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  Wikipedia: Chinese character

Wikipedia: Chinese character
Chinese character
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Chinese characters are employed to one degree or another in the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages. They were also used in Vietnamese until the 20th century. South Korea uses Chinese characters basically in the same way that a bold font would be used in English, while North Korea writes Korean using only Hangul and has completely abandoned Chinese characters.

In Chinese they are called Hnz (漢字), in Japanese the same characters are read Kanji, in Korean they are read Hanja (or Hanmun) and in Vietnamese they are read Hán tư. However, the last is considered an extremely sinified form and Chinese characters are normally called chữ nho (字儒). (Note that the morphemes are reversed as is common in Vietnamese borrowings from Chinese.)

Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese are not linguistically related to Chinese, and in order to make Chinese characters work in those languages with radically different grammar, many adaptions had to be made. In many cases, different characters are used express the same meaning. A frequently cited example of this is 愛人 which means spouse in Mainland China but lover in Japanese and 情人 which means lover in China but spouse in Japanese. Also, many similar characters with identical meanings are written with slight differences. One example is black, which is written as 黒 in Japanese, but as 黑 in Chinese. For these reasons, particularly in China and Japan, where Chinese characters are used most often, it is frequently necessary to distinguish between Chinese Chinese characters and Japanese Chinese characters (though in English the distinction can often be made well enough by using the respective words hanzi and kanji).


Chinese scholars classify Han characters by identifying several types of compounds. The first type, and the type most often associated with Chinese writing, are pictograms, which are pictorial representations of the morpheme represented. There are also ideograms that attempt to graphicalize abstract concepts, such as "up" or "down". However, these pictograms and ideograms take up a small proportion of Chinese logograms.

The more common types Chinese characters, on the other hand, are radical-radical compounds, in which each element (radical) of the character hints at the meaning, and radical-phonetic compounds, in which one component (the radical) indicates the kind of concept the character describes, and the other hints at the pronunciation. This last type accounts for the majority of Chinese logograms. Note that despite being called "compounds", these logograms are single entities in themselves; they are written so that they take up the same amount of space as any other logogram.

(Due to the long period of language evolution, hints within characters toward pronunciation and meanings are often useless and sometimes quite misleading, especially depending on which language is spoken.)

For example, the character for "East" (東; dong1) consists of the tree radical (木) and the sun radical (日). All in all it represents a sun rising through trees; this character falls in the radical-radical category.

Another example, the character for "mother" (媽 ma1) consists of one component meaning "female (女)" and another one meaning "horse (馬 ma3)" - now this does not mean Chinese view mothers as female horses! The first component (or "radical") simply tells that the character denotes a female entity, whereas the second acts as a pronunciation guide by referring to the word for "horse", which is also pronounced 'ma', though in a different tone.


The design and use of a dictionary of Chinese characters presents interesting problems. Dozens of indexing schemes have been created for the Chinese characters. The great majority of these schemes - beloved by their inventors but nobody else - have appeared in only a single dictionary; and only one such system has achieved truly widespread use. This is the system of radicals.

Many Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dictionaries of Chinese characters list characters in radical order. Characters are grouped together by radical, and radicals containing fewer strokess come before radicals containing more strokes. Under each radical, characters are listed by their total number of strokes. Indices at the end of the dictionary list characters by sound (using Kana in Japanese and Hangeul in Korean) and by total number of strokes.

In Korean, character dictionaries are usually called Okpyeon (옥편; 玉篇), which literally means "Jewel Book."

Other dictionary systems include:


Main article:

Each character has a fundamental component, or radical (部首 bu4 shou3, literal meaning: "partial head (of the utmost importance)"), and this design principle is used in Chinese dictionaries to logically order characters in sets.

Full characters are ordered according to their initial radical, which fall into roughly 200 types. Then these are subcategorised by their total number of strokess.

This principle of categorisation is exploited by everybody who must learn to write Han characters: the vast number of Chinese characters can be much more easily memorized if they are mentally decomposed into their constituent radicals.

Number of Chinese characters

The question of how many characters there are is a subject of debate. In the 18th century, European scholars claimed the total tally to be about 80,000. This number, however, is exaggerated, as the most comprehensive dictionary (the Kangxi Dictionary) lists about 40,000 characters. One reason for large number of characters is that they include all of the different characters in the different variations of Chinese. Popular estimates say that about 3,000 characters are needed to read a Chinese newspaper, and 4,000 to 5,000 constitute a decent education.

In North and South Korea, middle and high school students learn 1,800 to 2,000 basic characters, while in Japan there are 1945 "daily use kanji" (常用漢字 jouyou kanji) which are taught during primary and secondary school, plus several hundred more "name kanji" (人名用漢字 jinmeiyou kanji, or "name-use kanji") which are used in personal and geographical names. A well-educated person may know upwards of 3500 kanji, and level 1 of the Kanji kentei (the 日本漢字能力検定試験 Nihon kanji nouryoku kentei shiken, or Test of Japanese Kanji Aptitude) tests the ability to read and write 6000 kanji.

Often a character which is not commonly used will appear in a personal or place name in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean names (see Chinese name, Japanese name, and Korean name respectively). This has caused problems with some computer encoding systems which include only the 5,000 or so most common characters and exclude the less often used characters. This is especially a problem for personal names which often contain rare or classical characters. People who have run into this problem include Taiwanese politicians Wang Jian-hsan and Yu Shyi-kun and Taiwanese singer David Tao. Newspapers have dealt with this problem in varying ways, including trying to create a character from two characters, including a picture, or, especially as is the case with Yu Shyi-kun, simply omitting the rare character with the hope that the reader will be able to infer who it refers to.

Calligraphic styles

Main article: Chinese calligraphy

The earliest Chinese characters are the so called "Oracle Script" or (甲骨文) jia3gu3wen2 during the Shang Dynasty, followed by the Bronzeware Script or (金文) jin1wen2 during the Zhou Dynasty. These scripts no longer serve as anything but a curiosity.

The first script that is still of relevance today is the "Seal Script" or 篆書[篆书] zhuan4shu1. It is the result of the efforts of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang Di, in the standardization of the Chinese script. The Seal Script, as the name suggests, is now only used in artistic seals. Few people are still able to read the seal script, although the art of carving a traditional seal in the seal script remains an art in China today.

Scripts that are still used regularly for print are the "Clerk Script" or 隸書[隶书] li4shu1, the "Wei Monumental" or 魏碑 wei4bei1, the "Regular Script" or 楷書[楷书] kai3shu1, the "Song Style" or 宋體[宋体] song4ti3 (only in printing), and the "Running Script" or 行書[行书] xing2shu1. Modern Chinese handwriting is usually modeled on the Running Script.

Finally, there is the "Draft Script", or 草書[草书] cao3shu1. The Draft Script is an idealized calligraphic style, where characters are suggested rather than realized. Despite being nearly illegible, the Draft Script is highly revered for the beauty and freedom that it embodies. Many simplified Chinese characters are based on this style.

In Japan there is also a style called Grass script.

See also

External link

zh-cn:汉字 zh-tw:漢字


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
Modified by Geona