Hanja (Hangul: 한자; Hanja: 漢字; Korean
pronunciation: [ha(ː)nt͈ɕa]) is the
Korean name for Chinese
characters (Chinese: 漢字; pinyin: hànzì). More specifically,
it refers to those
Chinese characters borrowed from Chinese and
incorporated into the
Korean language with Korean pronunciation.
Hanja-mal or Hanja-eo (the latter is more used) refers to words that
can be written with Hanja, and hanmun (한문, 漢文) refers to
Classical Chinese writing, although "Hanja" is sometimes used loosely
to encompass these other concepts. Because
Hanja never underwent major
reform, they are almost entirely identical to traditional Chinese and
kyūjitai characters, though the stroke orders for some characters are
slightly different. For example, the characters 教 and 研 are
written as 敎 and 硏. Only a small number of
Hanja characters are
modified or unique to Korean. By contrast, many of the Chinese
characters currently in use in Japan and Mainland China have been
simplified, and contain fewer strokes than the corresponding Hanja
Although a phonetic Korean alphabet, now known as Hangul, had been
created by Sejong the Great, it did not come into widespread
official use until the late 19th and early 20th century. Thus,
until that time it was necessary to be fluent in reading and writing
Hanja in order to be literate in Korean, as the vast majority of
Korean literature and most other Korean documents were written in
Literary Chinese, using
Hanja as its primary script. Today, a good
working knowledge of
Chinese characters is still important for anyone
who wishes to study older texts (up to about the 1990s), or anyone who
wishes to read scholarly texts in the humanities. Learning a certain
Hanja is very helpful for understanding the etymology of
Sino-Korean words, and for enlarging one's Korean vocabulary. Today,
Hanja are not used to write native Korean words, which are always
rendered in Hangul, and even words of Chinese origin—Hanja-eo
(한자어, 漢字語)—are written with the
Hangul alphabet most of
the time.
2 Character formation
5.1 Print media
5.3 Personal names
5.6 Popular usage
8 See also
A major motivation for the introduction of
Chinese characters into
Korea was the spread of Buddhism. The major Chinese text that
Hanja to Koreans, however, was not a religious text but the
Chinese text Cheonjamun (천자문; 千字文; Thousand Character
Although Koreans had to learn
Classical Chinese to be properly
literate for the most part, some additional systems were developed
which used simplified forms of
Chinese characters that phonetically
transcribe Korean, including hyangchal (향찰; 鄕札), gugyeol
(구결; 口訣), and idu (이두; 吏讀).
One way of adapting
Hanja to write Korean in such systems (such as
Gugyeol) was to represent native Korean grammatical particles and
other words solely according to their pronunciation. For example,
Gugyeol uses the characters 爲尼 to transcribe the Korean word
"hăni", which in modern Korean means "does, and so". In Chinese,
however, the same characters are read as the expression "wéi ní",
meaning "becoming a nun". This is a typical example of
where the radical (爲) is read in Korean for its meaning (hă—"to
do"), whereas the suffix 尼, ni (meaning "nun"), is used
Hanja were the sole means of writing Korean until King Sejong the
Great promoted the invention of
Hangul in the 15th century. Even after
the invention of Hangul, however, most Korean scholars continued to
write in hanmun.
Hangul effectively replaced
Hanja only in the 20th century. Since June
Hanja have not officially been used in North Korea, and, in
addition, all texts are now written horizontally instead of
vertically. Many words borrowed from Chinese have
also been replaced in the North with native Korean words.
Nevertheless, a large number of Chinese-borrowed words are still
widely used in the North (although written in Hangul), and
appear in special contexts, such as recent North Korean
dictionaries.[original research?][dubious – discuss] The
replacement has been less total in South
Korea where, although usage
has declined over time, some
Hanja remain in common usage in some
Hanja is composed of one of 214 radicals plus in most cases one
or more additional elements. The vast majority of
Hanja use the
additional elements to indicate the sound of the character, but a few
Hanja are purely pictographic, and some were formed in other ways.
