Simplified Chinese characters (简体字)

Since the early 20th century there have been calls to simplify or even abolish the Chinese script. In 1909, the linguist and essayist, Lufei Kui (陸費逵 [陆费逵]), proposed the use of simplified characters in education.

From 1919, members of the May Fourth Movement, a group of anti-imperialist intellectuals that grew out of student protests in Beijing, searched for ways to modernise China. They challenged traditional Chinese culture, and believed that the Chinese script was an obstacle to progress. Simplifying or abolishing the script were possiblities they suggested. Discussions of the simplification of the Chinese script continued in the Kuomingtang government in the 1930s and 1940s, and a list of 324 simplified characters was introduced by Qian Xuantong (錢玄同 [钱玄同]) in 1935. Their use was suspended in 1936.

Work on simplifying the script began again in 1952, and the simplified script was officially adopted in the People's Republic of China in 1956 in an effort to eradicate illiteracy. A second round of simplifications which was published in 1977 but proved very unpopular and was abandoned in 1986. Recently traditional characters have started to make a come back, particularly in southern China.

Simplified Characters in Singapore and Malaysia

In 1969 the Ministy of Education in Singapore published a list of 498 simplified characters based on 502 traditional characters for use in schools. A further 2,287 simplified characters were added in 1974. This group include 49 characters that were different from those used in China, which were removed in 1976. Further revisions were made in 1993, and the simplified characters used in Singapore are now the same as those used in China. However, tradtional characters are often used for shop signs, some newspapers and in calligraphy.

In Malaysia simplified characters were adopted in 1981, and are the same as those used in China. However, tradtional characters are often used for shop signs, some newspapers and in calligraphy.

Simplified characters in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan

In Hong King an attempt to introduce simplified characters was made in the 1930s, but was not successful, and traditional characters continue to be used. Some students write notes in simplified characters, as it is quicker. The traditional characters continued to be used in Macau and Taiwan, however some non-standard simplified characters are used in informal writing, and a few simplified characters, influenced by Japanese usage, are used even in formal writing. One example is using 台灣 rather than 臺灣 for Taiwan - it is 台湾 in the simplified script.

Simplification processes

About 2,000 characters have been simplified in a number of different ways. Many simplified characters are based on commonly used abbreviations, some of which have been in use in cursive forms of the Chinese script since the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC).

Here are some ways in which characters have been simplified:

Simplified characters based on cursive versions

Simplified characters based on obscure or ancient variants

Simplified characters made by removing radicals

Simplified characters made by retaining the radical

Simplified characters made by replacing part with a simple arbitary symbol

Further information about the Chinese script


Information about Simplified characters

Simplified to Traditional Chinese Conversion Table

Reformed Chinese Characters - an in-the-middle alternative to Simplified & Traditional Chinese

Further information about the Chinese script

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