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Simplified Chinese
Type Logographic
Spoken languages Chinese
Time period since 1956
Parent systems
Sister systems Kanji, Chữ Nôm, Hanja, Khitan script, Zhuyin
ISO 15924 Hans
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.
This article contains Chinese text. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Chinese characters.

Simplified Chinese Characters (simplified Chinese: 简体字traditional Chinese: 簡體字pinyin: Jiǎntizì) are one of two standard sets of Chinese characters of the contemporary Chinese written language. The government of the People's Republic of China has promoted them for use in printing in an attempt to increase literacy. They are officially used in the People's Republic of China (Mainland China) and Singapore.

Traditional Chinese is currently used in the Republic of China or Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Overseas Chinese communities generally use traditional characters, but simplified characters are often used among mainland Chinese immigrants.

Simplified character forms were created by decreasing the number of strokes and simplifying the forms of a sizable proportion of traditional Chinese characters. Some simplifications are 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 simpler variant. Some characters were simplified irregularly, however, and some simplified characters are very dissimilar to and unpredictable from traditional characters. Finally, many characters were left untouched by simplification, and are thus identical between the traditional and simplified Chinese orthographies.

In August 2009, the PRC began collecting public comments for a modified list of simplified characters.[1] [2][3][4]

Chinese characters
Traditional Chinese
Variant characters
Simplified Chinese
Simplified Chinese (2nd-round)
Traditional/Simplified (debate)
Kanji (Japanese)
Hanja (Korean)
Hán tự (Vietnamese)
Sawndip (Zhuang)
East Asian calligraphy
Input methods



Jianhuazi zong biao (简化字总表), "Complete List of Simplified Characters" or the final list of simplified characters announced in 1986, contains the following:

  • Chart 1, which contains 350 singly simplified characters, whose simplifications cannot be generalized to other characters
  • Chart 2, which contains 132 simplified characters and 14 simplified radicals, which can all be generalized to other characters
  • Chart 3, a list of 1,753 characters which are simplified in accordance with Chart 2. This list is non-exhaustive, so a character that can be simplified in accordance with Chart 2 should be simplified, even if it does not appear in Chart 3.
  • Appendix, which contains:
    • 39 characters that are officially considered to be cases where a complicated variant character has been abolished in favour of a simpler variant character, rather than where a complicated character is replaced by a newly-created simpler character. However, these characters are commonly considered to have been simplifications, so they are included here for reference purposes.
    • 35 place names that have been modified to replace rare characters with more common ones. These are not character simplifications, because it is the place names that were being modified, not the characters themselves. One place name has since been reverted to its original version.

Di yi pi yitizi zhengli biao ("Series One Organization List of Variant Characters") also accounts for some of the orthography difference between Mainland China on the one hand, and Hong Kong and Taiwan on the other. Although these are not technically "simplifications", they are often regarded as such, because the end effect is the same. It contains:

  • 1,027 variant characters deemed obsolete as of the final revision in 1993. Some of these are obsolete in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well, but others remain in use.

Comparison with Japanese simplification

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 directed, affecting only a few hundred characters and replacing them with simplified forms, most of which were already in use in Japanese 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.

Origins and history

Mainland China

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 have always existed (they date back to as early as the Qin Dynasty (221 - 206 BC), though early attempts at simplification actually resulted in more characters being added to the lexicon).

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. Fu Sinian, a leader of the May Fourth Movement, called Chinese characters the “writing of ox-demons and snake-gods” niúguǐ shéshén de wénzì (牛鬼蛇神的文字). Lu Xun, a renowned Chinese author in the 20th century, stated that, “If Chinese characters are not destroyed, then China will die.” (漢字不滅,中國必亡。) Recent commentators have claimed that Chinese characters were blamed for the economic problems in China during that time.[5]

In the 1930s and 1940s, discussions on character simplification took place within the Kuomintang government, and a large number of Chinese intellectuals and writers have long maintained that character simplification would help boost literacy in China.[6] Three-hundred and twenty-four simplified characters collected by Qian Xuantong are officially introduced in 1935 as the table of 1st batch simplified character (第一批簡體字表) and suspended in 1936. In many world languages, literacy has been promoted as a justification for spelling reforms.

