Traditional Chinese characters are one of several standard sets of characters used to write Chinese languages. In Taiwan, the set of traditional characters is regulated by Taiwan's Ministry of Education, standardized in the Standard Form of National Characters. These forms were predominant in written Chinese until the middle of the 20th century, when various countries that use Chinese characters began standardizing simplified sets of characters, often with characters that existed before as well-known variants of the predominant forms.
|standardized in Taiwan since 1979|
|ISO 15924||Hant (502), Han (Traditional variant)|
|Traditional Chinese characters|
|Literal meaning||Orthodox form characters|
|Literal meaning||Complex form characters|
Simplified characters—as codified by the People's Republic of China—are predominantly used in mainland China, Malaysia, and Singapore. "Traditional" as such is a retronym applied to non-simplified character sets in the wake of widespread use of simplified characters. Traditional characters are commonly used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, as well as in most overseas Chinese communities outside of Southeast Asia. As for non-Chinese languages written using Chinese characters, Japanese kanji include many simplified characters known as shinjitai standardized after World War II, sometimes distinct from their Simplified Chinese counterparts. Korean hanja, still used to a certain extent in South Korea, remain virtually identical to traditional characters, with variations between the two forms largely stylistic.
There is a long-running debate about traditional and simplified Chinese characters within and between Chinese communities. Because the simplifications are fairly systematic, it is possible to convert computer-encoded characters between the two sets, with the main issue being the merger of traditional characters into single simplified representations, which creates ambiguity when converting simplified characters to traditional characters. Many Chinese online newspapers allow users to switch between these character sets.
Traditional characters are known by different names throughout the Chinese-speaking world. The government of Taiwan officially refers to traditional Chinese characters as traditional Chinese: 正體字; simplified Chinese: 正体字; pinyin: zhèngtǐzì; lit. 'standard/orthodox characters'. This term is also used outside Taiwan to distinguish standard characters, including both simplified, and traditional, from other variants and idiomatic characters. Users of traditional characters elsewhere, as well as those using simplified characters, call traditional characters 繁體字; 繁体字; fántǐzì; 'complex characters', 老字; lǎozì; 'old characters', or 全體字; 全体字; quántǐzì; 'full characters' to distinguish them from simplified characters.
Some argue that since traditional characters are often the original standard forms, they should not be called 'complex'. Conversely, there is a common objection to the description of traditional characters as 'standard', due to them not being used by a large population of Chinese speakers. Additionally, as the process of Chinese character creation often made many characters more elaborate over time, there is sometimes a hesitation to characterize them as 'traditional'.
Some people refer to traditional characters as 'proper characters' (正字; zhèngzì or 正寫; zhèngxiě) and to simplified characters as 簡筆字; 简笔字; jiǎnbǐzì; 'simplified-stroke characters' or 減筆字; 减笔字; jiǎnbǐzì; 'reduced-stroke characters', owing to the fact that the words for simplified and reduced are homophonous in Standard Chinese, both pronounced as jiǎn.
The modern shapes of traditional Chinese characters first appeared with the emergence of the clerical script during the Han dynasty c. 200 BCE, with the sets of forms and norms more or less stable since the Southern and Northern dynasties period c. the 5th century.
The vast majority of communications in the PRC uses simplified characters. Although simplified characters are endorsed by the Chinese government and taught in schools, there is no prohibition against using traditional characters. Outside of contexts like calligraphy, traditional characters are rarely used.
In Hong Kong and Macau, traditional characters were retained during the colonial period, while the mainland adopted simplified characters. Simplified characters are contemporaneously used to accommodate immigrants and tourists, often from the mainland. The increasing use of simplified characters has led to concern among residents regarding protecting what they see as their local heritage.
Taiwan has never adopted simplified characters. The use of simplified characters in government documents and educational settings is discouraged by the government of Taiwan. Nevertheless, with sufficient context simplified characters are likely to be successfully read by those used to traditional characters, especially given some previous exposure. Many simplified characters were previously variants that had long been in some use, with systematic stroke simplifications used in folk handwriting since antiquity.
Traditional characters were recognised as the official script in Singapore until 1969, when the government officially adopted Simplified characters. Traditional characters still are widely used in contexts such as in baby and corporation names, advertisements, decorations, official documents and in newspapers.
The Chinese Filipino community continues to be one of the most conservative in Southeast Asia regarding simplification. Although major public universities teach in simplified characters, many well-established Chinese schools still use traditional characters. Publications such as the Chinese Commercial News, World News, and United Daily News all use traditional characters, as do some Hong Kong-based magazines such as Yazhou Zhoukan. The Philippine Chinese Daily uses simplified characters. DVDs are usually subtitled using traditional characters, influenced by media from Taiwan as well as by the two countries sharing the same DVD region, 3.
With most having immigrated to the United States during the second half of the 19th century, Chinese Americans have long used traditional characters. When not providing both, US public notices and signage in Chinese are generally written in traditional characters, more often than in simplified characters.
When printing text, people in mainland China and Singapore use the simplified system. In writing, most people use informal, sometimes personal, simplifications. In most cases, an alternative character will be used in place of one with more strokes, such as 体 for 體. Originally,[when?] there were two main uses for alternative characters: to name an important person in informal contexts, reserving the traditional characters for formal contexts as a sign of respect in what is called 避諱; 'offence-avoidance', and in situations where characters are repeated, in order to show that the repetition was intentional rather than a printing error (筆誤).
In the past, traditional Chinese was most often encoded on computers using the Big5 standard, which favored traditional characters. However, the ubiquitous Unicode standard gives equal weight to simplified and traditional Chinese characters, and has become by far the most popular encoding for Chinese-language text.
There are various input method editors (IMEs) available for the input of Chinese characters. Many characters, often dialectical variants, are encoded in Unicode but cannot be inputted using certain IMEs, with one example being the Shanghainese-language character U+20C8E 𠲎 CJK UNIFIED IDEOGRAPH-20C8E—a composition of 伐 with the 口 radical—used instead of the Standard Chinese 嗎; 吗.
Typefaces often use the initialism
TC to signify the use of traditional Chinese characters, as well as
SC for Simplified Chinese characters. In addition, the Noto family of typefaces, for example, also provides separate fonts for the traditional character set used in Taiwan (
TC) and the set used in Hong Kong (
Most Chinese-language webpages now use Unicode for their text. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommends the use of the language tag
zh-Hant to specify webpage content written with traditional characters.
In the kanji of the Japanese writing system, kyūjitai are the traditional, largely-obsolete forms of simplified shinjitai, which were standardized for Japanese usage after World War II. Kyujitai are mostly congruent with the traditional characters in Chinese, save for minor stylistic variation. Characters that are not included in the Jōyō kanji list are generally recommended to be printed in their traditional forms, with a few exceptions. Additionally, there are kokuji, which are kanji wholly created in Japan, rather than originally being borrowed from China.
In the Korean writing system, hanja—replaced almost entirely by hangul in South Korea and totally replaced in North Korea—are mostly identical with their traditional counterparts, save minor stylistic variations. As with Japanese, there are autochthonous hanja, known as gukja.