December 14, 2018

The most complex Chinese character

What is the most complex Chinese character?

When it comes to the character with the greatest number of strokes and the greatest number of elements I was able to find, it is this character, which is pronounced dhō, with 341 strokes:

http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/File:Chinese_character_extreme.svg

It supposedly means “Impossibly complex pictogram-based writing system that takes a person a thousand thousand years to learn.” This character however should not count in my opinion for a number of reasons. The only reference to it I was able to find was on the Uncyclopedia website, which is a website where you can: “Discover, share and add your best comedic writing!” So dhō is thus very probably just a recently invented character invented for fun, where the author took several very complicated existing and non-existing characters, added them together, added a few non-standard strokes, called the character dhō and gave it the meaning I mentioned earlier.

The most complex real character on the other hand, a character that was not invented for fun and with real historical usage, would probably have to be taito, with 84 strokes:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taito_(kanji)

Its meaning is ‘the appearance of a dragon in flight'. This is however a character which exists only in Japanese and since we are talking about Chinese characters this one, in my opinion, shouldn’t count either.

When looking for the Chinese character with the greatest number of strokes used in Chinese, we actually have a tie. Both following characters consist of 64 strokes. This character means ‘to talk a lot, to chatter away’ and is pronounced zhé:


This following character is pronounced zhèng but I wasn’t able to find what the character means:



The problem with the two above characters is that according to some sources they fell out of use around the 5th century CE, are thus very rare today and even though they contain a large number of strokes, they are not very complex, because they are both only made up of one element repeated 4 times.

We thus need to continue our search. Maybe some of you have seen this character:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biangbiang_noodles

It is pronounced biáng and it is the name of a type of noodles from the Shaanxi province called biáng biáng miàn. This character contains a total of 58 strokes and with 11 different elements is much more complex than the previous two characters I showed you. The problem with this character however is, that the word biáng and the character itself is dialectal and cannot be found in standard Chinese dictionaries and since the 84 stroke Japanese character didn’t count because of this either, this one probably shouldn’t count as well.

The most complex modern Chinese character, used in Chinese today, found in standard Chinese dictionaries, which is at least somewhat frequent thus probably has to be nàng with 36 strokes:


It means ‘to have a stuffy nose’. Some would however argue, that the character is still quite rare and that there are other ways people usually say ‘to have a stuffy nose’ in Chinese.

We thus have to continue our search again. The most complex modern Chinese character, used in Chinese today, found in standard Chinese dictionaries, which is very frequent thus probably has is yù, which means ‘to appeal to, to beg, to implore’ with 32 strokes:


The problem we with this character is, that it is written this way only in Traditional Chinese. In Simplified Chinese it is written like this: 吁

We thus need to continue our search and look for the most complex frequent modern Simplified Chinese character. The most complex frequent modern Simplified Chinese character, used in Chinese today, found in standard Chinese dictionaries, is probably 颧 quán with 23 strokes and its meaning is ‘cheek bones’:


So as you can see, the question is actually a bit more difficult to answer than I thought, because there are really quite a few ways you can look at this. Finding the most complex Chinese character is actually very similar to trying to find the longest word in English. It all depends on how narrow you make your search. You can ask yourself questions like: Do we look for frequently used words or do rare words count as well? Are we looking for modern English words or do Old English words count as well? Do we only consider words used in Great Britain or do English words used in the US, Australia, South Africa and so on count as well? Do we only consider real words or do we consider invented words too and so on.

When it comes to looking for the most complex Chinese character we need to consider roughly the same things: are we looking for frequently used Chinese characters or do rare or even invented characters count as well? Are we looking for modern Chinese characters or do Old Chinese characters not used anymore count as well? Do characters only used in Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese and not used in Chinese count as well? Are we looking for the character with the greatest number of strokes or the character with the greatest number of different elements? Do we consider earlier Chinese scripts like the Seal script or the Oracle bone script, or do we base our search only only the Regular script?

You can find more information about complex Chinese characters in the following video:


So there you have it. This was my take on the most complex Chinese characters. If you know of any Chinese characters that fit the above mentioned selection rules and are more complex than the characters in this article, please leave a comment. If you’d like to learn more about Chinese characters from a scientific point of view, make sure to check out my channel dedicated to Chinese characters.

No comments:

Post a Comment