Friday, March 28, 2008

Simplified Chinese character (Simplified Chinese: 简体中文 or 简体字; Traditional Chinese: 簡體中文 or 簡體字; Pinyin: jiǎntǐzhōngwén or jiǎntǐzì) is one of two standard sets of Chinese characters of printed contemporary Chinese written language, simplified from traditional Chinese by the People's Republic of China in an attempt to promote literacy. It is used in mainland People's Republic of China, Singapore, and Malaysia. However, it is one of many simplifications made of the character set over many centuries.
Traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and many overseas Chinese communities, but simplified characters are gradually gaining popularity among overseas Chinese as more mainland Chinese emigrate and travel abroad.
Simplified character forms are created by decreasing the number of strokes and simplifying the forms of a sizeable proportion of traditional Chinese characters. 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.


Origins and history
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 Lu Feikui, 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
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. 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, and 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 has stated that it wishes to keep Chinese orthography stable and does not appear to plan any further reforms in the future, nor restore any characters that have already been simplified.

Mainland China
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.
Malaysia promulgated a set of simplified characters in 1981, which were also completely identical to the simplified characters used in Mainland China.

Singapore and Malaysia
There are several methods in which characters were simplified:
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.

Replacing complicated components of common characters with simpler shapes:

  • ; ; ; etc.
    Changing the phonetic:

    • ; ; ; etc.
      Omitting entire components:

      • 广; ; ; etc.
        Using grass script shapes:

        • ; ; ; etc.
          Adopting ancient forms that are simpler in form:

          • ; ; ; etc.
            Creating new radical-radical compounds:

            • ; ; ; etc.
              Creating new radical-phonetic compounds:

              • ; ; ; etc.
                Merging a character into another one that sounds the same or similar:

                • ; ; ; etc.
                  Merging several characters into a newly created and simpler character:

                  • & ; & ; etc.
                    Systematically simplifying a shape, so that every character that uses it is simplified:

                    • ; ; ; etc (an exception to this type of simplifying is the word for "open": , where the door radical () is entirely omitted.) Method of simplification
                      Mainland China and Singapore generally use simplified characters. They appear very sparingly in printed text produced in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, 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.

                      Simplified Chinese Distribution and use
                      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 communist rule, 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 Taiwanese, people in Hong Kong and Macau, 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. Some traditional character publications other than dictionaries are published in mainland China, for domestic consumption. Moreover, it is possible for residents in Guangdong to receive Chinese language television in Cantonese from Hong Kong (though the politically sensitive issues in news and other current affairs programs may be censored). In addition, 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.

                      Mainland China
                      In Hong Kong, traditional Chinese characters are officially and customarily used, but the increasing influence of mainland China on Hong Kong has boosted the use of simplified characters.
                      With the growing influence of Mainland China, simplified Chinese characters often appear in tourist areas; however 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 both sets of characters. For use on computers, however, people tend to type Chinese characters using a traditional character set such as Big5, but if needed, encode it later into simplified Chinese using available conversion software. 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.

                      Hong Kong
                      Simplified Chinese characters are not officially used in governmental and civil publications in 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 forcefully by 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. A proliferation of the Japanese hiragana character の being used in place of the more complex 的 is common. Japanese characters and Chinese simplified characters are not acceptable to use in official documents in Taiwan.

                      In general, schools in Mainland China 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.

                      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, but to use simplified characters exclusively. 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. [2]

                      Mainland China
                      Since the 1990s, students in Hong Kong have commonly adopted a hybrid written form, comprising some simplified characters, along with traditional Chinese characters to speed up writing in public examinations. These simplified Chinese characters are considered acceptable by examination administrators.

                      Hong Kong
                      Most universities on the west coast of the United States teach 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. In places where a particular set is not locally entrenched, e.g., Europe and some of the east coast and midwest of 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.

