Japanese uses a writing system called Kanji, which is a moderated version of Chinese Hanzi. The Kanji characters are similar to or often the same as the corresponding Chinese character, with the same meaning. Koreans and Vietnamese had similar applications too.

In the Middle Ages, the Tangut and the Khitan people (as far as I know) used their own logographic writing systems which were derived from the Chinese writing system. Were they the same as Chinese (like Japanese) or were they rather different?

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    +1 @Dagvadorj: See How Complex is Tangut? ; which I believe should answer you questions.
    – blunders
    Commented Oct 16, 2011 at 0:48
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    The link that @blunders provided has a detailed comparison of stroke counts. A briefer comparison, at least for Tangut, can be found in the introduction of Li Fangwen's Tangut/Chinese Dictionary (1997): The Tangut script is componential, which is to say that similar assemblages of strokes recur in different characters, and these recurrent elements are variously used as classifers for indexing. ... Unlike Chinese writing, Tangut script elements (characters and components) are said to be wholly lacking in pictographic basis. Commented Oct 17, 2011 at 2:03

1 Answer 1


There's an excellent article at Babelstone that explains this in great detail. (Kudos to @blunders for already mentioning it.) I'll try to summarize their findings.

Characters show up in several different ways:

  • Borrowing directly from Chinese for either meaning or sound.
  • Deriving from Chinese by adding or removing a few strokes.
  • Borrowing from other Chinese-family scripts.
  • Inventing new characters unrelated to those in Chinese.

Which methods were used most depends on the language.

  • Khitan is closest to Chinese, either borrowing or deriving most of its characters directly from Chinese.
  • Jurchen is a bit further away, deriving its characters from both Khitan and Chinese. Jurchen rarely borrows directly from Chinese.
  • Tangut is the furthest -- it looks Chinese-ish, since it uses mostly the same types of strokes, but its characters are not clearly derived from either Chinese or Khitan.

In short, I'd say Khitan is probably the most like Kanji in its relationship to Chinese. Tangut seems more like Hangul: an independent writing system that, because of its place in the Chinese cultural sphere, was made to look more or less Chinese-ish.

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