How to Display Chinese Characters

Displaying frequently-used characters is fairly straightforward, but what about the less commonly-used ones? One helpful resource, especially for users of Mac OS, is the Chinese Mac web site (see particularly the sections on character sets, fonts, and input methods). Here are some of the more useful tools I have found:*


To properly display Chinese characters, a system must have the necessary fonts installed (use this test page to check your current setup). Here are some of the more inclusive ones:

Hanazono 花園

  • HanaMinA.ttf (CJK Unified Ideographs, Extension A, Compatibility Ideographs, Radicals, Strokes, HKSCS [香港増補字符集], etc.)
  • HanaMinB.ttf (Extensions B, C, D, and E)

Simsun (Founder Extended) 宋体-方正超大字符集

  • sursong.ttf (over 64,000 characters, including most of the CJK Unified Ideographs Extension B block)

Heiti TC/SC

  • “contains the CJK Unified Ideographs block, Extension A, and a selection of 6,217 characters from Extension B; duplicates the coverage of GB 18030, HKSCS–2001, Japanese JIS X 0213, and Vietnamese Hán-Nôm Extension B characters already present in other fonts.”

Mojikyo 文字鏡

  • Mojikyo M101–M203 (“over 50,000 characters in the Morohashi dictionary [大漢和辞典] and its supplement, along with additional characters, including coverage beyond Unicode”)
  • download page

e-Si ku quan shu 四庫全書 (log-in required)

  • FZKai-Z03 (a special character set developed to display the large number of unusual characters found in the electronic Si ku quan shu)

Scripta Sinica 漢籍電子文獻

  • a special character set developed to display the unusual characters used in the Scripta Sinica database

CHANT 漢達文庫 (log-in required)

  • a special character set developed to display the unusual characters used in the CHANT database

Looking up Characters

Now that you have the necessary fonts installed, you would need to look up the individual characters to display them. For frequently-used characters, you may consult the section on input methods in Chinese Mac. For less commonly-used characters, you may search in:

  • (Mac OS) “Character Viewer” (search by radical)
  • Unihan (search by radical-stroke)
  • CHISE IDS (search by components—e.g., typing 弓長 would yield 張、漲、、etc.)

Looking up Variants

If you can’t find a particular character, it may be because it is a variant of a more standard character. Here are two useful tools:

Inputting Characters

Instead of the standard input methods (including Cantonese), you may sometimes find it necessary to input a character by its unicode:

  • (Mac OS) switch to “Unicode Hex Input,” hold down the option key, then enter the hexadecimal unicode value (e.g., 5f35=)
  • to enter a character in HTML, enclose the hexadecimal unicode value in “&#x … ;” (e.g., 張=張)

Creating Fonts

If you need to create your own fonts, here’s a recommendation by others: Fontforge

* With thanks to Matt Anderson, Sarah Basham, and—of course—Eric Rasmussen and other contributors to Chinese Mac. Image credit: wikimedia

Review: The Mandate of Heaven and the Great Ming Code

Mandate of Heaven cover

Was Chinese law fundamentally secular? Or was it ultimately derived from a belief system that could be interpreted as religious? In particular, was The Great Ming Code (Da Ming lü 大明律, promulgated in its final form in 1397) essentially a tool for political and social control or should it be understood as an instrument for a religious mission? These questions are important, according to Jiang Yonglin, because answers to them would reflect and shape our understanding of China’s legal culture; more significant, answers to these questions would go a long way in challenging the perception of China’s yet another inherent “lack”—that of an independent and rational legal system.

