Unusual characters

Believe it or not the Chinese characters shown below are all variants forms of the ‘same’ character.

Variant forms of the complex Chinese character for one

The character in question is 壹 (yī) – the complex form of ‘one’, which is used on banknotes, coins and cheques. Well actually the first one is a version of 一, the simple from of ‘one’.

The first two characters come from this site, which includes a number of other rare and unusual Chinese characters. The only one of them I’ve seen ‘in the wild’ is the Shanxi noodle one (no. 2), which appears in many Chinese restaurants in the UK.

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This entry was posted in Chinese, Language, Writing.

14 Responses to Unusual characters

  1. Hi, found your blog via the Economist debunking article. Keep writing about obscure Chinese stuff, I love it! I trust you’ve also seen variant 4 in the wild, as it is precisely how it looks on Chinese banknotes (although in a 宋体 font, not this 楷书 caligraphy). Stroke-wise no. 3 is really the same though, I doubt this could be a variant Unicode-wise?

  2. Oh, you were talking about the characters you linked to, not about your 4 characters. Those were some awsome characters…

  3. BG says:

    I never knew 一 (yī) had a complex form. This reminds of 零( líng), which I just write as “0″ (my teacher said this is OK and we haven’t learned how to write líng, but we have to use it in writing the date and time. I wouldn’t want to have to write the charaters on that page.

  4. Simon says:

    Philip – the third character above is in the Small Seal Script – 小篆 (xiǎozhuàn) – the style often used on name chops. The forth one is in the Semi-cursive script – 行書 (xíngshū).

    BG – all the number characters have complex forms:

    0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 100 1000 10000
  5. TJ says:

    Oh … my … God ….

  6. thank god for alphabets! The Roman alphabet isn’t a very good one – Cyrilic and Armenian are better, but it’s still easier than characters.

  7. Stuart, London says:

    Why would there be such differing symbols between the complex and simple versions? Why have complex versions of numbers in the first place? Seems rather unnecessary to me…

  8. d.m.falk says:

    What I’d like to see is style #1 in use- It’s so unlike the usual Chinese we see in print!

    Stuart: Much like illuminated letters– It’s a fancy script for fancy people.

    d.m.f.

  9. Simon says:

    Stuart – you could think of the complex numerals as the equivalent of writing one, two, three, etc., while the simple versions are like the numerals 1, 2, 3, etc. They’re used in similar ways.

  10. d.m.falk says:

    Simon: They also are used similarly to Roman numerals…

    d.m.f.

  11. BG says:

    But don’t Chinese sometimes use Arabic numerals or whatever they are called (1, 2, 3 etc.) sometimes nowadays. I had no idea there were complex number charachters. The only ones I knew about before were 零 and 佰. I thought writing “líng” as “0″ was just using the Arabic system. These numbers have been simplified longer than simplified characters and are used similarly in Taiwan, I’m guessing.

  12. Simon says:

    BG – the numerals 1, 2, 3 etc. are also used in Chinese.

  13. TJ says:

    I once read some where that the use of complex numbers is a speciality mainly for bank notes and coins and some official papers. This is to make it hard to be falsified.

    Same story goes for example to the number 3. In some time in history the shape of the number was changed into something like the character of “Yogh” (the IPA character for S in pleaSure). This is to avoid changing the “3″ into “8″ by drawing a similar curve to the left!

    You can also think of it in a different way like, the complex numbers were for use in official papers and the state, while the simple ones are more like for public and fast writing usages, just like how demotic and hieroglyphics were used in the same time period almost but one was specified for the priests and the men of the state while the demotic was for the use of the public and normal people to keep their own records for themselves!

  14. Weili says:

    Majority of the time, Chinese just write the Arabic numbers, as in 1, 2, 3. If not, we write the simple number forms as in 一, 二, 三. It’s EXTREMELY rare that anyone writes the complex form. As someone has mentioned, it’s only used on bank notes and legal forms to prevent falsification. It’s the same reason why you must write out the number in English on your checks for example.