Encyclopedia > Hanja

  Article Content


Hanja (한자; 漢字 ; literal meaning: "Han character(s)"), or more rarely spelled, Hancha, also translated Sino-Korean characters, are what Chinese characters (Hanzi) are called in Korean, but specifically, they refer to those that the Korean language borrowed and incorporated into their own language, changing their pronunciation. Unlike the Japanese Kanji, which has altered and simplified many characters, Hanja are almost entirely identical to modern traditional Chinese[?] Hanzi.

Table of contents


Hanja was the sole mean of writing Korean until King Sejong the Great invented Han-geul in the 15th century. However, even after the invention of Han-geul, most Korean scholars continued to write in Hanja.

There were some systems developed earlier, to use simplified forms of Chinese characters that phonetically transcribe Korean, called idu (이두 ; 吏讀) and hyangchal (향찰 ; 鄕札), but for the most part Koreans had to learn literary Chinese to be literate.

It was not until the 20th century that Hanja became truly dominated by Han-geul. Officially, Hanja have not been in use in North Korea since 1949, immediately abandoned after the North-South Division.


Hanja are still taught as courses (that have recently became non-compulsory) in South Korean high schools. Hanja educations begins in grade 7 (junior high school) until graduation of senior high school at grade 12. A total of 1800 Hanja (about 100 less than Kanji) 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 on basic Hanja for educational purposes were altered in December 31, 2000 to replace 44 Hanja with 44 others. The choice elimination and exclusion caused heated debates prior to and after the 2000 promulgation.

In overseas universities, a sample of Hanja is a requirement for students of Korean Studies of Koreanology. Those who became graduate students[?] usually acquire at least the 1800 basic Hanja.


Nowadays, Hanja are mainly used in some South Korean and overseas Korean (see Korean-American) newspaper headlines and book titles. The amount of Hanja in publications varies from writer to writer.

Most importantly, Hanja are kept for personal names, for example, Kim Il-sung and Syngman Rhee have names in both Han-geul and Hanja (same pronunciation). However, an increasing minority of Koreans have names that can be written only in Han-geul.

Hanja is still used in Han-geul dictionaries to distinguish between words of the same Han-geul, for example, many homophones are written in Han-geul as 수도 (sudo), including:

  1. 修道 "spiritual discipline"
  2. 受渡 "receipt and delivery"
  3. 囚徒 "prisoner"
  4. 水都 "city of water" (e.g. Hong Kong and Naples)
  5. 水稻 "aquatic rice
  6. 水道 "aquatic duct"
  7. 隧道 "tunnel"
  8. 首都 "capital (city)"
  9. 手刀 "knife of hand"

Hanja dictionaries are organized by radicals, like Hanzi and Kanji.


The pronunciations of Hanja is not identical to the way the Chinese pronounce them. Concepts learned from China, such as some jargons on technology and philosophy, have related pronunciation. For example, 印刷 "print" is yėngshuā in Chinese and in-soae (인쇄) in Hanja pronunciation. (Other good examples?)

But some of those ideas and things that had already existed in Korea have pronunciation dissimilar to Chinese, for example, the Hanja pronunciation of 女 ("woman") is yeo (여), but in Chinese, it is . In this case, only the character is acquired, not the pronunciation. (Any more good example?)


A great deal of Hanja vocabulary were directly borrowed from Chinese vocabulary. Small number of Sino-Korean words were coined by the Koreans. Most terms, especially academic ones, has been borrowed from Japanese. The Japanese translated numerous Western words (mainly English and German) into Sino-Japanese terms by coining or reusing words. Under the Japanese annexation, they were borrowed into Korean systematically changing their pronunciations.

The table below contains words different between Hanzi and Hanja: (Please add more.)

English Hanja Hanzi Han-geul
letter 片紙 편지 (pyeonji)
tissue 休紙 草紙 휴지 (hyuji)
gift 膳物 贈品 선물 (seonmul)
bill 外上 帳單 외상 (oisang)
dining table 食卓 餐桌 식탁 (sigtag)
cheque 手票 支票 수표 (su-pyo)
name card,
business card
名啣 名片 or 咭片 명함 (myeongham)
maid 食母 女傭 식모 (sigmo)
prohibit, cancel 休止 or __束 取締 or 取消 휴지 (hyuji) or ? (?)
work 工夫 學習 공부 (gongbu)
very 大端 非常 대단 (daedan)
prisoner 囚徒  囚犯 수도 (sudo)
side room 舍廊, 斜廊 側房 사랑 (salang)

Some Hanja have characters in inverse order from Hanzi of China.

English Hanja Hanzi Han-geul
noon 午正 正午 오정 (o-jeong)
compass 羅針盤 羅盤針 나침반 (nachimban)

Some Sino-Korean words derive from kun readings[?] of Kanji. They consist of pure Japanese terms, so most of them are grammatically incorrect in Chinese.

English Hanja Japanese Han-geul
Aikido 合氣道 合気道 합기도 (hapkido)
assembling 組立 組み立て (kumitate) 조립 (chorip)
big sale 大賣出 大売出し (ōuridashi) 대매출 (daemaechul)
building 建物 建物 (tatemono) 건물 (geonmul)
estimate 見積 見積もり (mitsumori) 견적 (gyeoncheok)
share or stock 株式 株式 (kabushiki) 주식 (jusik)
match 試合 試合 (siai) 시합 (sihap)
procedure 手續 手続き (tetsuzuki) 수속 (susok)

See also

External Link


  • Hannas, William. C. 1997. Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 082481892X (paperback); ISBN 0824818423 (hardcover)
  • DeFrancis, John. 1990. The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0824810686

All Wikipedia text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

  Search Encyclopedia

Search over one million articles, find something about almost anything!
  Featured Article
Lake Ronkonkoma, New York

... 24.7% under the age of 18, 7.4% from 18 to 24, 32.6% from 25 to 44, 23.2% from 45 to 64, and 12.2% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 37 years. Fo ...

This page was created in 41.6 ms