The People's Republic of China issued its first round of official character simplifications in two documents, the first in 1956 and the second in 1964. In the 1950s and 1960s, while confusion about simplified characters was still rampant, transitional characters that mixed simplified parts with yet-to-be simplified parts of characters together appeared briefly, then disappeared.

Within the PRC, further character simplification became associated with the leftists of the Cultural Revolution, culminating in a second round of character simplifications (known as erjian 二简), or "Second-round simplified characters", which were promulgated in 1977. Intellectuals like Chen Mengjia, who opposed the reform, was labeled a rightist and committed suicide.[7] 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. 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). Although no longer recognized officially, some second-round characters appear in informal contexts, as many people learned second-round simplified characters in school.

Simplification initiatives have been 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. 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 8300 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 modified slightly. Also, the practice of simplifying obscure characters by analogy of their radicals is now discouraged. A State Language Commission official cited "over-simplification" as the reason for restoring some characters. The language authority declared an open comment period until August 31, 2009 for feedback from the public.[8]

Singapore and Malaysia

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

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 in decorative contexts such as shop signs and calligraphy in both countries.

Hong Kong

A small group called Dou Zi Sei (導字社) / Dou Zi Wui (導字會) attempted to introduce a special version of simplified characters using romanizations in the 1930s. Today, however the traditional characters remain

Method of simplification

There are several methods in which characters were simplified:[9]

  1. Replacing complicated components of common characters with simpler shapes:
    • ; ; ; etc.
  2. Changing the phonetic:
    • ; ; ; etc.
  3. Omitting entire components:
    • 广; ; ; etc.
  4. Using printed forms of cursive shapes (simplified Chinese: 草书楷化traditional Chinese: 草書楷化pinyin: cǎoshūkǎihuà):
    • ; ; ; etc.
  5. Adopting ancient forms that are simpler in form:
    • ; ; ; etc.
  6. Creating new radical-radical compounds:
    • ; ; ; etc.
  7. Creating new radical-phonetic compounds:
    • ; ; ; etc.
  8. Merging a character into another one that sounds the same or similar:
    • ; ; ; etc.
  9. Merging several characters into a newly created and simpler character:
    • & ; & ; & ; etc.
  10. Systematically simplifying character components, so that all characters that use a given component are simplified in the same way:
    • ; ; ; etc.
    • ; ; ; etc.
    • ; ; ; etc.
      • Note that there are exceptions to the rules that simplify character components. Using the rule given above as an example, the exceptions include and .

Since traditional characters are sometimes merged, confusion may arise when Classical Chinese texts are printed in simplified characters. In rare instances, simplified characters actually became one or two strokes more complex than their traditional counterparts due to logical revision. An example of this is mapping to the previously existing variant form . Note that the "hand" radical on the left (), with three strokes, is replaced with the "tree" radical (), with four strokes.

Another example of the simplified character which has more strokes than the traditional character is (12 strokes) which when written in traditional Chinese is (11 strokes).

One peculiar simplification does not change the stroke count of the character at all, but is merely a swap in position of the left and right sides of the character. It is the Chinese character for "enough", the traditional being and the simplified .

Distribution and use

Simplified Chinese characters on a sign in China

The People's Republic of China, Singapore and Malaysia generally use simplified characters. They appear very sparingly in printed text produced in Hong Kong, Macau, the Republic of China, and overseas Chinese communities, although they are becoming more prevalent as China opens to the world. Conversely, the mainland is seeing an increase in the use of traditional forms, where they are often used on signs and in logos.

Mainland China

The Law of the People's Republic of China on the National Common Language and Characters implies simplified Chinese as the standard script, and relegates Traditional Chinese to certain aspects and purposes such as ceremonies, cultural purposes (e.g. calligraphy), decoration, publications and books on ancient literature and poetry, and research purposes. Traditional Chinese remains ubiquitous on buildings predating the promotion of simplified characters, such as former government buildings, religious buildings, educational institutions, and historical monuments. Traditional Chinese is also often used for commercial purposes, such as shopfront displays and advertisements, though this is officially discouraged.

