Ways to Simplification

The introduction described the proccesses in which hanzi had developed over the last few millenia. It was noted that over time, there were parallel variant forms also in use. In the writing reforms of the twentieth century, many of the variants (having fewer number of penstrokes) became part of an offically proclaimed standard of simplified characters. The purpose of this page is to set out various considerations which lead to the formation of the simplified characters used in the modern Chinese simplified standard.


The simplification of complex hanzi forms can be reduced down to a handful of basic methods.

  • Calligraphy

    The complex characters in the kaishu or regular script, are composed using many number of penstrokes per character. With the brushpen, the calligrapher can eliminate many strokes by merging components into representative lines, curves and dots. Compare 详 with 詳 in the following illustration from a calligraphy primer.

  • Homophonous Characters

    A homophonous character is used for another character, where both have different meanings. We therefore have a character which has more than one semantic meaning, which can only be distinguished in simplified Chinese text from the context.

    后 後

    The first character 后 means a 'queen', whilst the latter, 後 means 'back of, later, after'. In the simplified form, 后 this character takes on both meanings. The use of the simplified form to mean 'after, also has historical precedence, because it has been used in published works long before there was any standardisation of simplifications.

    Characters sharing common components which can be simplified take the simplified component.

    台 臺檯枱颱

    All the characters 臺檯枱颱 simplify to the character 台. It is overloaded with several meanings, and the simplifications of the character 臺 to 台 provides a route whereby other characters containing the same component can be converted in a similar fashion, as shown by 檯枱.

    The merging of 颱 with 台 is based upon homophony, in fact, all five hanzi have the reading of tai2. 颱 is used only in a bound morpheme, 颱風, therefore, 台風 is distinguishable in writing by context.

    The originally word 台 was used in polite address to another person, which is why there is an association with the mouth radical, 口.

  • Newly Created Characters

    The writing reform group proposed newly created characters also which have no historical precedence in the regular script form. They are derived from rationalising calligraphic forms. For instance,

    专 岁 罗

    The complex forms of 专, 岁 and 罗 are 專, 歳 and 羅 respectively. The simplified forms are therefore rationalisations. Note also that 岁 does not even contain any portion which resembles 歳. Further, though 岁 and 罗 have the same component in the lower portion of their respective characters, their complex forms 歳 and 羅 have few if any common components which are similar.

  • Simplified Characters in Use

    In 1964 the publication of a set of over 2000 characters provides a convenient means to sum up the main simplified characters. Of these, about 350 simplified forms form no part of other hanzi, and 132 do. The latter give rise to over 1700 new simplified hanzi in the 1964 publication. The first two lists will be provided, and examples of the latter are given as illustrations in the following pages.

    Next : Hanzi Index

    © (c) Copyright Dylan W.H. Sung 2001

    This page was created on Saturday 17th February 2001
    and last updated on Thursday 22nd February 2001.