May 23, 2006

Fewer Characters Being Used in Written Chinese

BEIJING (Reuters) - The Chinese media is using fewer characters and to understand 90 percent of the content in publications you need only to know about 900 of the thousands of pictographs that make up the script, state media said on Tuesday.

The findings of a survey conducted by the education ministry and language commission were based on 900 million characters used in more than 8.9 million files chosen from newspapers, magazines, the Internet and television, the Xinhua news agency said.

It did not give an explanation for the survey results.

China began simplifying its script after the Communist revolution in 1949, aiming to improve illiteracy from an estimated 80 percent.

Written Chinese is made up of around 50,000 individual characters, whose main function is to represent meaning, not pronunciation.

The average university graduate, however, may know only about 6,000, as many characters are archaic and some found only once in the whole history of the written language, often describing the names of people, places or mythical beasts.

Traditional, or "complex" characters are still used in Hong Kong, Taiwan and many overseas Chinese communities, though simplification is gradually creeping in as mainland China's economic clout grows and more Chinese travel abroad.