Traditional Chinese characters

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Traditional Chinese
Hanzi (traditional).svg
Script type
  • Taiwan: ()
  • Hong Kong: (1986)
  • Left-to-right (modern)
  • Top-to-bottom, columns right to left (historical)
Official script
Languages Chinese languages
Related scripts
Parent systems
Sister systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924 Hant(502),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 meaningOrthodox form characters

Traditional Chinese characters are one of several standard sets of characters used to write Chinese languages. In Taiwan, the set of traditional characters is regulated by Taiwan's Ministry of Education, standardized in the Standard Form of National Characters . These forms were predominant in written Chinese until the middle of the 20th century, [1] [2] when various countries that use Chinese characters began standardizing simplified sets of characters, often with characters that existed before as well-known variants of the predominant forms. [3] [4]


Simplified characters—as codified by the People's Republic of China—are predominantly used in mainland China, Malaysia, and Singapore. "Traditional" as such is a retronym applied to non-simplified character sets in the wake of widespread use of simplified characters. Traditional characters are commonly used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, as well as in most overseas Chinese communities outside of Southeast Asia. [5] As for non-Chinese languages written using Chinese characters, Japanese kanji include many simplified characters known as shinjitai standardized after World War II, sometimes distinct from their simplified Chinese counterparts. Korean hanja, still used to a certain extent in South Korea, remain virtually identical to traditional characters, with variations between the two forms largely stylistic.

There is a long-running debate about traditional and simplified Chinese characters within and between Chinese communities. [6] [7] Because the simplifications are fairly systematic, it is possible to convert computer-encoded characters between the two sets, with the main issue being the merger of traditional characters into single simplified representations, which creates ambiguity when converting simplified characters to traditional characters. Many Chinese online newspapers allow users to switch between these character sets. [8]


Traditional characters are known by different names throughout the Chinese-speaking world. The government of Taiwan officially refers to traditional Chinese characters as traditional Chinese:正體字; simplified Chinese:正体字; pinyin:zhèngtǐzì; lit.'standard/orthodox characters'. [9] This term is also used outside Taiwan to distinguish standard characters, including both simplified, and traditional, from other variants and idiomatic characters. [10] Users of traditional characters elsewhere, as well as those using simplified characters, call traditional characters 繁體字; 繁体字; fántǐzì; 'complex characters', 老字; lǎozì; 'old characters', or 全體字; 全体字; quántǐzì; 'full characters' to distinguish them from simplified characters.

Some argue that since traditional characters are often the original standard forms, they should not be called 'complex'. Conversely, there is a common objection to the description of traditional characters as 'standard', due to them not being used by a large population of Chinese speakers. Additionally, as the process of Chinese character creation often made many characters more elaborate over time, there is sometimes a hesitation to characterize them as 'traditional'. [11]

Some people refer to traditional characters as 'proper characters' (正字; zhèngzì or 正寫; zhèngxiě) and to simplified characters as 簡筆字; 简笔字; jiǎnbǐzì; 'simplified-stroke characters' or 減筆字; 减笔字; jiǎnbǐzì; 'reduced-stroke characters', owing to the fact that the words for simplified and reduced are homophonous in Standard Chinese, both pronounced as jiǎn.


The modern shapes of traditional Chinese characters first appeared with the emergence of the clerical script during the Han dynasty c.200 BCE, with the sets of forms and norms more or less stable since the Southern and Northern dynasties period c.the 5th century.

In Chinese-speaking areas

The east square of Guangzhou railway station in 1991. Traditional characters are prevalent in various brand logos, including
Jian Li Bao ; 'Jianlibao Group',
Piao Rou ; 'Rejoice', and
Yan Dong Mo Jia Le ; 'Guangdong Macro'. Only
Hai Fei Si ; 'Head & Shoulders' is using simplified characters in their wordmark. Guangzhou 1991.jpg
The east square of Guangzhou railway station in 1991. Traditional characters are prevalent in various brand logos, including 健力宝; ' Jianlibao Group ', 飄柔; ' Rejoice ', and 广东万家乐; 'Guangdong Macro'. Only 海飞丝; ' Head & Shoulders ' is using simplified characters in their wordmark.

People's Republic of China

The vast majority of communications in the PRC uses simplified characters. Although simplified characters are endorsed by the Chinese government and taught in schools, there is no prohibition against using traditional characters. Outside of contexts like calligraphy, traditional characters are rarely used.

Hong Kong and Macau

In Hong Kong and Macau, traditional characters were retained during the colonial period, while the mainland adopted simplified characters. Simplified characters are contemporaneously used to accommodate immigrants and tourists, often from the mainland. [12] The increasing use of simplified characters has led to concern among residents regarding protecting what they see as their local heritage. [13] [14]


Taiwan has never adopted simplified characters. The use of simplified characters in government documents and educational settings is discouraged by the government of Taiwan. [15] [16] [17] [18] Nevertheless, with sufficient context simplified characters are likely to be successfully read by those used to traditional characters, especially given some previous exposure. Many simplified characters were previously variants that had long been in some use, with systematic stroke simplifications used in folk handwriting since antiquity. [19] [20]


Traditional characters were recognized as the official script in Singapore until 1969, when the government officially adopted Simplified characters. [21] Traditional characters still are widely used in contexts such as in baby and corporation names, advertisements, decorations, official documents and in newspapers. [8]


The Chinese Filipino community continues to be one of the most conservative in Southeast Asia regarding simplification.[ citation needed ] Although major public universities teach in 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, as do some Hong Kong-based magazines such as Yazhou Zhoukan . The Philippine Chinese Daily uses simplified characters. DVDs are usually subtitled using traditional characters, influenced by media from Taiwan as well as by the two countries sharing the same DVD region, 3.[ citation needed ]

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

United States

With most having immigrated to the United States during the second half of the 19th century, Chinese Americans have long used traditional characters. When not providing both, US public notices and signage in Chinese are generally written in traditional characters, more often than in simplified characters. [22]


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 will be used in place of one with more strokes, such as for . Originally,[ when? ] there were two main uses for alternative characters: to name an important person in informal contexts, reserving the traditional characters for formal contexts as a sign of respect in what is called 避諱; 'offence-avoidance', and in situations where characters are repeated, in order to show that the repetition was intentional rather than a printing error (筆誤).

