I am familiar with the most common ways characters are simplified, but sometimes I am not completely sure what the thought process was. For example, with 邊 to 边, 力 is not a novel phonetic component, nor does it resemble the 草书 form of 邊, and as far as I know it's not a historical variant, so it appears like a mostly arbitrary replacement to me.

The 简化字总表, the list of simplified Characters published by the Chinese government, is the only original source I know of regarding simplified characters, but it only shows what the simplified characters are, and provides little explanation for the reasoning. Is there any source that documents the reasoning behind simplification? I imagine there was a committee that discussed it, and there had to have been some written correspondence about it. Are there any sources like that available to the public?

  • 3
    It seems to me that their main thought process was "our new communist overlords want us to reduce the number of characters and strokes, and we've gotta do it ASAP no matter what". That's the only explanation I can see that is consistent with merging unrelated characters with different shapes, meanings and pronunciations into one, such as in the case of the infamous 髮發 -> 发.
    – 米好 '-'
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 5:50

2 Answers 2


Simplified Chinese is no stupid command from "communist overlords". There was a committee discussing simplification, and they did choose simplified characters with academic discretion. I have found this semi-official book for explaining the sources of almost each simplified characters, plus the history of Chinese character simplification from Qing Dynasty:
《简化字溯源》(Tracing the Source of Simplified Characters), published by Language & Culture Press, 1997. (It's not an English book, but this is all I can think of. )
You can borrow it from a library, or buy it online for about $6.
For those who think Simplified Chinese is a brutal command from the "red evils":
Chinese simplification is a process that started thousands of years ago, which has been performed by various regimes, not just the Communist China.
Lishu(lit. "slave script") is the best-known simplification in Ancient China, promoted by Qin Shihuang. Before that, Xiaozhuan(lit. "minor seal (script)"), which is more complex with round and delicate curves, served as the official script (after Qin unified China).
In 1935, the KMT government had drafted a proposal of simplifying Chinese, which contains about 500 characters as the "first batch". Most of them were accepted by the current Simplified Chinese. It was rejected because Dai Li, the head of intelligence, strongly opposed the proposal with the reason "Simplified Chinese is abomination to the ancestors".
The current Simplified Chinese was sometimes called Yi-Jian ("First Simplification"), because there were Er-Jian ("Second Simplification") during the early 1980s, which was really a disaster. The Second Simplification was made in a hurry, with a lot of simplifications that may cause confusion, violate the principle of making Chinese characters, or be just too ugly. People around China also invented their own simplification arbitrarily, which brought more confusion. The Second Simplification was terminated in mid-1980s, and the standard Chinese script was rolled back to the First Simplification.
What I'd like to say is, Simplified Chinese we use today may be imperfect, but they're so widely used and tested in daily life, and it is the best existing solution besides Traditional Chinese, with less complexity, and introduces minimum confusion. It can be left today because it is based on extensive research and respect to the principles.

  • zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E7%AE%80%E5%8C%96%E5%AD%97 has a fairly full history of the process towards the eventual official simplification since the 1920s. Unfortunately they offer a link to 《简化字溯源》 which seems to be broken. I have not yet searched much to see if there is a better URL for that. Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 11:47
  • 1
    It was a command, that's for sure. A conclusion such as "we don't need no simplification" was certainly not an option for the committee. As for stupidity, it cannot be assessed objectively, so let's leave it to everyone's individual discretion. But making a complicated system such as Chinese characters even more opaque and irregular is certainly an achievement.
    – 米好 '-'
    Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 12:43
  • This is not a place to criticize simplification, please. Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 2:36
  • 1
    Please don't spread incorrect information. Simplification was not invented by "Red Devils", the question didn't even say this, and everyone knows that Kuomintang started it, but it is not a "natural evolution". If you do not study Oracle Bone, Bronze inscriptions, or Seal Scripts, you are not qualified to talk about script evolution.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 7:53
  • @dROOOze I need not to be an academic of Chinese language to talk about script evolution. I had those P.S. because someone commented me under my answer, and I need to respond him in order not to mislead anyone else. I used the word "natural evolution" because these "new" characters originates from people's daily writing, not come out of the blue. Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 2:20

I recommend the book 《简化字源》by 李乐毅, ISBN 7-80052-494-9.

For example, the simplification history of 愛 to 爱. love

It's frustrating and even disgusting that the topic on simplified and traditional characters has now always been a quarrel due to political correctness, ideology, bias or even just ignorance, or what I may call 'pretend to be blind'.

The image quality is poor and it's in Chinese, so I try to give a brief interpretation of this page.

爱 originates from 行书. There are countless variants similar to the present 爱 in the ancient writings, printings and carvings. Here are the famous ones.

1st by Wang Xizhi, 王羲之, AD303-361 or AD321-379, Jin Dynasty.

2nd by Monk Zhiyong, 智永, dates of birth and death unknown, Sui Dynasty.

3rd by Li Shimin, 李世民, AD598-649, Tang Dynasty.

4th by Su Shi, 苏轼, AD1137-1101, Northern Song Dynasty.

5th by Wen Zhengming, 文征明, AD1470-1559, Ming Dynasty.

6th in 崔勤造像碑, Northern Wei Dynasty, AD368-534.

The form 爱 was widely used by the folk and could be seen in many folk literature works.

7th in Yuan Dynasty's 京本通俗小说.

8th is the same with today's simplified 爱. It could be seen in Song's 古烈女传, Yuan's 古今杂居三十种, 全相三国志平话, 朝野新声太平乐府, Ming's 娇红记, 薛仁贵跨海征东白袍记, 岳飞破虏东窗记, Qing's 目莲记弹词, 金瓶梅奇书, 岭南逸史. This one is also seen in one of Ming's official documents, 兵科抄出. And it was also included into 手头字第一期字汇 sponsored and published by 200 public figures and 15 social organizations in 1935.

9th 标准行书范本 Taiwan 1979.

Both traditional and simplified characters are precious legacy. It was not CCP but the Chinese ancestors that invented and used these variants. In 1935, KMT government launched to make a standard of simplified characters but this project was then cancelled. After 1949, CCP took over this project and finally made it. In 1952, Chiang Kai-shek proposed it again in Taiwan but was opposed and came to nothing. Today Japan uses Chinese characters, kanji, some of which have also been simplified.

  • I agree that both Simplified and Traditional Chinese are treasures, the same as Old English, Middle English(?) and Modern English. Simplified Chinese is no political, but a natural evolution of the Chinese writing system. Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 7:26

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