simplified characters


simplified characters
(jiantizi)
Chinese characters have been evolving throughout recorded history, roughly from the ‘oracle bone script’ (jiaguwen), through the ‘great seal script’ (daz-huan), ‘small seal script’ (xiaozhuan), and ‘clerks’ script characters’ (lishu), to the ‘regular script’ (kaishu). Various cursive calligraphic styles, moreover, further abbreviated the strokes in the ‘regular script’, which has lasted for about two thousand years and is still in use today. Due to the push towards modernization a century ago, the Chinese language has undergone many reforms—the importation of Western punctuation marks, the romanization of Chinese characters, the use of the written vernacular (baihua) instead of Literary Chinese. In 1935, the Nationalist Government proposed 324 simplified characters which in fact had been in use for centuries, but this was the first time attention had been drawn to standardization. The PRC government wasted no time in reforming the written Chinese language. Following The First List of Variant Characters Arranged’ (Diyipi yitizi zhengli biao), set by the Script Reform Commission of China (SRCC) in 1955, it stated that all publications would have to stop using the variants beginning in 1956, except for classical works. In 1956, the State Council announced the ‘Chinese Character Simplification Scheme’ (Hanzi jianhua fang’an)., which contained 515 simplified characters. In 1964, the SRCC published The Complete List of Simplified Characters’ (Jianhuazi zongbiao), containing 2,238 simplified characters and fourteen simplified components. In 1986, the State Working Commission on Language (Guojia Yüwei) promulgated a new edition of the list, returning five characters to their complex forms and giving more detailed explanations of some characters in use. Meanwhile, the State Council officially abolished a ‘Second Chinese Character Simplification Scheme (Draft)’, which had been published in 1977 and used briefly.
Some scholars suggest that it is more accurate to translate jiantizi as ‘simple form of characters’ (‘simple form’ or ‘simple characters’, for short) instead of ‘simplified characters’ which correspond to jianhuazi. It is also more accurate to translate fantizi as the ‘complex form of characters’ (‘complex form’ or ‘complex characters’, for short) rather than ‘traditional characters’. The reason lies in the fact, according to many historical linguists, that over 80 per cent of the so-called ‘simplified characters’ are as ‘traditional’ as the complex forms, and many have an even longer history.
In the age of information technology, many people assume that switching between the simple and complex forms would be easy. It is largely true, but proofreading and corrections are still essential, because (1) simple and complex characters do not correspond one to one; (2) the variants (yitizi) are often not recognized by the software that is designed according to the PRC’s national standard (guojia biaozhun; guobiao or GB for short); and (3) The Correspondence List of the New and Old Script Codes’ (Xinjiu zixing duizhao biao), a list always included in standard dictionaries, is ignored by most people, including writers and teachers of Chinese. It is no wonder Chinese software users are frustrated switching between the two forms of characters, as are Chinese teachers who may not find a corresponding character in the three sections of ‘The Complete List of Simplified Characters’. It is interesting to note that Singapore introduced its own list of simplified characters, which, except for about forty characters, is the same as that introduced in China. The differing characters were later changed according to the GB of the PRC.
HELEN XIAOYAN WU

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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