Sweaty Traitors – Character Simplifications That Just Weren't Meant to Be

I had an old instructor of Chinese language many years ago who took every opportunity to pick fun at the evil Reds on the mainland. I think he fled China in 1949 and never got over it. He loved to pick on their character simplification, saying things like, “Only the Communists would take the heart out of love.” (愛 -> 爱) Or, referring to the wings represented in the character 習 for “to learn; study” – and how this nicely gave us the image of taking flight, he would say, “Ask the Communists how you can fly with only one wing!” (習 -> 习)

I always thought his complaints were humorous but unfair, simplification will always result in such changes, and many (most?) were adopted from existing simplifications used widely in handwriting. The KMT dabbled with simplification as well, even if it never worked out. There are many fans of the simplification process and while I personally find simplified characters downright ugly to look at by comparison, I can’t really explain how I came to this aesthetic conclusion. Perhaps the old teacher brain-washed me, or the fewer simplifications of Japanese, which I studied first, made their mark?

Some simplifications already in circulation before the first round of the Chinese government mandated simplification in the mid 1950s, however, didn’t make the cut.

One that I have come across in the past couple of years and seen used in a wide range of hand written (or etched) documents of the Communist party is the simplification of the character for “Han” (漢) as in the Han people or more generally, Chinese, into the character 汗, which normally means “sweat” instead of the character which was ultimately chosen as the standard for simplified Chinese, 汉.

At one point I thought this might only be the case in documents which were “etched” in the age of pre-photocopy copies, where making curved lines is more difficult, but I have seen the same document use two of the three variations, 漢, 汗, and 汉.

I notice this more often than one might in my documents from the 1930s and 1940s since I study the punishment of traitors, or hanjian (漢奸). This word often appears in my documents as 汗奸. When I first saw it, I did a double take, wondering what horrible sins had been committed by the “sweaty traitors.”

Find the sweaty traitors in examples below the fold all taken from Public Security Bureau or more specifically “treason elimination” reports from 1939-1947 (some have a sweaty traitor, some have both regular and sweaty traitors, and one has the more common simplification):







Anyone else have favorite simplifications that didn’t make it, or which made the cut but ought not have been chosen?


  1. Very cool example. If you haven’t seen it, Sinoglot has scans of the so-called “second round” simplifications on this post, along with some lively discussion. If you don’t like the current simplifications you’re gonna loathe some characters on that list.

    BTW: your tech team should really install the “subscribe to comments” plugin. I’d love to see followups here but there’s hardly a snowball’s chance in Beijing I’ll remember to come back :-/

  2. Thanks for the link, great and interesting list.

    As for tech support, I guess that means me. I installed the plug in and will test it here on the china blog before adding to the korea and japan blogs. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. love the plugin. Now I’m subscribed. Yes, of course, the tech support thing is a cheap laugh line I’ve used for years. The funny thing is now that I group blog with a guy (Kellen) whose tech skills leave me in awe, it’s almost like I really have a tech team, so maybe I’ll have to quit joking…

  4. Great post! I love the whole “simplifications that were not meant to be” theme. It’s like an alternate orthographic universe, and it’s funny how riled up people get over it.

    Like you, I learned Japanese first, but the “beauty” of the traditional characters only infected me for certain characters.

  5. As noted by one of the commenters at Muninn, the KMT promulgated a set of 324 simplifications in 1935 but quickly rescinded it. Perhaps 漢 -> 汗 was one of them? Does anyone have a list?

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