There are two sets of characters of Chinese language:
- Traditional Chinese Characters (used in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Macau)
- Simplified Chinese Characters (used in Singapore, Malaysia, and Mainland China)
In English, we have 26 characters or letters. Every word consists of some number of alphabetical letters or characters. For instance, for writing the word, “bag,” it takes three characters. Each character has some phonetic value. When these three characters of different phonemes make a sensible word, representing a thing, we name it a bag. In contrast, in Chinese, there is no writing system as such. The Chinese language has some form of character for every word. So, the number of Chinese characters is more vast than word characters in English or any other European language.
The Chinese use a calligraphic writing system, that is, characters are written in the pictorial form. Hence, the Chinese employ pictorial characters, with each character representing some meaningful word. There are over 10,000 characters. A good calligrapher is highly respected, and is known to be a great scholar. The Chinese believe that creating calligraphy is one of the spiritual disciplines. Interestingly enough, the first tools of calligraphy, brush and ink, were found in Roran of western China, dating as far back as 300 A.D. Later, the early calligraphic skill would evolve into a functional art form.
A standard Chinese dictionary might contain around 6000 characters. Other dictionaries like Morohashi Daikanwa jiten or Kangxi zidian possess over 40,000 characters. One drawback, with today’s prolific use of the internet, is that people often find it difficult to locate certain characters on the web. One of the benefits of the calligraphy, on the other hand, is that for a word such as “telecommunication,” our kindergarten child may read but not comprehend meaning immediately, whereas, a little boy of theirs can understand it pictorially.