The PRC also tends to print material intended for people in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, and overseas Chinese in traditional characters. For example, the PRC prints versions of the People's Daily in traditional characters and both the People's Daily and Xinhua websites have versions in traditional characters using Big5 encoding. Mainland companies selling products in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan use Traditional characters on its displays and packaging to communicate with consumers (the reverse is true as well). Also, as part of the one country, two systems model, the PRC has not attempted to force Hong Kong or Macau into using simplified characters.

Dictionaries published in mainland China generally show both simplified and their traditional counterparts. In digital media, many cultural phenomena imported from Hong Kong and Taiwan into mainland China, such as music videos, karaoke videos, subtitled movies, and subtitled dramas, use traditional Chinese characters, thereby exposing mainlanders to the use of traditional characters.

Hong Kong

Textbooks, official statements, newspapers, including the PRC-funded media, show no signs of moving to simplified Chinese characters. However simplified Chinese character version of publications are becoming popular, because these mainland editions are often cheaper.

It is common for Hong Kong people to learn traditional Chinese characters in school, and some simplified Chinese in passing (either through reading mainland-published books or other media). For use on computers, however, people tend to type Chinese characters using a traditional character set such as Big5. In Hong Kong, as well as elsewhere, it is common for people who use both sets to do so because it is much easier to convert from the traditional character set to the simplified character set because of the usage of the aforementioned methods 8 and 9 of simplification.


Simplified Chinese characters are not officially used in governmental and civil publications in the Republic of China (Taiwan). However, it is legal to import simplified character publications and distribute them. Certain simplified characters that have long existed in informal writing for centuries also have popular usage, while those characters simplified originally by the PRC government are much less common in daily appearance.

In all areas, most handwritten text will include informal character simplifications (alternative script), and some characters (such as the "Tai" in Taiwan: traditional 臺 simplified/alternative 台) have informal simplified forms that appear more commonly than the official forms, even in print. The use of Japanese hiragana character の [no] in place of the more complex 的 [de] is common: both mean "of", despite their unrelated pronunciations. Japanese characters and Chinese simplified characters are not acceptable to use in official documents in the ROC.

Singapore and Malaysia

In Singapore, where Chinese is one of the official languages, simplified characters are the official standard and used in all official publications as well as the government-controlled press. While simplified characters are taught exclusively in schools, unlike in the People's Republic of China, the government does not officially discourage the use of traditional characters. While all official publications are in simplified characters, the government still allows parents to choose whether to have their child's Chinese name registered in simplified or traditional characters.

In Malaysia, as simplified characters are taught exclusively in Chinese schools since 1981, most younger Chinese Malaysians are proficient in simplified characters. As Chinese is not an official language in Malaysia, official usage of Chinese, and hence simplified characters, is rare.

As there is no restriction of the use of traditional characters in the mass media, television programmes, books, magazines and music CD's that have been imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan are widely available, and these almost always use traditional characters. Most karaoke discs, being imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan, have song lyrics in traditional characters as well. Many shop signs continue to be written in traditional characters. Menus in hawker centres and coffeeshops are also usually written in traditional characters.

Overseas Chinese

Among overseas Chinese communities (except for Singapore and Malaysia), traditional characters are most commonly used.[10]


In general, schools in Mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore use simplified characters exclusively, while schools in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan use traditional characters exclusively.

For overseas Chinese going to "Chinese school", which character set is used depends very much on which school one attends. Not surprisingly, parents will generally enroll their children in schools that teach the script they themselves use. Descendants of Hong Kongers and people who emigrated before the simplification will therefore generally be taught traditional (and in Cantonese), whereas children whose parents are of more recent mainland origin will probably be taught simplified.

Teaching Chinese as a foreign language to non-Chinese students is mainly carried out in simplified characters and Hanyu Pinyin.

