What is a Simplified Chinese Character

Simplification of Chinese Characters

I asked myself, how can a government force several hundred million literate Chinese to learn 2000 new rules to simplify the 5000 to 7000 characters they already know? After thinking about this problem for a couple of years, I finally figured it out.

First of all the laws applied mainly to publishers. They had to learn the rules and make new fonts.

Once the new fonts were made, They did not have to memorize all the rules. They just had to publish everything, newspapers, books, etc. using the new font.

All the teaching material for grade school through high school was republished and every new student had to learn from the new textbooks.

Suddenly almost overnight, every printed object was in simplified Chinese. The average person at the time did not have to learn to “write” simplified Chinese, they only had to learn to “read” simplified Chinese, which was not that difficult, because if you were literate in traditional Chinese, you could guess at most of the simplified characters.

The teachers did not have to actually memorize all the rules, they just had to be able to read the simplified characters and teach out of the book. After a few years everyone can recognize the new characters.

After 10 or 15 years, every young adult knows how to write simplified Chinese and can barely read traditional Chinese.

Standards and de facto standards

When defining exactly what is a simplified character, we would like to know

  1. By what authority, government or industry, who and when.

  2. By what logic, how did they come up with the simplification.

The rules for defining exactly what is a simplified character have changed somewhat over the years and are not exactly the same from place to place, but the following is a list of the government standards that are supposed to be in place today.

The rules may vary a little depending on software, fonts, period, printer etc. but these are the main Government standards in use today.

Rule 1: 第一批异体字整理表 List of 796 acceptable variants and 1024 banned variants

Variants: Two or more characters which have the exact same pronunciation and meaning.

In 1955 the government published a list of acceptable character variants and their associated banned variants.

This resulted in a list of

810 acceptable variant characters and

1055 associated variant characters which were to be banned.

  1. Problem 1. A variant should be the exact same meaning and pronunciation. But some of the characters only had the same pronunciation but had different meanings. They were in fact substitutions.

  2. Problem 2. There were some special rules associated with this list, where you could use the banned version in some situations depending on its meaning or pronunciation.

  3. Problem 3. This resulted in modern generation of Chinese not being able to recognize many common traditional variant characters.

Over the years, some modifications were made and some banned characters were resurrected. The most recent table has

796 accepted characters

1024 banned characters.

If you are going to go from traditional to simplified, the first thing you must do is replace all of the unacceptable variants by their acceptable variants.

Rule 2: 350 个不作简化偏旁用的简化字 Stand Alone Simplification Only

In 1955, a list of 350 characters was published which were given simplified forms

These characters were to be simplified in their stand alone form, but not if they are part of another character.

Actually not entirely true, there are cases where they are simplified as components.

There are sometimes 1 to n convergences due to table 5

  1. Problem 1: In several cases multiple characters are converged to one character.

  2. Problem 2: In several cases the character convergences have been resurrected.

  3. Problem 3: Sometimes the character is substituted for a rare traditional character. This complicates the definition of what is a traditional character and what is a traditional character.

  4. Problem 4: Sometimes new characters are formed because of the simplification logic. These new characters never existed in any dictionary previously and so I call them “new” characters, even though they may have existed in hand written Chinese for a long time.

  5. Problem 5: In some characters, even the radical component is simplified

  6. Problem 6: In some cases the character is not simplified because of some special use.

Rule 3: 132个可作简化偏旁用的简化字和简化偏旁 Simplified as Stand Alone or as Radical

In 1955, a list of 132 characters was published which are simplified in their standalone form and are also simplified when used as components of another character.

There are 1 to n convergences due to table 5

Rule 4: 简化偏旁14个simplified radicals

In 1955 a set of 14 components that if they have stand alone forms, the standalone forms are not simplified. Some of these characters never have stand alone forms. They are just components of characters. There are also places where characters are components, but not simplified.

1753个应用第二表所列简化字和简化偏旁得出来的简化字 Rule based simplification

There were 1753 Characters that were simplified according to table 1, 2, 3 and 4

There are characters that are simplified using other rules that are not included in Table 1,2 and 3

Some of these characters are quite uncommon characters.

  1. Problem 1: In some cases the rules are not strictly applied and the simplified character is an anomaly.

  2. Problem 2: Sometimes the rules are applied to banned alternates and you come up with strange situations.

  3. Problem 3: The number 1753 was applied to the original list of printed characters, so that list is not complete now.

This list was published with “no associated traditional characters”.

There were a number of font characteristics that were defined and a number of character alternates that were different from the usual traditional character fonts.

Some of the font specifications were so trivial that when computer fonts were developed, they were just ignored.

Some differences were minor but not trivial

The table defined simplified characters, but it did not define traditional characters.

