|Time period||Since 5th century AD|
|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 (2nd-round)|
|East Asian calligraphy|
Traditional Chinese characters refers to one of the two standard sets of printed Chinese characters, the other being simplified Chinese characters. 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 another standardized set — simplified Chinese characters, 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 (Republic of China), Hong Kong and Macau. They were also used in mainland China before the People's Republic of China simplified them in the 1950s and 1960s. In overseas Chinese communities other than Singapore and Malaysia, traditional characters are most commonly used, although the number of printed materials in simplified characters is growing in Australia, USA and Canada, targeting or created by new arrivals from mainland China. A large number of overseas Chinese online newspapers allow users to switch between both sets. 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.
Traditional Chinese characters are referred to by several different names within the Chinese-speaking world. The government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) officially calls traditional Chinese characters standard characters or orthodox characters (traditional Chinese: 正體字, simplified Chinese: 正体字; Hanyu Pinyin: zhèngtǐzì; Tongyong Pinyin: jhèngtǐzìh; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄓㄥˋ ㄊㄧˇ ㄗˋ). However, the same term is used outside Taiwan to distinguish standard, simplified and traditional characters from variant and idiomatic characters.
In contrast, users of traditional Chinese 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" (simplified Chinese: 全体字; traditional Chinese: 全體字; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄑㄩㄢˊ ㄊㄧˇ ㄗˋ) to distinguish them from simplified Chinese characters.
Some traditional character 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.
Some older people refer to traditional characters as "proper characters" (Chinese: 正字; pinyin: zhèngzì) and modernized characters as "modernized-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 homonyms 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.
When printing text, people in mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore mainly use the simplified system, developed by the People's Republic of China government in the 1950s. However, the PRC also prints material intended to be read outside of mainland China using traditional characters (the reverse is also true). 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. Some simplifications are extremely widespread, such as, notably, the 台 tái in 台灣 Táiwan as opposed to the traditional character (臺). 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).
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).
Traditional Chinese characters are also known as Korean Hanja (in the 20th century almost completely replaced with Hangul, native Korean alphabet), and moderately simplified traditional characters are known as modern Japanese Kanji. Japanese Kanji were also simplified. The reform affected a smaller number of Japanese characters, compared the Chinese reform, many simplified Kanji coincide with those simplified in China but a smaller number were simplified differently thus creating a third version (e.g. "dragon" 竜 current standard Japanese (tatsu/RYŪ), 龙 (Chinese simplified), 龍 (Chinese traditional) lóng (Mandarin), lung4 (Cantonese)). Some characters like this are actually more "simple" in post-reform Kanji than in simplified Chinese, such as the character for circle (also used to refer to Japanese and Chinese currency): 円 in new Kanji form, 圆 in simplified Chinese form and 圓 in full form.