|4th century BCE – present|
|Languages||Korean, Classical Chinese|
|Kanji, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Khitan script, Chữ Hán, Chữ Nôm, Jurchen script, Tangut script|
|ISO 15924||Hani, , Han (Hanzi, Kanji, Hanja)|
|Korean writing systems|
|Josŏn-gŭl (in North Korea)|
Hanja (Korean: 한자; Hanja: 漢字, Korean pronunciation: [ha(ː)nt͈ɕa]), alternatively known as Hancha, is the Korean name for a traditional writing system which consists of Chinese characters (Chinese: 漢字; pinyin: hànzì) that has been incorporated and used as early as the Gojoseon period, the first ever Korean kingdom. More specifically, it refers to the Chinese characters incorporated into the Korean language with Korean pronunciation.
Hanja-eo (한자어, 漢字語) refers to words of Chinese origin that can be written with Hanja, and hanmun (한문, 漢文) refers to Classical Chinese writing, although "Hanja" is also sometimes used to encompass both concepts. Because Hanja never underwent any major reforms, they are similar to kyūjitai and traditional Chinese characters, although the stroke orders for some characters are slightly different. For example, the characters 教 and 敎 as well as 研 and 硏. Only a small number of Hanja characters were modified or are unique to Korean, with the rest corresponding to the traditional Chinese characters. By contrast, many of the Chinese characters currently in use in mainland China and Singapore have been simplified, and contain fewer strokes than the corresponding Hanja characters. In Japan, simplified forms of Chinese characters known as shinjitai were also enacted, but are not as extensive. During the 1970s, Singapore had also briefly enacted its own simplification campaign, but eventually adopted the standard simplification of mainland China to avoid confusion.
Although a phonetic Hangul, also known as Chosŏn'gŭl in North Korea, 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 to be literate in Korean, as Korean documents, history, literature and records throughout its history until the contemporary period were written primarily in Literary Chinese using Hanja as its primary script. Therefore, a good working knowledge of Chinese characters is still important for anyone who wishes to interpret and study older texts from Korea, or anyone who wishes to read scholarly texts in the humanities. A high proficiency in Hanja is also useful for understanding the etymology of Sino-Korean words as well as to enlarge one's Korean vocabulary.
Hanja were once used to write native Korean words, in a variety of systems collectively known as idu, but by the 20th century Koreans used hanja only for writing words of Chinese origin (Hanja-eo), while writing native vocabulary and loanwords from other languages in Hangul. By the 21st century, even Hanja-eo are written in the Hangul alphabet most of the time, with the corresponding Chinese character sometimes written next to it to prevent confusion if there are other characters or words with the same Hangul spelling. According to the Standard Korean Language Dictionary published by the National Institute of Korean Language (NIKL), out of the approximately 510,000 words in the Korean Language, 370,000 words (71%) were Hanja-eo.
See also: History of Korean
A major motivation for the introduction of Chinese characters into Korea was the spread of Buddhism. The major Chinese text that introduced Hanja to Koreans, however, was not a religious text but the Chinese text Cheonjamun (천자문; 千字文; Thousand Character Classic).
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 in Mandarin as the expression "wéi ní", meaning "becoming a nun". This is a typical example of Gugyeol words where the radical (爲) is read in Korean for its meaning (hă—"to do"), whereas the suffix 尼, ni (meaning "nun"), is used phonetically.
Hanja were the sole means of writing Korean until King Sejong the Great invented and promoted Hangul in the 15th century. Even after the invention of Hangul, however, most Korean scholars continued to write in hanmun, although Hangul did see considerable popular use.
Hangul effectively replaced Hanja in official and scholarly writing only in the 20th century. Since June 1949, Hanja have not officially been used in North Korea, and, in addition, most texts are now most commonly 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 Hanja still appear in special contexts, such as recent North Korean dictionaries. The replacement has been less total in South Korea where, although usage has declined over time, some Hanja remain in common usage in some contexts.
