Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


zh-cn:韩文汉字 zh-tw:韓文漢字

Hanja (Han-geul: 한자; Hanja: 漢字; literal meaning: "Han character(s)"), or Hanmun (한문; 漢文), sometimes translated as 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, although a minority of the standard characters of Hanja are variant Hanzi also used in standard Kanji.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Character Formation
3 Hun and Eum
4 Education
5 Uses
6 Pronunciation
7 Vocabulary
8 See also
9 External Link
10 References


One of the major impetuses for the introduction of Hanja into Korea was the spread of Buddhism. The major text that introduced Hanja to Koreans, however, was not a religious work but the Cheonjamun or "Thousand-Character Classic." Hanja was the sole means of writing Korean until King Sejong the Great invented Hangeul in the 15th century. However, even after the invention of Hangeul, 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, namely, Hyangchal (향찰 ; 鄕札), Gugyeol (口訣), and Idu (이두 ; 吏讀), 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 Hangeul. Officially, Hanja have not been in use in North Korea since 1949, immediately abandoned after the North-South Division.

Character Formation

Each Hanja is composed of one of 214 radicalss and 0 or more additional elements. The vast majority of Hanja use the additional elements to indicate the sound of the character, but a few Hanja are purely pictographic, and some were formed in other ways.

Hun and Eum

When read in context, Hanja are sounded using their Sino-Korean (i.e., Chinese-derived) pronunciation. When treated as standalone characters, however (for example, in an education setting or in Okpyeon (Hanja dictionaries)), each Hanja is referred to in Korean by its hun (훈 (訓), pronounced "hoon") and eum (음 (音)), that is, its native Korean meaning followed by its Sino-Korean pronunciation. (Hun is the Hanja for "meaning" or "teaching" and eum is the Hanja for "sound".) Thus, the Hanja for "tree" (木) is referred to as namu mok (나무 목), where namu (나무) is the native Korean word for "tree" and mok (목) is its Hanja equivalent. This meaning-sound pairing was devised hundreds of years ago, and sometimes the Hanja has replaced the its native Korean equivalent, making the first word archaic. Thus, the Hanja for "mountain" (山) is referred to as me san (메 산, pronounced "meh sahn"), where me (메) is a native Korean word for "mountain" that is no longer used (san (산) is used instead).


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.


Because many different Hanja--and thus, many different words derived from Hanja--often share the same sounds, two distinct Hanja words may be spelled identically in the phonetic Hangeul alphabet. Thus, Hanja are often used to clarify meaning, either on their own without the equivalent Hangeul spelling, or in parentheses after the Hangeul spelling as a kind of gloss. Hanja are often also used as a form of shorthand in newspaper headlines, advertisements, and on signs. Some details of use follow.

Hanja in Print Media

Sino-Korean characters are used most frequently in academic literature, where they often appear without the equivalent Hangeul spelling. Either all words of Sino-Korean origin may be spelled using Hanja (which is extremely rare), or only those words with a specialized or ambiguous meaning may be printed in Hanja (which is the more common way of using them.) In books and magazines, Hanja are generally used sparingly, and only to gloss words already spelled in Hangeul when the meaning is ambiguous. Hanja are often used in newspaper headlines instead of Hangeul to eliminate the ambiguity typical of newspaperese in any language. Hanja appear frequently in dictionaries and atlases; see below.

Hanja in Dictionaries

In modern Korean dictionaries, all entry words of Sino-Korean origin are printed in Hangeul and listed in Hangeul order, with the Hanja given in parentheses immediately following the entry word. (A similar practice is followed in Japanese dictionaries.) This practice helps to eliminate ambiguity, and it also serves as a sort of shorthand etymology, since the meaning of the Hanja and the fact that the word is composed of Hanja often help to illustrate the word's origin.

As an example of how Hanja can help to clear up ambiguity, many homophones are written in Hangeul 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 (Okpyeon) are organized by radicalss, like Hanzi and Kanji.