For instance 黄 黃

Character Lists for Publishers, Educators and the Masses

From time to time a government will publish a list of characters to be considered common characters. There are several reasons for publishing such a list.

Literacy Table 2 China Simplified

In 1988 China published a list for basic literacy in three sections.

with 2500 common characters and 1000 extended common characters.

This is adequate for everyday literacy and is a common standard.

For highly literate people, it is useful to have a larger table.

It essentially replaces the table 6 definition from 1964 under simplified characters.

1988 現代漢語常用字表 Common Modern Characters

Resulting in 3500 common characters

通用规范汉字表 Characters for common communication.

現代漢語常用字表 1988 list of 7000 simplified

6500 standard

Rule 5,Rule 6 Complete List of Simplified Characters and Literacy Standards

The Kangxi dictionary has 48,000 characters. About 40,000 of these characters can be considered to be useless. They are so rare that most Chinese will never see them in their life. Most of them are alternates of more common characters. So it is necessary to make a list of common acceptable characters and ban all others.

  1. Reason 1. To eliminate unnecessary rare characters.

  2. Reason 2. To establish a standard list of characters for standard literacy.

  3. Reason 3. To establish the standard printed forms for each character.

The first government standard list was published in 1965. It was a list for publishers and contained 6196 official simplified character forms.

印刷通用汉字字形表 1965 List of 6196 Simplified Characters

It was a list of simplified characters with no corresponding traditional characters.

The list was derived by

  1. Applying Rule 1, Rule 2, Rule 3, Rule 4.

  2. Eliminating all characters that were considered to be rare and useless.

  3. Applying the New Character Forms

新字形 New Character Forms

This new form was a modified font. It modified the usual characters somewhat. There has always been some leeway in how you can write a Chinese character. In fact the only restriction in hand writing a Chinese character is whether or not the reader can understand what you are writing about.

The new character forms were different enough that it required a new font. When computers came along, the difference between the new character forms and the old character forms, now represented by 標楷體 Standard Kai Form were enough that many characters have two different code points in the Unicode standard.

現代漢語常用字表 1988 List of 7000 Simplified Characters

The standard was revised in 1988, The first 2500 characters represented minimal literacy, the first 3500 characters represented standard literacy and the last 3500 characters were in theory capable of explaining everything else.

通用規範漢字表 2013 List of 8105 Simplified Characters

The 2013 standard has

3500 common characters

3000 less common characters and

1605 rare characters

When simplifying traditional characgers, after applying rules 1 through 4, apply rule 5 and 6

Rule 5: Any character where the New Character Form is different from the Old Character form, the new character form should be used.

Rule 6: Any traditional character that does not have an equivalent simplified character will have to be replaced by another character.

Limits of simplified characters

Undefined traditional characters: What do you do with the many rare characters that are not in the published list of simplified characters. There is no way to handle these characters. If the person was limited by a font or computer encoding, they simply had to choose another character to substitute for it.

Banned characters:

Modern computer anomalies:

Simplified to traditional – traditional to simplified conversion: in Google and in Baidu is not always correct according to this standard.

Traditional input or simplified input method editors: are not always correct.

Unicode is sometimes confused with GBK or GB18030

Fonts are not always correct according to the Unicode standard.

Google and Baidu Translation to English, Translation to Chinese.

Alternate characters:

Alternate characters are characters that have totally different or at least significantly different structural components, but the same meaning and pronunciation.

One problem is that it is usually not possible to say they have the exact same meaning.

In order to simplify Chinese the Chinese government has made lists of equivalent characters for which only one of the equivalents is acceptable.

罪 and 辠 are considered by the Chinese government to be alternate characters with, “the same meaning”.

罪 is the acceptable character, and 辠 is not to be used.

In the simplification process, many characters were banned and only a particular alternate character could be used.

Substitute characters:

In traditional Chinese, 个 and 個 were two different characters with different meanings, but they with the same pronunciation.

When the Chinese simplified the writing system, they decided that 個 was not needed and that 个 could be substituted for 個.

Variant characters:

Variant characters are characters which have the same or nearly the same components.

An example is 黃 and 黄 (look carefully, there is a difference) .

Sometimes the government may want to decide that certain character variants are required and others are banned.

Did the simplification invent new characters?

The Chinese simplifiers have claimed that they did not invent any new characters.

This is not exactly true.

Many characters were invented by strokifying super cursive forms of the Chinese character. They may thus claim that the character previously existed.

This may be true, but it was never strokified, and it never appeared as a printed character in any dictionary. And people from before 1955 would not have recognized it.

If it is not in Kangxi dictionary, then it is a new- character.

If it is found in Kangxi dictionary then it is an old- character.

Written on September 19, 2017