                      Chinese as a foreign language
                      The traditional versus simplified characters (繁簡之爭, more recently: 正簡之爭) debate has existed for a long time among users of Chinese. The debate has stirred up heated responses from supporters of both sides as it has implications of political ideology and cultural identity in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It is important to note that while they reject the set of Simplified Chinese Characters created by the People's Republic of China since the 1950s, traditional characters supporters may not necessarily reject the idea of simplification. (Simplified characters here exclusively refer to those characters simplified by the People's Republic of China )
                      The effect of simplified Characters on the language remains controversial decades after their introduction:

                      Debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters

                      Proponents say that the Chinese writing system has been changing for millennia: it has already passed through the Oracle Script, Bronzeware Script, Seal Script and Clerical Script stages. Moreover, some simplified characters are drawn from conventional abbreviated forms that have been in use for centuries such as the use of 礼 instead of 禮 Cultural legitimacy

                      Proponents feel that simplification makes the Chinese writing system easier to learn. Literacy rates since simplification have risen steadily in rural and urban areas since the simplification of the Chinese characters, though this rise in literacy may not necessarily be due to simplification alone.
                      Opponents argue that the literacy rates is determined by level of access to affordable public education, and the literacy rates of Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan compare favorably, so simplification does not display an obvious correlation with literacy rate. For example, the CIA World Factbook lists the literacy rate as of 2002 as 96.1% in Taiwan compared to 90.9% in mainland China. However, because of the huge disparity in socioeconomic condition between these areas, an analysis of the effect of one factor upon literacy rate is inherently a complex issue. Moreover, the different economic policies pursued in mainland China on the one hand, and Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau on the other, naturally has a dominating effect on both the level of education and the resources dedicated to improving literacy. On a purely theoretical level, opponents of the simplified system argue that the greater etymological coherence of the traditional set may give an advantage when learning to write. It is unclear, however, whether this would outweigh the immense typographical complexity of many traditional characters (e.g. compare ("chicken"), a common character, written in Traditional as 雞 (18 strokes) and in Simplified as 鸡 (7 strokes)). Disambiguation

                      Proponents say that many common characters have far too many strokes in traditional form. For example, the common character 邊 (biān, meaning "side") has 18 strokes in traditional form, while its simplified form 边 has only five strokes.
                      Opponents say that the speed advantage of simplified Chinese becomes less relevant in the computer age. With modern computing, entering Chinese characters is now dependent on the convenience of input method editors or IMEs. Some IMEs use phoneme-based input, such as pinyin romanization or bopomofo. Others are grapheme-based, such as cangjie and wubi. These have mainly sidelined the speed issues in handwritten Chinese, as traditional and simplified Chinese often have the same input speed, especially with phoneme-based IMEs. Furthermore, even when it comes to handwriting, a majority of people resort to semi-cursive script to reduce strokes and save time; cursive script is also commonly seen in personal notes as shorthands, which is even more simplified than simplified characters, though in this case readers other than the writer themselves may have a hard time understanding the content. Speed of writing

                      Proponents: Chinese characters are most often made up of a pronunciation-indicating part (called the phonetic) and a part that indicates the general semantic domain (called the radical). During the process of simplification, there are some attempts to bring greater coherence to the system. For example, the shape of 憂 (yōu), meaning "anxious", is not a good indicator of its pronunciation, because there are no clear radical and phonetic components. The simplified version is 忧, a straightforward combination of the "heart" radical to the left (indicating emotion) and the phonetic 尤 (yóu) to the right.
                      Opponents point out that some simplified forms undermine the phonetics of the original characters, e.g 盤 (pán, plate) has the phonetic component 般 (bān) on top, but the simplified form is 盘, whose upper part is now 舟 (zhōu). 盧 (lú, a family name) and 爐 (lú, "furnace") shares the same component 盧 in their original forms, but they were inconsistently simplified into 卢 and 炉 respectively, so that 炉 now has the less helpful 户 (hù) as its phonetic. Some characters were radically stripped of all phonetic elements. Perhaps because of its common recurrence in political vocabulary, the second character in zhǔyì, doctrine, was reduced from 義 with the phonetic element 我 (wǒ) to the unrecognizable 义. Phonetics

                      Proponents say that the radical system is imperfect in the first place. For example, 笑 (smile, laugh) uses the "bamboo" radical.
                      Some argue that simplification results in a broken connection between characters, which makes it more difficult for students to expand their vocabulary in terms of perceiving both the meaning and pronunciation of a new character. For example, 鬧 (din, fuss) is now 闹, with a door radical that is not indicative of its meaning. Simplified Chinese Radicals

