Traditional Chinese characters

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Traditional Chinese
Hanzi (traditional).svg
Languages Chinese
Time period
Since 5th century AD
Parent systems
Child systems
Simplified Chinese
Khitan script
ISO 15924 Hant, 502
Direction Left-to-right

Traditional Chinese characters (traditional Chinese: /; simplified Chinese: /; Pinyin: Zhèngtǐzì/Fántĭzì) are Chinese characters in any character set that does not contain newly created characters or character substitutions performed after 1946. They are most commonly the characters in the standardized character sets of Taiwan, of Hong Kong and Macau or in the Kangxi Dictionary. 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 currently used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau; as well as in Overseas Chinese communities outside of Southeast Asia, although the number of printed materials in simplified characters is growing[citation needed] in Australia, USA and Canada, targeting or created by new arrivals from mainland China. Currently, a large number of overseas Chinese online newspapers allow users to switch between both sets[citation needed]. In contrast, simplified Chinese characters are used in mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia in official publications. The debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters has been a long-running issue among Chinese communities.

Symbol of traditional Chinese character in computers

Modern usage in Chinese-speaking areas[edit]

Mainland China[edit]

Although simplified characters are taught and endorsed by the government of Mainland China, there is no prohibition against the informal use of traditional characters . Traditional characters are used informally 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.

Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau[edit]

Taiwan has never adopted Simplified Chinese characters since it is ruled by Government of the Republic of China. The use of simplified characters in official documents is even prohibited by the government in Taiwan. Simplified characters are not well understood in general, although some stroke simplifications that have been incorporated into Simplified Chinese are in common use in handwriting.[1][2] Similarly, in Hong Kong and Macau, Traditional Chinese has been the legal written form since colonial times.

In recent years, because of the influx of mainland Chinese tourists,[citation needed] the appearance of simplified Chinese characters in Hong Kong and Macau has become increasingly common. Today, even government websites use simplified Chinese.[3] This has led to concerns by many local residents to protect their heritage of traditional Chinese characters.[citation needed]


Job announcement in a Filipino Chinese daily newspaper written in Traditional Chinese characters.

In Southeast Asia, the Filipino Chinese community remains to be some of the most conservative towards 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 for 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]

A Series of Reading workbook in Traditional Chinese used in some Elementary schools in the Philippines.

United States[edit]

Overseas Chinese in the United States have long used traditional characters. Most Chinese language signage in the United States, including nearly all street signs and public notices, is in traditional characters. However, this is rapidly changing due to the growing immigration from and influence of Mainland China.[citation needed]

Chinese names[edit]

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).[4] However, the same term is used outside Taiwan to distinguish standard, simplified and traditional characters from variant and idiomatic characters.[5]

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 characters 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.[6]

Some people refer to traditional characters as simply "proper characters" (Chinese: 正字; pinyin: zhèngzì) and modernized characters as "simplified-stroke characters" (simplified Chinese: 简笔字; traditional Chinese: 簡筆字; pinyin: jiǎnbǐzì) or "reduced-stroke characters" (simplified Chinese: 减笔字; traditional Chinese: 減筆字; 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[edit]

When printing text, people in China, Malaysia 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 体 for 體. In the old days, 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[edit]

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 嗎, which is U+20C8E 𠲎 (伐 with a 口 radical).[citation needed]

Web pages[edit]

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.[7]

Usage in other languages[edit]

Traditional Chinese characters are also known as Hanja in Korean (in the late 20th century almost completely replaced with Hangul), and many Kanji (used in Japanese) are unsimplified. Compared to the Chinese reform, many simplified Kanji were less affected (such as the character for round (also used to refer to Japanese and Chinese currency): 円 = Kanji, 圆 = simplified Chinese form, 圓 = full form). They coincide with those simplified in China but some were simplified differently, thus being a different standard (e.g. "dragon" 竜 current standard Japanese (tatsu/RYŪ), 龙 (Chinese simplified), 龍 (Chinese traditional) lóng (Mandarin), lung4 (Cantonese)).

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Yat-Shing Cheung. "Language variation, culture, and society." In Kingsley Bolton. Sociolinguistics Today: International Perspectives. p. 211
  2. ^ Success with Asian Names: A Practical Guide for Business and Everyday Life
  3. ^
  4. ^ "查詢結果 (search result)". Laws and Regulations Database of The Republic of China. Ministry of Justice (Republic of China). 2014-09-26. Retrieved 2014-10-07. 
  5. ^ Academy of Social Sciences, (1978), Modern Chinese Dictionary, The Commercial Press: Beijing.
  6. ^ Norman, Jerry (1988) Chinese, Cambridge University Press, p81.
  7. ^ "Internationalization Best Practices: Specifying Language in XHTML & HTML Content". Retrieved 2009-05-27. 

External links[edit]