‘Dif­fi­cult’ Chi­nese char­ac­ters dig­i­tized, fi­nally


The cod­ing of many Chi­nese char­ac­ters that were pre­vi­ously un­avail­able in elec­tronic for­mat was com­pleted in Oc­to­ber as part of the coun­try’s largest State-funded dig­i­ti­za­tion project.

Around 3,000 dif­fi­cult char­ac­ters have been dig­i­tized in ac­cor­dance with a na­tional stan­dard and can be used in China as well as ar­eas of East Asia with soft­ware sup­port for writ­ten Chi­nese.

For global use, how­ever, the let­ters will have to be re­leased through Uni­code — the world com­put­ing in­dus­try con­sor­tium — af­ter be­ing cer­ti­fied by the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Stan­dard­iza­tion. The Geneva-based body, of which China is a mem­ber, works with coun­tries to build pro­pri­etary, in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial stan­dards.

The Chi­nese pro­gram, launched in 2011, aims to en­code 300,000 Han char­ac­ters, 100,000 char­ac­ters from ethnic mi­nor­ity scripts and 100,000 more from rare and an­cient writ­ing styles, such as or­a­cle bones, in the com­ing years, of­fi­cials of the Gen­eral Administration of Press and Pub­li­ca­tion said last week.

The project, known as the China Font Bank, seeks to make vast lin­guis­tic re­sources more ac­ces­si­ble to Chi­nese and for­eign­ers, aca­demics said.

Around 480 mil­lion yuan ($69.6 mil­lion) has been pro­vided so far for the project, which is di­vided into 28 sec­tions and in­volves sev­eral Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties and com­pa­nies in ad­di­tion to gov­ern­ment de­part­ments.

The In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Stan­dard­iza­tion al­ready rec­og­nizes more than 80,000 Chi­nese char­ac­ters.

The Gen­eral Administration of Press and Pub­li­ca­tion, which is over­see­ing the project, has sub­mit­ted the newly coded char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing mi­nor­ity scripts of

south­ern China, to the ISO through the China Elec­tron­ics Stan­dard­iza­tion In­sti­tute.

“The batch has been filed with the rel­e­vant ideo­graphs sec­tion of the ISO,” a Gen­eral Administration of Press and Pub­li­ca­tion of­fi­cial said.

Once dis­cus­sions con­clude, the char­ac­ters can be cat­e­go­rized by the ISO and made avail­able for use world­wide, a process that typ­i­cally takes two to three years, the of­fi­cial said.

An­other set of 2,000 char­ac­ters that make up peo­ple and place names in China is ex­pected to be sub­mit­ted to the stan­dards or­ga­ni­za­tion by June. These char­ac­ters weren’t widely dig­i­tized ear­lier due to their com­plex com­po­si­tions, which made it dif­fi­cult for Chi­nese us­ing them to con­duct pub­lic deal­ings at banks, air­ports and other places that de­pend on in­ter­na­tional com­puter codes.

To ad­dress this, the gov­ern­ment is­sued a list of 8,105 stan­dard char­ac­ters in 2013 and urged peo­ple to choose from the list while nam­ing chil­dren.

The font project has al­ready iden­ti­fied 200,000 char­ac­ters that need to be en­coded.

The ul­ti­mate goal is to build a data­base of com­puter codes and fonts to fa­cil­i­tate the in­her­i­tance and pop­u­lar­iza­tion of Chi­nese cul­ture, the of­fi­cials said.

Since the 1980s, a lot of what is known as sim­pli­fied Chi­nese has been dig­i­tized. But lit­tle from early writ­ing sys­tems, for ex­am­ple that of im­pe­rial China, has been cov­ered.

“Thisway, more schol­ars will be able to study the dy­nas­tic writ­ings of China,” said Li Guoy­ing, a Chi­nese lan­guage pro­fes­sor at Bei­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity.

The univer­sity’s role in the project is to dig­i­tize dic­tionar­ies— 300 of which have been pro­cessed.

Some of the an­cient lan­guage is a mix of draw­ing and writ­ing on rocks, or­a­cle bones, bronze and silk. In ad­di­tion, the mi­nor­ity scripts are highly di­verse.

Man­darin, China’s com­mon lan­guage, has evolved over the years but re­tains in­flu­ences of clas­si­cal Chi­nese.

“There are only 26 let­ters in the English al­pha­bet, so in away it is a closed sys­tem. But there are too many in Chi­nese, which is why we need to up­grade and try to dig­i­tally in­te­grate them,” said Zhang Jian­guo, gen­eral man­ager of the font divi­sion at Bei­jing Founder Elec­tron­ics Co.

His com­pany, which makes fonts that in­clude Man­darin, Ti­betan lan­guage and Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) cal­lig­ra­phy styles, joined the project in 2014.

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