                      Proponents claim the amount of spoken and written deviation of Classical Chinese and the modern vernacular is a greater factor, and has already brought about incompatibility with ancient texts. They also claim that the ambiguity brought about by the merger of characters is minimal.
                      Opponents: Simplified Chinese characters frequently include merged characters, which opponents view as baseless and arbitrary: 後 (hòu, "behind") and 后 (hòu, "queen") are both simplified into 后. Likewise, 隻 (zhī, a measure word) and 只 (zhǐ, "only") are merged into 只; 發 (fā, "happening") and 髮 (fà, "hair") are merged into 发; 穀 (gǔ, "crop") and 谷 (gǔ, "valley") are merged into 谷, and so on. Opponents say that such mergers make Classical Chinese texts in simplified Chinese characters difficult to understand. They discourage the proliferation of such homographs. Merger of characters

                      Traditional Chinese Characters are often used as the de facto standard characters set in Chinese calligraphy in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and even in the People's Republic of China, presumably because of its aesthetic value or partly thereof . This is one of the very few exceptions that the PRC government permits the use of traditional Chinese Character in mainland China.
                      Some people feel that the simplified characters chosen by Mainland China violate the traditional aesthetics of Chinese writing. For example, the use of grass script shapes in simplified Chinese characters is viewed as being incompatible with writing in the regular script or the running script. The symmetry of the character, an age-old principle, was apparently not a criterion in its simplification: for example, 廣 became 广. Supporters of simplified Chinese characters note that character "symmetry" has never been an overriding principle when both traditional and simplified sets have characters like 弋 in 巡弋 (cruise of warships). Aesthetics
                      The sheer difficulties posed by having two concurrent writing systems, which hinders communications between Mainland China and other regions, are used by both sides of the debate to support their arguments. Translating an entire document written using simplified characters to traditional characters, or vice versa, is not a trivial task. For human translators, some simplified Chinese characters can look vastly different from their traditional counterparts to the extent that the two have no signs of simplification and instead appear completely irrelevant to each other (though many other characters are derived systematically). Others claim that it is not difficult for a person educated in one system to become familiarized with the other system quickly through exposure and experience. For computer automated translation, one simplified character may equate to many traditional characters, but not vice versa. Some knowledge of the context of the word usage is required for correct mapping; but it has been difficult for computers to work with word usage perfectly. As a result, direct computer mapping from simplified to traditional is not trivial and requires sophisticated programming. (This line of reasoning is used both by traditional Chinese advocates opposed to simplification, and simplified Chinese advocates opposed to the continued use of traditional characters.)
                      In addition to those practical considerations, many minds link simplified characters with the idea of communism and traditional characters with anticommunism or at least "non-communism". Thus the political implications and affiliations of the writing systems are seen by some as the emotional impetus for the debate. This view interprets most of the back-and-forth debate on the merits of the system, ultimately, as rationalizations.
                      Indeed, the rationale for the simplified form of some characters is hard to trace. Many members of the Committee for Language Reform were purged in the Anti-Rightist Movement or the Cultural Revolution. They had no mandate to consult the broader Chinese academic community. Their personal notes, and the discussion behind this innovation in an ancient language, are lost.
                      Another perspective on the emotional investment in the debate follows a similar issue with computer programming languages: people skilled in any particular language system derive more value from their pre-existing learning investment when more people use and produce works in the language. This provides a selfish motivation for people to encourage others to learn what they already have learned regardless of the details of the system, for the system's details are irrelevant in the face the value of compatibility. Programming language debates have argued over the use of GOTOs, the use of object orientation, and compilation versus interpretation that are sometimes seen later as having been largely pointless or overwhelmingly in favor of one side or the other (see History of programming languages). The basic message of this interpretation is that, as long as there are more than one language, languages will be fiercely promoted and debated no matter what the relative merits of their details are.

                      Some teachers in areas where traditional Chinese characters are used often scold students who use simplified characters, even to the extent of calling them "uneducated". This, in addition to other matters, has enforced a prejudice held by some traditional Chinese character users that traditional Chinese is for the educated and cultured, while simplified Chinese is for the illiterate, dumb, even the barbaric. Social
                      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. 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.

                      Computer encoding
                      The World Wide Web Consortium 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.

                      See also

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