Chinese characters are symbols used to write the Chinese and Japanese languages. In the past, other languages like Korean and Vietnamese also used them. The beginning of these characters was at least 3000 years ago, making them one of the oldest continuously-used (meaning it has not fallen out of use) writing systems in the world. In Chinese they are called hanzi (汉字/漢字), which means "Han character". In Japanese they are called kanji and in Korean hanja.
Chinese characters are an important part of East Asian culture. Chinese characters may be considered to be abstract art, because of how the characters are made up of lines and dots. The art of writing Chinese characters is called calligraphy.
Chinese characters are a type of logogram; they mainly represent words instead of sounds. Most earlier Chinese characters were pictographs, which are simple pictures used to mean some kind of thing or idea. Today, very few modern Chinese characters are pictographs, but are a combination of two or more simple characters. There are tens of thousands of Chinese characters, though most of them are only a bit different from each other and only seen in very old texts. Studies in China show that normally three to four thousand characters are used on a daily basis.
Characters are a kind of graphic language, much different from languages that use a alphabet such as English. The correct way tell between them is to remember the structure and meaning of every character, not pronunciation because there is very close relationship between meaning and structure of characters. Example: 房(house)=户+方. 房 is a shape-pronunciation character. 户 is for shape and 方 is for pronunciation. 户 means 'door'. 房 means 'A person lives behind a door'. 方 pronunciation is Fang and tone is 1. 房 pronunciation is also Fang, but tone is 2.
There are still many Chinese characters that are used in Japanese and Korean. Generally the education level of a Japanese person is evaluated by the amount of Chinese characters understood by this person. In Korean, when people found some meanings cannot be expressed clearly by Korean, people need to use Chinese characters as a note with a bracket. Before 1446, Korean people only used Chinese characters.
- Simplified Chinese characters
- Traditional Chinese characters
- Wade-Giles, a romanization system used to write Chinese using the Roman alphabet
Images for kids
Variants of the Chinese character for guī 'turtle', collected c. 1800 from printed sources. The one at left is the traditional form used today in Taiwan and Hong Kong, 龜, though 龜 may look slightly different, or even like the second variant from the left, depending on your font (see Wiktionary). The modern simplified forms used in China, 龟, and in Japan, 亀, are most similar to the variant in the middle of the bottom row, though neither is identical. A few more closely resemble the modern simplified form of the character for diàn 'lightning', 电.
Five of the 30 variant characters found in the preface of the Imperial (Kangxi) Dictionary which are not found in the dictionary itself. They are 為 (爲) wèi "due to", 此 cǐ "this", 所 suǒ "place", 能 néng "be able to", 兼 jiān "concurrently". (Although the form of 為 is not very different, and in fact is used today in Japan, the radical 爪 has been obliterated.) Another variant from the preface, 来 for 來 lái "to come", also not listed in the dictionary, has been adopted as the standard in Mainland China and Japan.
A page from a Ming dynasty edition of the Book of Qi
A page from a Song dynasty publication in a regular script typeface which resembles the handwriting of Ouyang Xun.
Chinese character Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.