Traditional Chinese characters (traditional Chinese: 正體字/繁體字; simplified Chinese: 正体字/繁体字, Pinyin: Zhèngtǐzì/Fántǐzì) are Chinese characters in any character set that does not contain newly created characters or character substitutions performed after 1946. They are most commonly the characters in the standardized character sets of Taiwan, of Hong Kong and Macau. The modern shapes of traditional Chinese characters first appeared with the emergence of the clerical script during the Han dynasty and have been more or less stable since the 5th century (during the Southern and Northern Dynasties).
The retronym "Traditional Chinese" is used to contrast traditional characters with Simplified Chinese characters, a standardized character set introduced by the government of the People's Republic of China on Mainland China in the 1950s.
Traditional Chinese characters are currently used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, as well as in Overseas Chinese communities outside Southeast Asia. In contrast, Simplified Chinese characters are used in Mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore in official publications.
The debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters has been a long-running issue among Chinese communities. Currently, many overseas Chinese online newspapers allow users to switch between both character sets.
Modern usage in Chinese-speaking areas
Although simplified characters are taught and endorsed by the government of China, there is no prohibition against the use of traditional characters. Traditional characters are used informally in regions in China primarily in handwriting and also used for inscriptions and religious text. They are often retained in logos or graphics to evoke yesteryear. Nonetheless, the vast majority of media and communications in China is dominated by simplified characters.
In Hong Kong and Macau, Traditional Chinese has been the legal written form since colonial times. In recent years, simplified Chinese characters in Hong Kong and Macau has appeared to accommodate Mainland Chinese tourists and immigrants. This has led to concerns by many residents to protect their local heritage.
Taiwan has never adopted simplified characters. The use of simplified characters in official documents is even prohibited by the government of Taiwan. Simplified characters are understood to a certain extent by any educated Taiwanese, and learning to read them takes little effort. Some stroke simplifications that have been incorporated into Simplified Chinese are in common use in handwriting.
In Southeast Asia, the Chinese Filipino community continues to be one of the most conservative regarding simplification. While major public universities are teaching simplified characters, many well-established Chinese schools still use traditional characters. Publications like the Chinese Commercial News, World News, and United Daily News still use traditional characters. On the other hand, the Philippine Chinese Daily uses simplified. Aside from local newspapers, magazines from Hong Kong, such as the Yazhou Zhoukan, are also found in some bookstores.
In case of film or television subtitles on DVD, the Chinese dub that is used in Philippines is the same as the one used in Taiwan. This is because the DVDs belongs to DVD Region Code 3. Hence, most of the subtitles are in Traditional Characters.
Overseas Chinese in the United States have long used traditional characters. A major influx of Chinese immigrants to the United States occurred during the latter half of the 19th century, before the standardization of simplified characters. Therefore, United States public notices and signage in Chinese are generally in Traditional Chinese.
Traditional Chinese characters (Standard characters) are called several different names within the Chinese-speaking world. The government of Taiwan officially calls traditional Chinese characters standard characters or orthodox characters (traditional Chinese: 正體字; simplified Chinese: 正体字; pinyin: zhèngtǐzì; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄓㄥˋ ㄊㄧˇ ㄗˋ). However, the same term is used outside Taiwan to distinguish standard, simplified and traditional characters from variant and idiomatic characters.
In contrast, users of traditional characters outside Taiwan, such as those in Hong Kong, Macau and overseas Chinese communities, and also users of simplified Chinese characters, call them complex characters (traditional Chinese: 繁體字; simplified Chinese: 繁体字; pinyin: fántǐzì; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄈㄢˊ ㄊㄧˇ ㄗˋ). An informal name sometimes used by users of simplified characters is "old characters" (Chinese: 老字; pinyin: lǎozì; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄌㄠˇ ㄗˋ).
Users of traditional characters also sometimes refer them as "Full Chinese characters" (traditional Chinese: 全體字; simplified Chinese: 全体字; pinyin: quántǐ zì; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄑㄩㄢˊ ㄊㄧˇ ㄗˋ) to distinguish them from simplified Chinese characters.
Some traditional character users argue that traditional characters are the original form of the Chinese characters and cannot be called "complex". Similarly, simplified characters cannot be "standard" because they are not used in all Chinese-speaking regions. Conversely, supporters of simplified Chinese characters object to the description of traditional characters as "standard," since they view the new simplified characters as the contemporary standard used by the vast majority of Chinese speakers. They also point out that traditional characters are not truly traditional as many Chinese characters have been made more elaborate over time.
Some people refer to traditional characters as simply "proper characters" (Chinese: 正字; pinyin: zhèngzì) and modernized characters as "simplified-stroke characters" (simplified Chinese: 简笔字; traditional Chinese: 簡筆字; pinyin: jiǎnbǐzì) or "reduced-stroke characters" (simplified Chinese: 减笔字; traditional Chinese: 減筆字; pinyin: jiǎnbǐzì) (simplified- and reduced- are actually homophones in Mandarin Chinese, both pronounced jiǎn).
The use of such words as "complex", "standard" and "proper" in the context of such a visceral subject as written language arouses strong emotional reactions, especially since there are also political ramifications in this case. Debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters explores the differences of opinion that exist on this matter within Chinese-speaking regions.
When printing text, people in China, Malaysia and Singapore mainly use the simplified system, developed by the People's Republic of China government in the 1950s. In writing, most people use informal, sometimes personal simplifications. In most cases, an alternative character (異體字) will be used in place of one with more strokes, such as 体 for 體. In the old days, there were two main uses of alternative characters. First, alternative characters were used to avoid using the characters of the formal name of an important person in less formal contexts as a way of showing respect to the said person by preserving the characters of the person's name. This act is called "offense-avoidance" (避諱) in Chinese. Secondly, alternative characters were used when the same characters were repeated in context to show that the repetition was intentional rather than an editorial mistake (筆誤).
In the past, Traditional Chinese was most often rendered using the Big5 character encoding scheme, a scheme that favors Traditional Chinese. Unicode, however, has become increasingly popular as a rendering method. Unicode gives equal weight to both simplified and traditional Chinese characters. There are various IMEs (Input Method Editors) available to input Chinese characters. There are still many Unicode characters that cannot be written using most IMEs; one example would be the character used in the Shanghainese dialect instead of 嗎, which is U+20C8E 𠲎 (伐 with a 口 radical).
Usage in other languages
In Japanese, Kyūjitai is a term that describes now-obsolete unsimplified forms of simplified Shinjitai Jōyō kanji; as with Korean, these unsimplified characters are mostly congruent with the traditional characters in Chinese, save for a few minor regional graphical differences. Furthermore, characters that are not included in the Jōyō list are generally recommended to be printed in their original unsimplified forms, save for a few exceptions.
In most cases traditional Chinese characters are identical with Hanja in Korean (now almost completely replaced by Hangul for general use, but nonetheless unchanged from Chinese except for some Korean-made Hanja).
- Simplified Chinese characters
- Debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters
- Chữ Nôm
- Kyūjitai (旧字体 or 舊字體 - Japanese traditional characters)
- Multiple association of converting Simplified Chinese to Traditional Chinese