To aid in understanding the meaning of a character, or to describe it
orally to distinguish it from other characters with the same
pronunciation, character dictionaries and school textbooks refer to
each character with a combination of its sound and a word indicating
its meaning. This dual meaning-sound reading of a character is called
eumhun (음훈; 音訓; from 音 "sound" + 訓 "meaning," "teaching").
The word or words used to denote the meaning are often—though hardly
always—words of native Korean (i.e., non-Chinese) origin, and are
sometimes archaic words no longer commonly used.
South Korean primary schools abandoned the teaching of
Hanja in 1971,
although they are still taught as part of the mandatory curriculum in
6th grade. They are taught in separate courses in South Korean high
schools, separately from the normal Korean-language curriculum. Formal
Hanja education begins in grade 7 (junior high school) and continues
until graduation from senior high school in grade 12. A total of 1,800
Hanja are taught: 900 for junior high, and 900 for senior high
(starting in grade 10). Post-secondary
Hanja education continues in
some liberal-arts universities. The 1972 promulgation of basic
Hanja for educational purposes changed on December 31, 2000, to
Hanja with 44 others.
Debate flared again in 2013 after a move by South Korean authorities
to encourage primary and secondary schools to offer
Officials said that learning
Chinese characters could enhance
students' Korean-language proficiency; protesters called the program
"old-fashioned and unnecessary".
Korea rapidly abandoned the general use of
after independence, the number of
Hanja taught in primary and
secondary schools is actually greater than the 1,800 taught in South
Kim Il-sung had earlier called for a gradual elimination of
the use of Hanja, but by the 1960s, he had reversed his stance; he
was quoted as saying in 1966, "While we should use as few Sinitic
terms as possible, students must be exposed to the necessary Chinese
characters and taught how to write them." As a result, a
Chinese-character textbook was designed for North Korean schools for
use in grades 5–9, teaching 1,500 characters, with another 500 for
high school students. College students are exposed to another
1,000, bringing the total to 3,000.
Because many different Hanja—and thus, many different words written
using Hanja—often share the same sounds, two distinct
(Hanjaeo) may be spelled identically in the phonetic
Hanja's language of origin, Chinese, has many homophones, and Hanja
words became even more homophonic when they came into Korean, since
Korean lacks a tonal system, which is how Chinese distinguishes many
words that would otherwise be homophonic. For example, while 道, 刀,
and 島 are all phonetically distinct in Mandarin (pronounced dào,
dāo, and dǎo respectively), they are all pronounced do (도) in
Korean. For this reason,
Hanja are often used to clarify meaning,
either on their own without the equivalent
Hangul spelling or in
parentheses after the
Hangul spelling as a kind of gloss.
often also used as a form of shorthand in newspaper headlines,
advertisements, and on signs, for example the banner at the funeral
for the sailors lost in the sinking of ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772).
In South Korea,
Hanja are used most frequently in ancient literature,
legal documents, and scholarly monographs, where they often appear
without the equivalent
Hangul spelling. Usually, only
those words with a specialized or ambiguous meaning are printed in
Hanja. In mass-circulation books and magazines, Hanja
are generally used rarely, and only to gloss words already spelled in
Hangul when the meaning is ambiguous.
Hanja are also
often used in newspaper headlines as abbreviations or to eliminate
ambiguity. In formal publications, personal names are also usually
Hanja in parentheses next to the Hangul. In contrast, North
Korea eliminated the use of
Hanja even in academic publications by
1949, a situation that has since remained unchanged.
often used for advertising or decorative purposes, and appear
frequently in athletic events and cultural parades, dictionaries and
atlases. For example, the
Hanja 辛 (sin or shin, meaning sour or hot)
appears prominently on packages of
Shin Ramyun noodles.
In modern Korean dictionaries, all entry words of Sino-Korean origin
are printed in
Hangul and listed in
Hangul order, with the
in parentheses immediately following the entry word.
