simplified and traditional characters from variant and idiomatic characters. [8]

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 them complex characters (traditional Chinese:繁體字; simplified Chinese:繁体字; pinyin:fántǐzì; Zhuyin Fuhao:ㄈㄢˊ ㄊㄧˇ ㄗˋ). An informal name sometimes used by users of simplified characters is "old characters" (Chinese:老字; pinyin:lǎozì; Zhuyin Fuhao:ㄌㄠˇ ㄗˋ).

Users of traditional characters also sometimes refer them as "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 traditional character users argue that traditional characters are the original form of the Chinese characters and cannot be called "complex". Similarly, simplified characters cannot be "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. [9]

Some people refer to traditional characters as simply "proper characters" (Chinese:正字; pinyin:zhèngzì) and modernized 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).

The use of such words as "complex", "standard" and "proper" in the context of such a visceral subject as written language arouses strong emotional reactions, especially since there are also political ramifications in this case. Debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters explores the differences of opinion that exist on this matter within Chinese-speaking regions.

Printed text

When printing text, people in China and Singapore mainly use the simplified system, developed by the People's Republic of China government in the 1950s. 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 of alternative characters. First, alternative characters were used to avoid using the characters of the formal name of an important person in less formal contexts as a way of showing respect to the said person by preserving the characters of the person's name. This act is called "offense-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 an editorial 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 favors Traditional Chinese. Unicode, however, has become increasingly popular as a rendering method. Unicode gives equal weight to both simplified and traditional Chinese characters. 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 would be 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. [10]

Web pages

The World Wide Web Consortium recommends the use of the language tag zh-Hant as a language attribute value and Content-Language value to specify web-page content in Traditional Chinese. [11]

Usage in other languages

In Japanese, kyūjitai are the now-obsolete unsimplified forms of simplified Shinjitai Jōyō kanji; as with Korean, these unsimplified 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 unsimplified forms, save for a few exceptions.

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

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 difficult learning curve because they often require a thorough understanding of a character's strokes and composition.

Big-5 or Big5 is a Chinese character encoding method used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau for traditional Chinese characters.

Simplified Chinese characters Standardized Chinese characters used in mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore

Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters prescribed in the Table of General Standard Chinese Characters for use in mainland China. 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.

Regular script Chinese writing style, appearing ca. 200 CE and maturing around the 7th century, on which most modern typefaces are based

Regular script, also called 正楷, 真書 (zhēnshū), 楷體 (kǎitǐ) and 正書 (zhèngshū), is the newest of the Chinese script styles, hence most common in modern writings and publications.

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

Stroke order refers to 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) category of CJK 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.

Shinjitai Modern forms of kanji used in Japan after 1946

Shinjitai are the simplified forms of kanji used in Japan since the promulgation of the Tōyō Kanji List in 1946. Some of the new forms found in shinjitai are also found in Simplified Chinese characters, but shinjitai is generally not as extensive in the scope of its modification.

Asahi characters are forms of Kanji particular to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. Unlike Simplified Chinese, where simplifications apply to all characters, the general custom in Japanese publications is to print Jōyō/Jinmeiyō Kanji in simplified Shinjitai forms, and to print Hyōgaiji using their original, unsimplified forms. For example, the Jōyō Kanji 齊, 齋, 劑, 濟 are printed in their Shinjitai forms 斉, 斎, 剤, 済, but the Hyōgaiji 臍, 纃, 薺 remain unsimplified.

Kyūjitai Traditional form of kanji used before 1946

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 traditional forms 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.

The Chinese telegraph code, Chinese telegraphic code, or Chinese commercial code is a four-digit decimal code for electrically telegraphing messages written with Chinese characters.

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, also called Zhuyin or Mandarin Phonetic Symbols, is the major Chinese transliteration system for Mandarin Chinese and other related languages and dialects which is nowadays most commonly used in Taiwanese Mandarin. It is also used to transcribe other varieties of Chinese, particularly other varieties of Standard Chinese and related Mandarin dialects, as well as Taiwanese Hokkien.

Extended shinjitai is the extension of the shinjitai. They are the simplified versions of some of the hyōgaiji. They are unofficial characters; the official forms of these hyōgaiji are still kyūjitai.

Chinese family of scripts Writing systems derived from the ancient Oracle Bone script

The Chinese family of scripts are writing systems descended from the Chinese Oracle Bone Script and used for a variety of languages in East Asia. They include logosyllabic systems such as the Chinese script itself, and adaptations to other languages, such as Kanji (Japanese), Hanja (Korean), Chữ nôm (Vietnamese) and Sawndip (Zhuang). More divergent are Tangut, Khitan large script, and its offspring Jurchen, as well as the Yi script and possibly Korean Hangul, which were inspired by Chinese although not directly descended from it. The partially deciphered Khitan small script may be another. In addition, various phonetic scripts descend from Chinese characters, of which the best known are the various kana syllabaries, the zhuyin semi-syllabary, nüshu, and some influence on hangul.

WenQuanYi typerface

WenQuanYi is an open-source project of Chinese computer fonts licensed under GNU General Public License.

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

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. The artificial nature of the system proved impractical, and in 1926 a decision was made to normalize the pronunciations to the natural pronunciations found in Beijing, which resulted in a revised Guóyīn Chángyòng Zìhuì published in 1932.


  1. 1 2 See, for instance, (Internal Revenue Manual – "The standard language for translation is Traditional Chinese."
  2. Li, Hanwen (李翰文). 分析:中國與香港之間的「繁簡矛盾」. BBC News (in Chinese). Retrieved 2018-07-01.
  3. Lai, Ying-kit (17 July 2013). "Hong Kong actor's criticism of simplified Chinese character use stirs up passions online | South China Morning Post". Post Magazine. Retrieved 2018-07-01.
  4. "Hong Kong TV station criticized for using simplified Chinese". SINA English. 2016-03-01. Retrieved 2018-07-01.
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  6. Price, Fiona Swee-Lin (2007). Success with Asian Names: A Practical Guide for Business and Everyday Life. Nicholas Brealey Pub. via Google Books.
  7. 查詢結果. Laws and Regulations Database of The Republic of China. Ministry of Justice (Republic of China). 2014-09-26. Retrieved 2014-10-07.
  8. Academy of Social Sciences, (1978), Modern Chinese Dictionary, The Commercial Press: Beijing.
  9. Norman, Jerry (1988). Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 81.
  10. "Noto CJK". Google Noto Fonts.
  11. "Internationalization Best Practices: Specifying Language in XHTML & HTML Content". Retrieved 2009-05-27.