help bg
Go Back

About the Total Number of Chinese Characters

Chinese characters belong to the logo syllabic writing which are huge in total number. If the overseas students come to study in intensive Mandarin course in China, they may wonder how many characters inChinese language. So far, it is afraid that no one can give a precise answer. However, about the number of Chinese characters, the development condition can be seen clearly according to the records in ancient books about Chinese characters and words.

In Qin period, the total number of characters in three books Cang Jie, Bo Xue and Ai Li were 3300. In Xun Zuan Pian written by Yang Xiong in Han Dynasty, there were 4340 characters. When it came to Xu Shen’s Shuo Wen Jie Zi, it reached 9353. After Jin and Song dynasties, the characters were increased in number gradually. According to records, there were 22561 characters in Zi Lin written by Lv Chen, 13737 in Zi Tong written by Yang Chengqing and 16917 in Gu Yewang and 22561 characters in Yu Pian written by Sun Qiang.

When it came to Song Dynasty, the characters in Lei Pian written by Lei Pian reached 31319 and that in Kang Xi Zi Dian were 47000 characters. In 1971, Zhang Qiyun complied a Chinese dictionary with 49888 characters. One thing the foreign students who learn to speak Chinese should know is that the characters collected in dictionary are getting more and more as time goes by. For examples, the Chinese dictionary written by Xu Zhongshu in 1990 had 54678 characters and that written by Leng Yulong in 1994 reached 85000 characters.

Many foreigners think they should mast numerous Chinese words if they want to acquire Chinese language. However, if it is true that you should master seventy thousand Chinese words, the Chinese language should be the language in the world that no one will be willing to learn and use. Fortunately, the characters in the dictionary written by Leng Yulong are mostly “dead words”, which are the words often used in ancient China but no longer used in modern Chinese.

Some people ever counted the total number of characters in the 13 ancient classical books such as Yi Jing, Shang Shu, Zuo Zhuan, Gong Yang Zhuan, Lun Yu and Mencius and got totally 589,283 words. However, the Chinese teachers who teach Mandarin Chinese would tell you that there are 6544 different single characters. Therefore, as a matter of fact, we just need six or seven thousand characters for communication.

Please use vertical scrolling on your mobile device.