This practice helps to eliminate ambiguity, and it also serves as a
sort of shorthand etymology, since the meaning of the
Hanja and the
fact that the word is composed of
Hanja often help to illustrate the
As an example of how
Hanja can help to clear up ambiguity, many
homophones are written in
Hangul as 수도 (sudo), including:
修道: spiritual discipline
水都: "city of water" (e.g. Venice or Suzhou)
水稻: paddy rice
水道: drain, rivers, path of surface water
首都: capital (city)
Hanja dictionaries (Jajeon (자전, 字典) or Okpyeon (옥편,
玉篇)) are organized by radical (the traditional Chinese method of
Korean personal names are generally based on Hanja, although some
exceptions exist. On business cards, the use of
Hanja is slowly fading
away, with most older people displaying their names in
most of the younger generation uses Hangul. Korean personal names
usually consist of a one-character family name (seong, 성, 姓)
followed by a two-character given name (ireum, 이름). There are a
few two-character family names (e.g. 남궁, 南宮, Namgung), and the
holders of such names—but not only them—tend to have one-syllable
given names. Traditionally, the given name in turn consists of one
character unique to the individual and one character shared by all
people in a family of the same sex and generation (see Generation
name). During the Japanese administration of
Koreans were encouraged to adopt Japanese-style names, including
polysyllabic readings of the Hanja, but this practice was reversed by
post-independence governments in Korea. Since the 1970s, some parents
have given their children given names that break the Chinese
generation style, and are simply native Korean words. Popular ones
include Haneul—meaning "sky"—and Iseul—meaning "morning dew".
Nevertheless, on official documents, people's names are still recorded
Hangul and in
Hanja (if the name is composed of Hanja).
Due to standardization efforts during
Goryeo and Joseon eras, native
Korean placenames were converted to Hanja, and most names used today
are Hanja-based. The most notable exception is the name of the
capital, Seoul, a native Korean word meaning "capital" with no direct
Hanja conversion; the
Hanja gyeong (경, 京, "capital") is sometimes
used as a back-rendering. For example, disyllabic names of railway
lines, freeways, and provinces are often formed by taking one
character from each of the two locales' names; thus,
Gyeongbu (경부, 京釜) corridor connects
Seoul (gyeong, 京)
Busan (bu, 釜);
Gyeongin (경인, 京仁) corridor connects
Jeolla (전라, 全羅) Province took its name from the
first characters in the city names
Jeonju (전주, 全州) and Naju
(나주, 羅州) ("Naju" is originally "Raju," but the initial "r/l"
sound in South Korean is simplified to "n").
Most atlases of
Korea today are published in two versions: one in
Hangul (sometimes with some English as well), and one in Hanja. Subway
and railway station signs give the station's name in Hangul, Hanja,
and English, both to assist visitors (including Chinese or Japanese
who may rely on the
Hanja spellings) and to disambiguate the name.
Hanja are still required for certain disciplines in academia, such as
Oriental Studies and other disciplines studying Chinese, Japanese or
historic Korean literature and culture, since the vast majority of
primary source text material are written in Hanzi, Kanji, Hanja, etc.
See also: Korean mixed script
Korean War propaganda leaflet created by the US Army as part of
Operation Moolah uses Hangul–
Hanja mixed script.
Opinion surveys in South
Korea regarding the issue of
Hanja use have
had mixed responses in the past.
Hanja terms are also expressed
through Hangul, the standard script in the Korean language.
within general Korean literature has declined significantly since the
1980s because formal
Hanja education in South
Korea does not begin
until the seventh year of schooling, due to changes in government
policy during the time. In 1956, one study found mixed-script Korean
text (in which Sino-Korean nouns are written using Hanja, and other
words using Hangul) were read faster than texts written purely in
Hangul; however, by 1977, the situation had reversed. In 1988, 80%
of one sample of people without a college education "evinced no
reading comprehension of any but the simplest, most common hanja" when
reading mixed-script passages.
See also: Kokuji
A small number of characters were invented by Koreans themselves.
These characters are called gukja (국자, 國字, literally "national
characters"). Most of them are for proper names (place-names and
people's names) but some refer to Korean-specific concepts and
materials. They include 畓 (답; dap; "paddyfield"), 欌 (장; jang,
"wardrobe"), 乭 (돌; Dol, a character only used in given names), 㸴
(소; So, a rare surname from Seongju), and 怾 (기; Gi, an old name
referring to Kumgangsan).
