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Chinese symbols

How many Chinese symbols are there?

The Chinese writing system is made up of a large number of symbols (more commonly called characters) that represent different concepts. There is no alphabet, in other words, the symbols, or characters, are not used for their phonetic value.

The characters that are used today are, at least in terms of their overall structure, more or less similar to the ones used 3,500 years ago. Their shape has undergone some changes but their basic composition and meaning remained pretty much the same. One of the greatest changes happened sometime in the third century BC when the state of Qin has managed to conquer the last autonomous state in China and unify the country under its rule. In 221 BC, the Qin king has declared himself the First Emperor of Qin. Among the many things that were standardized in the united China at this time was writing. This was the last major systematic modification of Chinese writing until the simplification carried out by the Communist regime in the 1940ís and 1950ís.

So how many Chinese symbols are there in total? The number of different symbols, compared to writing systems based on an alphabet is incredibly high. Even smaller dictionaries contain as many as 6,000 different characters. The Kangxi dictionary published in 1710 contains some 47,000 characters. The Hanyu dacidian that came out recently in mainland China lists over 60,000 characters.

Of course, nobody can remember such a large number of symbols. Actually, there is no need to do that. An average Chinese person might be able to read about 4-5,000 characters which is sufficient to understand almost anything written in Chinese today. But just 3,000 characters constitutes over 90% of newspaper articles.

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Chinese Symbols - How many Chinese symbols are there?