Simplified Chinese characters

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Simplified Chinese
Hanzi (simplified).svg
Time period
Since middle of the 20th century
Parent systems
Sister systems
Chữ Nôm
Khitan scripts
ISO 15924Hans, 501

Simplified Chinese characters (简化字; jiǎnhuàzì)[1] 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.[2] They are officially used in the People's Republic of China, Malaysia, and Singapore.

Traditional Chinese characters are officially used in Hong Kong, Macau, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and occasionally in the Chinese community of Malaysia and Singapore. Other Overseas Chinese communities generally tend to use traditional characters.[citation needed]

Simplified Chinese characters may be referred to by their official name above or colloquially (简体字; About this soundjiǎntǐzì). In its broadest sense, the latter term refers to all characters that have undergone simplifications of character "structure" or "body"[3], some of which have existed for thousands of years alongside regular, more complicated forms. On the other hand, the official name refers to the modern systematically simplified character set, which (as stated by then-Chairman Mao Zedong in 1952) includes not only structural simplification but also substantial reduction in the total number of standardized Chinese characters.[4]

Simplified character forms were created by reducing the number of strokes and simplifying the forms of a sizable proportion of Chinese characters. Some simplifications were based on popular cursive forms embodying graphic or phonetic simplifications of the traditional forms. Some characters were simplified by applying regular rules, for example, by replacing all occurrences of a certain component with a simplified version of the component. Variant characters with the same pronunciation and identical meaning were reduced to a single standardized character, usually the simplest amongst all variants in form. Finally, many characters were left untouched by simplification and are thus identical between the traditional and simplified Chinese orthographies.

A second round of simplifications was promulgated in 1977, but was later retracted in 1986 for a variety of reasons, largely due to the confusion caused and the unpopularity of the second round simplifications.[5] However, the Chinese government never officially dropped its goal of further simplification in the future.[citation needed]

In August 2009, the PRC began collecting public comments for a modified list of simplified characters.[6][7][8][9] The new Table of General Standard Chinese Characters consisting of 8,105 (simplified and unchanged) characters was officially implemented for use by the State Council of the People's Republic of China on June 5, 2013.[10]



Before 1949

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 are attested as early as the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC).

The first batch of Simplified Characters introduced in 1935 consisted of 324 characters.

One of the earliest proponents of character simplification was Lufei Kui, 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. Lu Xun, a renowned Chinese author in the 20th century, stated that, "If Chinese characters are not destroyed, then China will die" (汉字不灭,中国必亡). Recent commentators have claimed that Chinese characters were blamed for the economic problems in China during that time.[11]

In the 1930s and 1940s, discussions on character simplification took place within the Kuomintang government, and a large number of Chinese intellectuals and writers maintained that character simplification would help boost literacy in China.[12] In 1935, 324 simplified characters collected by Qian Xuantong were officially introduced as the table of first batch of simplified characters, but they were suspended in 1936.

People's Republic of China

The PRC issued its first round of official character simplifications in two documents, the first in 1956 and the second in 1964.

Within the PRC, further character simplification became associated with the leftists of the Cultural Revolution, culminating with the 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.[citation needed] 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: , , ; note that the form is used instead of in regions using Traditional Chinese).

There had been simplification initiatives 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.[citation needed] After the retraction of the second round of simplification, the PRC stated that it wished to keep Chinese orthography stable. Years later in 2009, the Chinese government released a major revision list which included 8,300 characters. No new simplifications were introduced. However, six characters previously listed as "traditional" characters that have been simplified, as well as 51 other "variant" characters, were restored to the standard list. In addition, orthographies (e.g., stroke shape) for 44 characters were proposed to be modified slightly to fit traditional calligraphic rules. Also, the practice of unrestricted simplification of rare and archaic characters by analogy using simplified radicals or components is now discouraged. A State Language Commission official cited "oversimplification" as the reason for restoring some characters. The language authority declared an open comment period until August 31, 2009 for feedback from the public.[13] The proposed orthographic changes to 44 characters were not implemented due to overwhelmingly negative public opinion.[14]

The officially promulgated version of the List of Commonly Used Standardized Characters, announced in 2013, contained 45 newly recognized standard characters that were previously considered variant forms, as well as official approval of 226 characters that had been simplified by analogy and had seen wide use but were not explicitly given in previous lists or documents.

Singapore and Malaysia

Singapore underwent three successive rounds of character simplification, eventually arriving at the same set of simplified characters as Mainland China.[15]

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.

Malaysia promulgated a set of simplified characters in 1981, which were also completely identical to the simplified characters used in Mainland China. Chinese-language schools use these.

Traditional characters are still often seen on shop signs, calligraphy, and some newspapers in both countries.

Hong Kong

A small group called Dou Zi Sei (T:導字社; S:导字社) or Dou Zi Wui (T:導字會; S:导字会) attempted to introduce a special version of simplified characters using romanizations in the 1930s. Today, however, the traditional characters remain dominant in Hong Kong.