Mainland China

In December 2004, Beijing's educational authorities rejected a proposal from a Beijing CPPCC political conference member that called for elementary schools to teach traditional Chinese characters in addition to the simplified ones. The conference member pointed out that most mainland Chinese, especially young people, have difficulties with traditional Chinese characters; this is especially important in dealing with non-mainland communities such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. The educational authorities did not approve the recommendation, saying that it did not fit in with the "requirements as set out by the law" and it could potentially complicate the curricula.[11] A similar proposal was delivered to the 1st Plenary Session of the 11th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in the March of 2008.[12]

Hong Kong

Most, if not all, Chinese language text books in Hong Kong are written in traditional characters. Before 1997, the use of simplified characters was generally discouraged by educators. After 1997, while students are still expected to be proficient and utilise traditional characters in formal settings, they may sometimes adopt a hybrid written form in informal settings to speed up writing. With the exception of open examinations, Simplified Chinese characters are considered acceptable by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority for their speed.

Singapore and Malaysia

Chinese text books in Singapore and Malaysia are written exclusively in simplified characters, and only simplified characters are taught in school. Traditional characters are usually only taught to those taking up calligraphy as a co-curricular activity.

Chinese as a foreign language

As the source of many Chinese Mandarin textbooks is mainland China, the majority of textbooks teaching Chinese are now based on simplified characters and hanyu pinyin - although there are textbooks originating in China which have a traditional version. For practical reasons, universities and schools prepare students who will be able to communicate with mainland China, so their obvious choice is to use simplified characters.

Most universities on the west coast of the United States previously taught the traditional character set, most likely due to the large population of Chinese Americans who continue to use the traditional forms. The largest Mandarin Chinese program in North America, at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, switched to simplified characters at least a decade ago, although the majority of the surrounding Chinese Canadian population, who are non-Mandarin speaking, at that time were users of traditional characters. Stanford University's Cantonese program instructs its students with a traditional character set partly because Hong Kong uses traditional characters as well[citation needed]. In places where a particular set is not locally entrenched, e.g., Europe and the United States, instruction is in or is swinging towards simplified, as the economic importance of mainland China increases, and also because of the availability of inexpensive decent quality textbooks printed in mainland China. Teachers of international students often recommend learning both systems.

In the United Kingdom, universities mainly teach Chinese at undergraduate level using the simplified characters coupled with pinyin. However, they will require the students to learn and be able to recognise the traditional forms by the last year of the course, by which time the students will have completed a year's study either in China or Taiwan.

In Australia and New Zealand, schools, universities and TAFEs use predominantly simplified characters.

Russia and most East European nations are traditionally oriented on the education of the PRC's system for teaching Chinese, uses simplified characters but exposes the learners to both systems.

In South Korea, universities have used predominantly simplified characters in 1990s. In high school, Chinese is one of the selective subjects. By the regulation of the national curricula standards, MPS I and traditional characters had been originally used before(since 1940s), but by the change of regulation, pinyin and simplified characters have been used to pupils who enter the school in 1996 or later. Therefore MPS I and traditional characters disappeared after 1998 in South Korean high school Chinese curriculum.

In Japan there are two types of schools. Simplified Chinese is taught instead of traditional Chinese in pro-mainland China schools. They also teach Pinyin, a romanization system for standard Chinese, while the Taiwan-oriented schools teach Zhuyin, which uses phonetic symbols. However, the Taiwan-oriented schools are starting to teach simplified Chinese and Pinyin to offer a more well-rounded education.[13]

Computer encoding

In computer text applications, the GB encoding scheme most often renders simplified Chinese characters, while Big5 most often renders traditional characters. Although neither encoding has an explicit connection with a specific character set, the lack of a one-to-one mapping between the simplified and traditional sets established a de facto linkage.

Since simplified Chinese conflated many characters into one and since the initial version of the GB encoding scheme, known as GB2312-80, contained only one code point for each character, it is impossible to use GB2312 to map to the bigger set of traditional characters. It is theoretically possible to use Big5 code to map to the smaller set of simplified character glyphs, although there is little market for such a product. Newer and alternative forms of GB have support for traditional characters. In particular, mainland authorities have now established GB 18030 as the official encoding standard for use in all mainland software publications. The encoding contains all East Asian characters included in Unicode 3.0. As such, GB 18030 encoding contains both simplified and traditional characters found in Big-5 and GB, as well as all characters found in Japanese and Korean encodings.

