China to give seal of approval to obscure names, words

Wed Aug 12, 2009 3:59am EDT
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By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Many Chinese with uncommon surnames may finally have them legally recognized this year when the government approves a new list of Chinese characters that can be easily processed by computers.

The Communists began simplifying the notoriously difficult written form of the Chinese language soon after taking power in 1949 to help literacy. Taiwan and much of the overseas Chinese world still use the more complex traditional form.

Most Chinese share about 100 common family names -- including Wang, Chen, Li and Liu -- but there are several unusual ones, like Tong and Cun.

They may not be hard to pronounce or write by hand, but they cannot be typed into many Chinese computers, being so obscure they do not exist in most word processing software.

China's unbending bureaucracy has often refused to put them on identity cards and other vital papers.

Now these names are among 51 unusual words that are going to be included in a new list of "Common Use Standard Chinese Characters," a primer for educational and publishing use, expected to be approved later in the year.

"Although in the past these unusual characters were abolished, in reality many people were already using these characters in their names," Li Yuming, deputy head of the State Language Commission, told a news conference carried on the Education Ministry's website (

"But these names caused many difficulties. For example, they were not able to be typed by computers," Li added. "So to respect people's common practices, we're restoring these 51 unusual characters."   Continued...