Given the way his questions are framed, Jiang’s central arguments are perhaps not surprising. The Great Ming Code, in Jiang’s view, was not simply a tool for behavioral control; rather, it was conceived and perceived by Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋 (1328–98), the Ming-dynasty founder, and his officials as “a concrete embodiment of the cosmic order” (p. 4), “an instrument to manifest the Mandate of heaven” (p. 13), and “a moral textbook to educate the people and transform society” (ibid.). Centering his discussion on three core areas—regulation of rituals (chap. 3), demarcation of political and cultural boundaries (chap. 4), and delineation of officials’ responsibilities (chap. 5)—Jiang argues that underlying the regulations in The Great Ming Code (and, by extension, Chinese law in the imperial period) was a “legal cosmology” that was ultimately founded on the notions of “heavenly principle” (tian li 天理) and “human sentiment” (ren qing 人情)(chap. 2). The concept of the Mandate of Heaven (tian ming 天命), according to Jiang, was not simply a tool to justify state power; at least in the case of the early Ming, the idea was at the core of a belief system that propelled many of the Ming founder’s reforms. The Great Ming Code was no doubt a device for control, but it was also an instrument “for carrying out the Mandate of Heaven” and a spiritual textbook “to deliver the human race from evil.” As such, Jiang argues, The Great Ming Code must be seen as a central component of what was essentially “a religious mission” (p. 180).

It is important to mention here that, even though it is intended to be a stand-alone study, Jiang’s work would most profitably be read alongside his complete translation of the Code (published as The Great Ming Code: Da Ming lü [Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2005]). There, one could find helpful background information (such as the textual history and organization of the Code) that has regrettably, though understandably, been left out of the present study.

Of the many intriguing issues raised in Jiang’s important work, at least two deserve further consideration. The first has to do with the limits of historical interpretation. As Jiang makes clear, this is a study of the vision of the ruling elite of the early Ming. At the core of Jiang’s argument is the claim that, even though the Code was obviously a political tool, it was ultimately founded on the ruler’s belief in the idea of the Mandate of Heaven. “The Great Ming Code,” Jiang argues, “was established to balance the cosmic forces” (p. 176) and to maintain “a state of harmony between the spirit world and human realm” (p. 175). While I am sympathetic to this claim, I am not sure, based on the official records used in this study, we can say for certain what the Ming founder did or did not believe. To be sure, historians must guard against becoming overly cynical—obviously, just because one does not subscribe to a particular worldview does not mean that Zhu Yuanzhang and his officials could not be sincere about it. Still, given the nature of the sources available to us, we would be on more solid ground if we focus on the vision (rather than belief) of the Ming ruling elite. This is not simply a matter of semantics. The Great Ming Code as Jiang demonstrates, was founded on a vision (with provisions "restraining the arbitrary forces of the emperor and his civil and military representatives [p. 13]) ; how we describe (cosmological or otherwise) and explain the significance of this vision is precisely our challenge.

The second (and broader) issue has to do with the secular—religious dichotomy. One of Jiang’s primary goals is to dispel the conventional assumption that “imperial Chinese law is a secular instrument serving the purpose of naked power” (p. 8). To that ends, Jiang makes it his central point that “the Great Ming Code was a cosmological instrument to manifest the Mandate of Heaven and transform ‘all under Heaven’” (p. 179). While I would accept Jiang’s conclusion, I wonder whether by trying to underscore “the religiosity of Chinese legal culture” (p. 9), Jiang has inadvertently helped perpetuate the very “West-centered Chinese history” (p. 11) he seeks to revise. In particular, why should we continue to accept the secular—religious dichotomy? Does the case of The Great Ming Code not demonstrate that the political and the religious (that is, acknowledgment of, and references to, superhuman forces) were intertwined? Should the starting point of a “China-centered Chinese history” (p. 178) not be the recognition that it is often the terms of analysis that are suspect?

After all, how should we understand the significance of The Great Ming Code? One promising approach, as Jiang has shown from time to time, is diachronic. The idea of the Mandate of Heaven was of course not new. Neither, it would appear, was the use of law as a transformational tool? One obvious question then is to what extent was the The Great Ming Code a departure from its predecessors. Was the legal cosmology reflected in the Code significantly different from earlier (or later) periods? For students interested in these and other questions concerning Chinese law or religion in the late imperial period, Jiang’s learned study should be an obvious starting point.

image credit: University of Washington Press

(draft: 31 May 2012)