Unicode deals with the issue of simplified and traditional characters as part of the project of Han unification by including code points for each. This was rendered necessary by the fact that the linkage between simplified characters and traditional characters is not one-to-one. While this means that a Unicode system can display both simplified and traditional characters, it also means that different localization files are needed for each type.

The Chinese characters used in modern Japanese have also undergone simplification, but generally to a lesser extent than with simplified Chinese, it's worth mentioning that Japanese writing system reduced the number of Chinese characters in daily use, which was also part of the Japanese language reforms, thus, a number of complex characters were written phonetically. Reconciling these different character sets in Unicode became part of the controversial process of Han unification. Not surprisingly, some of the Chinese characters used in Japan are neither 'traditional' nor 'simplified'. In this case, these characters cannot be found in traditional/simplified Chinese dictionaries.

Web pages

The World Wide Web Consortium's Internationalization working group recommends the use of the language tag zh-Hans as a language attribute value and Content-Language value to specify web-page content in simplified Chinese characters.[14]

Debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters

The debate over the use of traditional versus simplified Chinese characters has existed for a long time and still continues.

See also

Further reading

  • Bökset, R. (2006). Long story of short forms: the evolution of simplified Chinese characters. Stockholm East Asian monographs, No. 11. Stockholm: Dept. of Oriental Languages, Stockholm University. ISBN 9162868322
  • Chen, H. (1987). Simplified Chinese characters. Torrance, CA: Heian. ISBN 0893462934
  • Bergman, P. M. (1980). The basic English-Chinese, Chinese-English dictionary: using simplified characters (with an appendix containing the original complex characters) transliterated in accordance with the new, official Chinese phonetic alphabet. New York, N.Y.: New American Library. ISBN 0451092627


  1. ^ 关于《通用规范汉字表》公开征求意见的公告. Page about the list at the State Language Commission's website, including a link to a pdf of the list. Accessed 2009.08.18.
  2. ^ 汉字,该繁还是简?. Syndicated from 人民日报 (People's Daily), 2009-04-09. Accessed 2009.04.10.
  3. ^ 专家称恢复繁体字代价太大 新规范汉字表将公布 Syndicated from 新京报, 2009-04-09. Accessed 2009.04.10.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Yen, Yuehping. [2005] (2005). Calligraphy and Power in Contemporary Chinese Society. Routledge. ISBN 0415317533
  6. ^ 简化字的昨天、今天和明天
  7. ^ Peter Hessler, Oracle Bones, Harper Collins, New York, 2006. ISBN 0060826584.
  8. ^ "China to regulate use of simplified characters", China View, August 12, 2009. Accessed 2009-08-17.
  9. ^ For more details, see zh:简化字
  10. ^ Keller, Andrée Tabouret. [1997] (1997). Vernacular Literacy: A Re-Evaluation. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198236352
  11. ^ 千龙网-北京-市教委驳回政协委员普及繁体字教学建议 (Thousand dragon net - Beijing - city Education Committee rejects commissar of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference to popularize the traditional character teaching suggestion)
  12. ^ Debate: A need to introduce traditional characters to schools?
  13. ^ School bridges China-Japan gap
  14. ^ Richard Ishida (editor): Best Practice 13: Using Hans and Hant codes in Internationalization Best Practices: Specifying Language in XHTML & HTML Content - W3C Working Group Note 12 April 2007.

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Proper noun

Simplified Chinese


Simplified Chinese

  1. Chinese written using simplified characters, used in the People's Republic of China and Singapore, jiantizi

Related terms


  • simplified Chinese character
  • jiantizi
  • jianhuazi


See also

Simple English

Simplified Chinese is one of the two commonly used forms of writing Chinese languages. As its name shows, it is a more simple form of writing, compared to traditional Chinese.

Traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, while people living in Mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia use simplified Chinese for their writings.

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