44 Chinese Character Amendments: Will They Affect Learners?

Posted by Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin Monday, 24 August 2009
China View today reported that 44 Chinese Characters (many of which are in common use) are likely to be amended. This has caused widespread criticism from Chinese nationals who think the change is "瞎折腾" (blind torment: meaning similar to a ‘pain in the neck’) Whilst some complain that one billion people will have to learn Chinese characters anew.

However ministry officials and some experts said the revisions would only target 44 characters printed in the Song typeface on publications, in other words, the revised characters would only be used by computers and printing machines. These changes from the governments perspective is that it will unify the typeface and printing standards of Chinese characters, whilst not affecting the Chinese public too badly.

These 44 characters are to change from the Kai typeface to the Song typeface, most often in these cases a slight change of only one or two strokes are changed. "The characters printed in our textbooks adopt the Kai typeface, and we don't need any change. But students would be easily confused by the revised characters on other publications," said Wang Jiayu, a Chinese language teacher at a primary school in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Among the 44 characters in question are:

琴 (qín) violin,
征 (zhēng) musical instrument,
魅 (mèi) demon/magic,
籴 (dí) buy grain,
褰 (qiān) to lift clothes,
巽 (xùn) part of the trigram,
瑟 (sè) Se (type of harp),
琵琶 Pipa (lute),
亲 qīn parent、
杀 (shā) kill、
条 (tiáo) ribbon 'item'、
茶 (chá) tea 、
新 (xīn) new、
杂 (zá) miscellaneous、
寨 (zhài) camp / village,
恿 (怂恿) (sǒngyǒng) instigate,
瞥 (piē) glimpse,
蓐 (rù) mattress,
溽 (rù), muggy,
缛 (rù), elaborate,
褥 (rù) mattress (again),
耨 (nòu) hoe 'weeding tool',
薅 (hāo) to weed,
唇 (chún) lip,
蜃 (shèn) mythical sea creature, and
毂 (gǔ) hub.

Another 55 characters are considered allogeneic (异体), and to be recovered or unified in some way, among them 淼 (miao, flood), 喆 (zhe, same meaning as 哲), and 堃 (kun, same meaning as 坤, female).

There is always conservatives and moaning regarding any change, especially with regard to unification where some people feel they are loosing identity through the changes. However this small amount of changes are unlikley to cause any real loss of identity and arent anywhere near as big as the simplification in 1965 to the Printed General-use Chinese Character Table. (the proposed changes are just 0.57% of all the characters in the ‘Printed General-use Chinese Character Table')

The changes being made to the Song typeface are a technological based upgrade as Song is a typeface thats origins are from when block printing flourished in China. Because the wood grain on printing blocks ran horizontally, it was fairly easy to carve horizontal lines with the grain. However, carving vertical or slanted patterns was difficult because those patterns intersect with the grain and break easily. This resulted in a typeface that has thin horizontal strokes and thick vertical strokes. To prevent wear and tear, the ending of horizontal strokes are also thickened. Song typeface is characterized by design with thick vertical strokes contrasted with thin horizontal strokes; triangular ornaments at the end of single horizontal strokes; and overall geometrical regularity. This typeface is similar to Western serif fonts such as Times New Roman in both appearance and function.

This is different to the Kai (Kaiti) typeface which is more even with the strokes looking more like the caligraphy that we are used to with both horizontal and vertical strokes being fairly consistant.

字型寫法比較 (Font Comparison)

Despite this criticism and controversy that surrounds this move by the governemnt to unify the print into an understandable and universally understood set of characters there seems to be a lot of confusion around it. Personally I think it is much ado about nothing, there seems to be very minor changes proposed and won't really affect people in the way that they think it might.

To me it seems that the 44 characters that are due to be 'changed' aren't really being changed so much as look slightly different in the different font. It is like us having a font where the a has a curl, and a font where the a doesnt have a curl. The differences seem to be in the majority where dots turn into strokes. For example on the bottom of 茶 (chá) the different fonts mean the symbol looking slightly different, but certainly not unrecognisable.

Maybe living in the West has adapted me to seeing lettering in different ways with the several standard fonts. Or it could be that my personal learning of Chinese has not yet given me the ability to write characters properly, nor learnt enough to see characters that are very similiar already.

What do you think about the propsed 44 character changes?
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  1. Tortue Says:
  2. Interesting post but I have a question, this changes seems to concern simplified but what about traditionnal (I only use traditionnal) ?

  3. I have to admit that I am not quite sure the implications of this for traditional characters.

    I have only been learning the simplified characters.

    I have the feeling that the alterations have taken into account the traditional caligraphy style and has been okayed with experts.

    "Experts revised the characters while taking into consideration the calligraphy of traditional Chinese, such as those still in use in Taiwan"

    Because this has come from China State media, it seems that it is just the simplified characters. If anyone knows a bit more, would be happy to have more information.


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