Each 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.
The historical use of Hanja in Korea has had a change over time. Hanja became prominent in use by the elite class between the 3rd and 4th centuries by the Three Kingdoms. The use came from Chinese that migrated into Korea. With them they brought the writing system Hanja. Thus the hanja being used came from the characters already being used by the Chinese at the time.
Since Hanja was primarily used by the elite and scholars, it was hard for others to learn, thus much character development was limited. Scholars in the 4th century used this to study and write Confucian classics. Character formation is also coined to the Idu form which was a Buddhist writing system for Chinese characters. This practice however was limited due to the opinion of Buddhism whether it was favorable at the time or not.
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 ceased the teaching of Hanja in elementary schools in the 1970s, although they are still taught as part of the mandatory curriculum in grade 6. 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 replace 44 Hanja with 44 others.
South Korea's Ministry of Education generally encourages all primary schools to offer Hanja classes. Officials said that learning Chinese characters could enhance students' Korean-language proficiency. Initially announced as a mandatory requirement, it is now considered optional.
Though North Korea rapidly abandoned the general use of Hanja soon after independence, the number of Hanja taught in primary and secondary schools is actually greater than the 1,800 taught in South Korea. 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 Hanja words (Hanjaeo) may be spelled identically in the phonetic Hangul alphabet. 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. Hanja are 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 glossed in Hanja in parentheses next to the Hangul. Aside from academic usage, Hanja are often used for advertising or decorative purposes in South Korea, and appear frequently in athletic events and cultural parades, packaging and labeling, dictionaries and atlases. For example, the Hanja 辛 (sin or shin, meaning spicy) appears prominently on packages of Shin Ramyun noodles. In contrast, North Korea eliminated the use of Hanja even in academic publications by 1949 on the orders of Kim Il-sung, a situation that has since remained unchanged.
In modern Korean dictionaries, all entry words of Sino-Korean origin are printed in Hangul and listed in Hangul order, with the Hanja given 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 word's origin.
As an example of how Hanja can help to clear up ambiguity, many homophones can be distinguished by using hanja. An example is the word 수도 (sudo), which may have meanings such as:
Hanja dictionaries for specialist usage – Jajeon (자전, 字典) or Okpyeon (옥편, 玉篇) – are organized by radical (the traditional Chinese method of classifying characters).
Korean personal names, including all Korean surnames and most Korean given names, are based on Hanja and are generally written in it, although some exceptions exist. On business cards, the use of Hanja is slowly fading away, with most older people displaying their names exclusively in Hanja while most of the younger generation using both Hangul and Hanja. 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 Korea (1910–1945), Koreans were forced 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 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 in both Hangul and in 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,
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 or Hanja.
For the traditional creative arts such as calligraphy and painting, a knowledge of Hanja is needed to write and understand the various scripts and inscriptions, as is the same in China and Japan. Many old songs and poems are written and based on Hanja characters.
On 9 September 2003, the celebration for the 55th anniversary of North Korea appeared a float decorated with the situation of North Korean people welcomes Kim Il-Sung, which including a banner with Kim Il-Sung's name written with Hanja.
See also: Korean 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. Hanja use within general Korean literature has declined 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, 65% of one sample of people without a college education "evinced no reading comprehension of any but the most common hanja" when reading mixed-script passages.
A small number of characters were invented by the 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; "paddy field"), 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), 哛 (뿐 ppun), and 椧 (명 myeong). See Korean gukja characters at Wiktionary for more examples.
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.
Some Hanja characters have simplified forms (약자, 略字, yakja) that can be seen in casual use. An example is
Each 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 insah in Shanghainese (a Wu Chinese dialect).
One difference is the loss of tone from standard 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, including 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 목단.
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", "horse" and "gold" 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", 클 대 (keul-dae) for 大 "big/large/great", 작을 소 (jageul-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".