The Chinese written language consists of a writing system stretching back more than 3,600 years. Its logographic writing system employs a large number of symbols, known as characters, to represent individual words or morphemes. The writing system is considered to have also been a unifying force for much of Chinese history, transcending differences in spoken language. From the time of the Qín Dynasty onwards, a standard written language (at first Classical Chinese and later Vernacular Chinese) has always been in place to bridge the divergent spoken variants of Chinese.
The relationship between the Chinese spoken and written languages is complex. This complexity is compounded by the fact that the numerous variations of spoken Chinese have gone through centuries of evolution since at least the late Hàn Dynasty. However, written Chinese has changed much less than the spoken language.
The Chinese symbols are beautifully drawn using calligraphy. Due to their unique block, square nature and the morphologically inactive nature of the language, Chinese characters are generally written without spaces at word boundaries, and can be written either horizontally or vertically. Traditionally, writing was done vertically, going from top to bottom and arranged in columns going from right to left; on signboards etc. which were horizontal, the columns were reduced to a character each, effectively resulting in horizontal right-to-left writing. . In fact, Hanzi (literally, Chinese for “Chinese characters”) numbers more than 50,000 symbols. This enormous amount of characters accounts, in part, for the high illiteracy rate in China. In an effort to circumvent this problem, the People’s Republic of China introduced a program to simplify the language into a set of commonly used characters. The current writing system uses approximately 6,000 of these characters. Of course, proper names are characters that only rarely appear.
The Chinese writing system formed the foundation for many of the written languages throughout Asia. Even as the written language is updated, it remains a visually beautiful and intriguing written system.
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