Further examples include 巭 (부 bu), 頉 (탈 tal), 䭏 (편 pyeon),
and 哛 (뿐 ppun),椧 (명 myeong).
Compare to the parallel development in Japan of kokuji (国字), of
which there are hundreds, many rarely used—these were often
developed for native Japanese plants and animals.
Yakja (약자, 略字) simplification of 無
Hanja characters have simplified forms (약자, 略字, yakja)
that can be seen in casual use. An example is , which is a cursive
form of 無 (meaning "nothing").
Hanja character is pronounced as a single syllable, corresponding
to a single composite character in Hangul. The pronunciation of Hanja
in Korean is by no means identical to the way they are pronounced in
modern Chinese, particularly Mandarin, although some Chinese dialects
and Korean share similar pronunciations for some characters. For
example, 印刷 "print" is yìnshuā in
Mandarin Chinese and inswae
(인쇄) in Korean, but it is pronounced insue in
Shanghainese (a Wu
Chinese dialect). One obvious difference is the complete loss[dubious
– discuss] of tone from Korean while most Chinese dialects retain
tone. In other aspects, the pronunciation of
Hanja is more
conservative than most northern and central Chinese dialects, for
example in the retention of labial consonant codas in characters with
labial consonant onsets, such as the characters 法 (법 beop) and 凡
(범 beom); labial codas existed in
Middle Chinese but do not survive
intact in most northern and central Chinese varieties today, and even
in many southern Chinese varieties that still retain labial codas,
Cantonese and Hokkien, labial codas in characters with
labial onsets are replaced by their dental counterparts.
Due to divergence in pronunciation since the time of borrowing,
sometimes the pronunciation of a
Hanja and its corresponding hanzi may
differ considerably. For example, 女 ("woman") is nǚ in Mandarin
Chinese and nyeo (녀) in Korean. However, in most modern Korean
dialects (especially South Korean ones), 女 is pronounced as yeo
(여) when used in an initial position, due to a systematic elision of
initial n when followed by y or i.
Additionally, sometimes a Hanja-derived word will have altered
pronunciation of a character to reflect Korean pronunciation shifts,
for example mogwa 모과 木瓜 "quince" from mokgwa 목과, and moran
모란 牡丹 "Paeonia suffruticosa" from mokdan 모단.
There are some pronunciation correspondence between the onset, rhyme,
and coda between
Cantonese and Korean.
When learning how to write Hanja, students are taught to memorize the
native Korean pronunciation for the Hanja's meaning and the
Sino-Korean pronunciations (the pronunciation based on the Chinese
pronunciation of the characters) for each
Hanja respectively so that
students know what the syllable and meaning is for a particular Hanja.
For example, the name for the
Hanja 水 is 물 수 (mul-su) in which
물 (mul) is the native Korean pronunciation for "water", while 수
(su) is the Sino-Korean pronunciation of the character. The naming of
Hanja is similar to if "water" were named "water-aqua", "horse-equus",
or "gold-aurum" based on a hybridization of both the English and the
Latin names. Other examples include 사람 인 (saram-in) for 人
"person/people", 큰 대 (keun-dae) for 大 "big/large//great", 작을
소 (jakeul-so) for 小 "small/little", 아래 하 (arae-ha) for 下
"underneath/below/low", 아비 부 (abi-bu) for 父 "father", and
나라이름 한 (naraireum-han) for 韓 "Han/Korea".
Korean mixed script
Han-Nom (Vietnamese equivalent)
Kanji (Japanese equivalent)
Yale Romanization of Korean
New Korean Orthography
List of Korea-related topics
^ Coulmas, Florian (1991). The writing systems of the world. Oxford:
Wiley-Blackwell. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-631-18028-9.
Hanja Characters » SayJack". www.sayjack.com.
^ "알고 싶은 한글". 국립국어원. National Institute of
Korean Language. Retrieved 22 March 2018.
^ Fischer, Stephen Roger (2004-04-04). A History of Writing.
Globalities. London: Reaktion Books. pp. 189–194.
ISBN 1-86189-101-6. Retrieved 2009-04-03.
^ "New Korean-English Dictionary published". Korean Central News
Agency. 2003-05-28. Archived from the original on 2007-10-12.
