Written Chinese

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Written Chinese (Chinese: 中文; pīnyīn: zhōngwén) comprises Chinese characters (漢字/汉字 hànzì) used to represent spoken Chinese, and the rules about how they are arranged and punctuated. Chinese characters do not constitute an alphabet or a compact syllabary. Rather, the writing system is roughly logosyllabic; that is, a character generally represents one syllable of spoken Chinese and may be a word on its own or a part of a polysyllabic word. The characters themselves are often composed of parts that may represent physical objects, abstract notions,[1] or pronunciation.[2]

Some current Chinese characters have been traced back to the late 商 Shāng Dynasty about 1200–1050 BCE,[3][4][5] but the process of creating characters is thought to have begun some centuries earlier.[6] After a period of variation and evolution, Chinese characters were standardized under the 秦 Qín dynasty (221–206 BCE).[7] Over the millennia, these characters have evolved into well-developed styles of Chinese calligraphy.[8]

Despite historical changes in pronunciation, Chinese speakers in disparate dialect groups are able to communicate through writing.[9] Some Chinese characters have also been adopted as part of the writing systems of other East Asian languages, such as Japanese and Korean.[10][11] Literacy requires the memorization of a great many characters: Educated Chinese know about 4,000;[12][13] educated Japanese know about half that many.[11] The large number of Chinese characters has in part led to the adoption of Western alphabets as an auxiliary means of representing Chinese.[14]


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