Use on computers


In the past, traditional Chinese was most often encoded on computers using the Big5 standard, which favored traditional characters. However, the ubiquitous Unicode standard gives equal weight to simplified and traditional Chinese characters, and has become by far the most popular encoding for Chinese-language text.

Input methods

There are various input method editors (IMEs) available for the input of Chinese characters. Many characters, often dialectical variants, are encoded in Unicode but cannot be inputted using certain IMEs, with one example being the Shanghainese-language character U+20C8E𠲎CJK UNIFIED IDEOGRAPH-20C8E—a composition of with the radical—used instead of the Standard Chinese ; .[ citation needed ]


Typefaces often use the initialism TC to signify the use of traditional Chinese characters, as well as SC for simplified Chinese characters. In addition, the Noto family of typefaces, for example, also provides separate fonts for the traditional character set used in Taiwan (TC) and the set used in Hong Kong (HK). [23]


Most Chinese-language webpages now use Unicode for their text. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommends the use of the language tag zh-Hant to specify webpage content written with traditional characters. [24]

Comparison with non-Chinese language scripts

In the kanji of the Japanese writing system, kyujitai are the traditional, largely-obsolete forms of simplified shinjitai , which were standardized for Japanese usage after World War II. Kyujitai are mostly congruent with the traditional characters in Chinese, save for minor stylistic variation. Characters that are not included in the Jōyō kanji list are generally recommended to be printed in their traditional forms, with a few exceptions. Additionally, there are kokuji , which are kanji wholly created in Japan, rather than originally being borrowed from China.

In the Korean writing system, hanja—replaced almost entirely by hangul in South Korea and totally replaced in North Korea—are mostly identical with their traditional counterparts, save minor stylistic variations. As with Japanese, there are autochthonous hanja, known as gukja .

Traditional Chinese characters are also used by non-Chinese ethnic groups. The Maniq people living in Thailand and Malaysia use Chinese characters to write the Kensiu language. [25] [26]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chinese characters</span> Logographic writing system

Chinese characters are logographs used to write the Chinese languages and others from regions historically influenced by Chinese culture. Chinese characters have a documented history spanning over three millennia, representing one of the four independent inventions of writing accepted by scholars; of these, they comprise the only writing system continuously used since its invention. Over time, the function, style, and means of writing characters have evolved greatly. Informed by a long tradition of lexicography, modern states using Chinese characters have standardised their forms and pronunciations: broadly, simplified characters are used to write Chinese in mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia, while traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Simplified characters are one of two standardized character sets widely used to write contemporary Chinese languages, along with traditional characters. Their development during the 20th century was part of an initiative by the People's Republic of China to promote literacy, and their use in ordinary circumstances on the mainland has been encouraged by the Chinese government since the 1950s. They are the official forms used in mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore, while traditional characters are officially used in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Stroke order</span> 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, and Korean. They are known as Hanzi in (Mandarin) Chinese, kanji in Japanese (かんじ), and Hanja in Korean (한자).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ming (typefaces)</span> Category of 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. For Japanese text, they are commonly called Mincho typefaces.

Kyōiku kanji, also known as Gakunenbetsu kanji haitōhyō is a list of 1,026 kanji and associated readings developed and maintained by the Japanese Ministry of Education that prescribes which kanji, and which readings of kanji, Japanese students should learn from first grade to the sixth grade. Although the list is designed for Japanese students, it can also be used as a sequence of learning characters by non-native speakers as a means of focusing on the most commonly used kanji.

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.

Kyūjitai are the traditional forms of kanji. Their simplified counterparts are shinjitai. 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.

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

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters</span>

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.

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Radical 140</span> Chinese character radical

Radical 140 or radical grass (艸部) meaning "grass" is one of 29 of the 214 Kangxi radicals that are composed of 6 strokes. It transforms into when appearing at the top of a character or component. In the Kangxi Dictionary and in modern standard Traditional Chinese as used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, 艹 consists of four strokes, while in Simplified Chinese and modern Japanese, 艹 consists of three strokes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Radical 113</span> Chinese character radical

Radical 113 or radical spirit (示部) meaning ancestor or veneration is number 113 out of the 214 Kangxi radicals. It is one of the 23 radicals composed of 5 strokes. When appearing at the left side of a character, the radical transforms into in modern Chinese and Japanese jōyō kanji.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Radical 23</span> Chinese character radical

Radical 23 or radical hidingenclosure (匸部) is one of the 23 Kangxi radicals composed of two strokes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Radical 63</span> Chinese character radical

Radical 63 or radical door (戶部) meaning "door" is one of the 34 Kangxi radicals composed of 4 strokes.

Differences between Shinjitai and Simplified characters in the Japanese and Chinese languages exist.

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 was 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 the 1964 List of Character Forms of Common Chinese characters for Publishing.

Modern Chinese characters are the Chinese characters used in modern languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.

Stroke number, or stroke count, is the number of strokes of a Chinese character. It may also refer to the number of different strokes in a Chinese character set. Stroke number plays an important role in Chinese character sorting, teaching and computer information processing.

A Chinese character set is a group of Chinese characters. Since the size of a set is the number of elements in it, an introduction to Chinese character sets will also introduce the Chinese character numbers in them.


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