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 limited, simplifying only a few hundred characters, most of which were already in use in cursive script. Further, the list of simplifications was exhaustive, unlike Chinese simplification – thus analogous simplifications of not explicitly simplified characters (extended shinjitai) are not approved, and instead standard practice is to use the traditional forms.

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.

Method of simplification

Structural simplification of characters
All characters simplified this way are enumerated in Chart 1 and Chart 2 in Jianhuazi zong biao (简化字总表), "Complete List of Simplified Characters" announced in 1986.
Chart 1 lists all 350 characters that are used by themselves, and can never serve as 'simplified character components'.
Chart 2 lists 132 characters that are used by themselves as well as utilized as simplified character components to further derive other simplified characters. Chart 2 also lists 14 'components' or 'radicals' that cannot be used by themselves, but can be generalized for derivation of more complex characters.
Derivation based on simplified character components
Chart 3 lists 1,753 characters which are simplified based on the same simplification principles used for character components and radicals in Chart 2. This list is non-exhaustive, so if a character is not already found in Chart 1, 2 or 3, but can be simplified in accordance with Chart 2, the character should be simplified.
Elimination of variants of the same character
Series One Organization List of Variant Characters accounts for some of the orthography difference between Mainland China on the one hand, and Hong Kong and Taiwan on the other. These are not simplifications of character structures, but rather reduction in number of total standard characters. For each set of variant characters that share the identical pronunciation and meaning, one character (usually the simplest in form) is elevated to the standard character set, and the rest are obsoleted. After rounds of revisions, by 1993, some 1,027 variant characters have been declared obsolete by this list. Amongst the chosen variants, those that appear in the "Complete List of Simplified Characters" are also simplified in character structure accordingly.
Adoption of new standardized character forms
New standardized character forms originated from the "List of character forms of General Used Chinese characters for Publishing" containing 6,196 characters, published in 1965. The new forms tend to adopt vulgar variant forms for most of its characters. The List of Commonly Used Characters in Modern Chinese list, published in 1988, contains 7,000 commonly used characters, and replaces the 1965 list. Since the new forms take vulgar variants, many characters now appear slightly simpler compared to old forms, and as such are often mistaken as structurally simplified characters.

Structural simplification of characters

All characters simplified this way are enumerated in Chart 1 and Chart 2 in the Complete List of Simplified Characters. Characters in both charts are structurally simplified based on similar set of principles. They are separated into two charts to clearly mark those in Chart 2 as 'usable as simplified character components', based on which Chart 3 is derived.[16]

Merging two or more usually homophonous characters :

蒙、懞、濛、矇; 復、複、覆、复; 乾、幹、榦、干; 髮、發; etc.

Using printed forms of cursive shapes (草書楷化):

; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; etc.

Replacing a component of a character with a simple arbitrary symbol (such as and ):

; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; etc.

Omitting entire components:

; 广; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; → 气; etc.

Further morphing a character after omitting some components:

; → 丽; ; ; ; etc.

Preserving the basic outline or shape of the original character

; 龜→ ; → 齿; ; ; ; etc.

Replacing the phonetic component of phono-semantic compound characters:

; ; ; ; ; etc.

Replacing uncommon phonetic component of a character with a more common one:

; ; 歷、曆; ; etc.

Replacing entire character with a newly coined phono-semantic compound character:

; ; ; ; etc.

Removing radicals from characters

; ; 裡/裏; ; 關/関; etc.

Only retaining radicals from characters

广; ; ; ; ; ; etc.

Adopting obscure ancient forms or variants:[17]

; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; etc.

Adopting ancient vulgar variants:[17]

; ; ; ; ; etc.

Re-adopting abandoned phonetic-loan characters:

; ; 裡/裏; etc.

Modifying a traditional character to simplify another traditional character:

义(乂); 髮、發发(友); 龙(尤); 无(天); 头(大); 万(方); etc.

Derivation based on simplified character components

Based on 132 characters and 14 components listed in Chart 2 of the Complete List of Simplified Characters, the 1,753 'derived' characters found in the non-exhaustive Chart 3 can be created by systematically simplifying components using Chart 2 as a conversion table. While exercising such derivation, following rules should be observed:

  • The "Complete List of Simplified Characters" employs character components, not the traditional definition of radicals. A component refers to any conceivable part of a character, regardless of its position within the character, or its relative size compared to other components in the same character. For instance, in the character , not only is (a traditional radical) considered a component, but so is .
    • Each of the 132 simplified characters in Chart 2, when used as a component in compound characters, systematically simplify compound characters in exactly the same way the Chart 2 character itself was simplified. For instance, is simplified in Chart 2 to . Based on the same principle, these derivations can be made: ; ; ; etc.
    • The 14 simplified components in Chart 2 are never used alone as individual characters. They only serve as components. Example of derived simplification based on the component
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