^ Hannas 1997: 71. "A balance was struck in August 1976, when the
Ministry of Education agreed to keep
Chinese characters out of the
elementary schools and teach the 1,800 characters in special courses,
not as part of
Korean language or any other substantive curricula.
This is where things stand at present"
^ Hannas 1997: 68-69
^ 한문 교육용 기초 한자 (2000), page 15 (추가자:
characters added, 제외자: characters removed)
^ "Hangeul advocates oppose
Hanja classes", The
^ Hannas 1997: 67. "By the end of 1946 and the beginning of 1947, the
major newspaper Nodong sinmun, mass circulation magazine Kulloja, and
similar publications began appearing in all-hangul. School textbooks
and literary materials converted to all-hangul at the same time or
possibly earlier (So 1989:31)."
^ Hannas 1997: 68. "Although North
Korea has removed Chinese
characters from its written materials, it has, paradoxically, ended up
with an educational program that teachers more characters than either
Korea or Japan, as Table 2 shows."
^ Hannas 1997: 67. "According to Ko Yong-kun, Kim went on record as
early as February 1949, when
Chinese characters had already been
removed from most DPRK publications, as advocating their gradual
^ a b Hannas 1997: 67
^ Hannas 1997: 67. "Between 1968 and 1969, a four-volume textbook
appeared for use in grades 5 through 9 designed to teach 1,500
characters, confirming the applicability of the new policy to the
general student population. Another five hundred were added for grades
10 through 12 (Yi Yun-p'yo 1989: 372)."
^ Hannas 2003: 188-189
^ Yang, Lina (2010-04-29). "S.
Korea bids farewell to warship
victims". Xinhua. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04.
^ Brown 1990: 120
^ (in Korean) Naver
Hanja Dictionary query of sudo
^ Taylor and Taylor 1983: 90
^ Brown 1990: 119
^ Patrick Chun Kau Chu. (2008). Onset, Rhyme and Coda Corresponding
Rules of the Sino-Korean Characters between
Cantonese and Korean.
Paper presented at the 5th Postgraduate Research Forum on Linguistics
(PRFL), Hong Kong, China, March 15–16.
Brown, R. A. (1990). "Korean Sociolinguistic Attitudes in Japanese
Comparative Perspective". Journal of Asia Pacific Communication. 1:
DeFrancis, John (1990). The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy.
Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1068-6.
Hannas, William C. (1997). Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1842-3.
Hannas, William C. (2003). The Writing on the Wall: How Asian
Orthography Curbs Creativity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Press. ISBN 0-8122-3711-0.
Taylor, Insup; Taylor, Martin M. (1983). The psychology of reading.
New York: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-684080-6.
Types of writing systems
History of writing
Languages by writing system / by first written accounts
Old North Arabian
Boyd's syllabic shorthand
Thomas Natural Shorthand
New Tai Lue
Pau Cin Hau
New York Point
New Epoch Notation Painting
Chinese family of scripts
Oracle bone script
Khitan large script
Khitan small script
Ditema tsa Dinoko
Great Lakes Algonquian syllabics
Nwagu Aneke script
Old Persian Cuneiform
Unicode braille patterns
(see for more)
Devanagari (Hindi / Marathi / Nepali)
Chinese (Mandarin, mainland)
English (Unified English)
Inuktitut (reassigned vowels)
Taiwanese Mandarin (largely reassigned)
Thai & Lao (Japanese vowels)
Gardner–Salinas braille codes (GS8)
Symbols in braille
Canadian currency marks
Gardner–Salinas braille codes (GS8/GS6)
International Phonetic Alphabet
International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)
Nemeth braille code
Optical braille recognition
Refreshable braille display
Slate and stylus
Thakur Vishva Narain Singh
William Bell Wait
Braille Institute of America
Braille Without Borders
Schools for the blind
American Printing House for the Blind
Other tactile alphabets
New York Point
Electronic writing systems
Internet slang dialects
Lolspeak / LOLspeak / Kitteh
Martian language (Chinese)
Padonkaffsky jargon (Russian)
See also English internet slang (at Wiktio