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How many Chinese characters are there?

Question by TopBird | 01/02/2018 at 20:02

The fact that our Latin alphabet with its only 26 different signs of diversity does not match the sheer mass of Chinese characters is beyond question.

But it is possible to say very accurately that our alphabet exactly has 26 characters. But what about the Chinese characters? Can someone give me an exact number of how many Chinese characters there are in total?



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Nobody will be able to tell you an exact number, as it is not clear whether you count certain variants as independent characters or not. To still give an answer to your question, it is best to look at dictionaries:

  • Shuō Wén Jiě Zì (說文解字): The Shuō Wén Jiě Zì is a very old dictionary from the year 100 AD. Already at that time, 9,353 characters plus 1,163 variants have been listed in this book.
  • Kāngxī Zìdiǎn (康熙字典): The Kāngxī Zìdiǎn is a more recent dictionary from the year 1716. This dictionary already contained 40,545 Chinese characters.
  • Hànyǔ Dàzìdiǎn (汉语大字典): This dictionary from 1989 contains 54,678 different Chinese characters.
  • Zhōnghuá Zìhǎi (中华字海): The Zhōnghuá Zìhǎi from 1994 is the largest lexicon of Chinese characters til today. It contains 85,568 different characters.

In addition, there is the "Dictionary of Chinese Variant Form" (異體字字典, Yìtǐzì Zìdiǎn) from the year 2004, which comprises 106,230 characters. Many of them, however, are variants.

Incidentally, very few Chinese know all these signs. According to Article 7 of the 1993 Anti-Illiteracy Regulation of the People's Republic of China, knowing 1,500 to 2,000 characters is sufficient to be officially able to read and write.
02/02/2018 at 17:28

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