Hanja in Personal Names

Korean personal names generally use Hanja, although exceptions exist. Korean personal names usually consist of a one-character family name (seong, 姓) followed by a two-character given name ("ireum"). There are a few 2-character family names (eg 南宮, nam'gung), and the holders of such names -- but not only them -- tend to have one-syllable given names. Traditionally, the given name in turn consists of one character unique to the individual and one character shared by all people in a family of the same sex and generation (돌림자, tollimja). Things have changed, however, and while these rules are still largely followed, some people have given names that come are native Korean words (popular ones include "Haneul"--meaning "heaven" or "sky"--and "Iseul"--meaning "dew"). Nevertheless, on official documents, people's names are still recorded in both Hangeul and in Hanja (if the name is composed of Hanja).

Hanja in Place Names

Place names are almost universally composed of Hanja, but exceptions exist, the most significant of which is the name of the capital, Seoul (seoul is the native Korean word for "capital"). Names of railway lines, freeways, and even provinces are often formed by taking one character from one city's name and combining it with another character from another city's name. For Seoul, the Hanja gyeong ("capital"--but see the special note below) is used. Thus, the Gyeongbu 京釜 railway line and freeway connect Seoul (gyeong) with Busan (bu); the Gyeongin 京仁 freeway connects Seoul with Incheon (in); and the former Jeolla Province took its name from the first characters in the city names Jeonju and Naju (the "n" sound in Korean is assimilated to "l" when it follows an "l" sound). Most atlases of Korea today are published in two versions: one in Hangeul (sometimes with some English as well), and one in Hanja. Subway and railway station signs give the station's name in Hangeul, Hanja, and English, both to assist visitors and to disambiguate the name. (A similar practice occurs in Japan, where signs are written in Hiragana, Kanji, and English).

Special note on Seoul/Gyeong: Gyeongseong (경성; 京城) is the Korean form of Keijo (京城)), the Japanese name of Seoul used during the Japanese Occupation of Korea. Gyeong (京) means "capital" and seong (城) means "castle", a reference to Hanseong (한성; 漢城), the name of Seoul during the Joseon Dynasty. After independence, the capital was given the native Korean word Seoul. Some nationalists have insisted that gyeong should be replaced with seo, the first syllable of Seoul. In this case, however, one cannot tell Seobu (서釜, Seoul-Busan) from another Seobu (西部, "western") in Hangul, so the proposal was withdrawn.


The pronunciations of Hanja is not entirely identical to the way the Chinese pronounce them. For example, 印刷 "print" is yngshuā in Chinese and inswae (인쇄) in Hanja pronunciation.

Due to divergence in pronunciation since the time of borrowing, sometimes the pronunciation of a Hanja and its corresponding Hanzi may differ considerably. For example, 女 ("woman") is n in Chinese and nyeo in Korean. However, in most modern Korean dialects (especially South Korea ones), 女 is pronounced as yeo (여), due to a systematic displacement of initial n's followed by y or i.

Sometimes, to represent grammatical particles unique to Korean, Hanja are used solely for their Chinese pronunciation, but not for their meaning at all. This partial use is the basis of vernacular Sino-Korean scripts like Gugyeol. For example, Gugyeol uses the Hanzi weini (爲尼) to transcribe the Korean word "hăni", "hani" in modern Korean, that means "does, and so". However, in Chinese, "weini" means "becoming a monk". This is a typical example of Kugyŏl words where the radical (爲) is read in Korean for its meaning (hă- "to do") and the suffix 尼, ni, used phonetically.


A great deal of Hanja vocabulary were directly borrowed from Chinese vocabulary. A small number of Sino-Korean words were coined by the Koreans. Many academic and scientific terms were 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:

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 (oesang)
dining table 食卓 餐桌 식탁 (siktak)
cheque 手票 支票 수표 (supyo)
name card,
business card
名啣 名片 or 咭片 명함 (myeongham)
maid 食母 女傭 식모 (singmo)
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 (sarang)

Some Hanja have characters in different order from Hanzi.

English Hanja Hanzi Han-geul
noon 午正 正午 오정 (ojeong)
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 (hapgido)
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 (gyeonjeok)
share or stock 株式 株式 (kabushiki) 주식 (jusik)
match 試合 試合 (shiai) 시합 (sihap)
procedure 手續 手続き (tetsuzuki) 수속 (susok)

See also

External Link