Chinese writing: from complexity to greater complexity

The world’s major writing systems have tended to become simpler over time, with one notable exception: New research shows that the Chinese writing system has become increasingly complex over its 3,000 years of existence. story.

The discovery, made by an international team of academics based at the University of Melbourne, the University of New England and the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, Morocco, challenges an opposing centuries-old view that Chinese signs have become simpler over time.

“We’ve all seen these historical graphs that show Chinese characters going from pictures of things to very basic sets of strokes,” says lead author Simon J Han, who started working on the problem as a undergraduate student at the University of Melbourne. “The reality is much more interesting.”

Using sophisticated computational methods, the team measured the visual complexity of more than 750,000 Chinese characters across five historical phases, from 1600 BC to the present day. What they discovered is that the general trend is for panels to become more and more complex over time.

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Sharon D. Cole