Hanja is the Korean name for Chinese characters (hanzi); it is one of two writing styles using in Korea, the other being Hangul. Hanja refers to those Chinese characters borrowed from Chinese and incorporated into the Korean language with Korean pronunciation.
Although a more modern, phonetic Korean alphabet (now known as Hangul) was created by a team of scholars in the 1440s C.E., Hangul did not come into widespread use until the late 19th and early 20th century. Until that time, it was necessary to be fluent in reading and writing Hanja in order to be literate in Korean, as the vast majority of Korean literature and most other Korean documents were written in Hanja. Today, a good working knowledge of Chinese characters is still important for anyone who wishes to study older texts (up to about the 1990s), or anyone who wishes to read scholarly texts in the humanities. Learning a certain number of Hanja characters is also helpful to understanding the etymology of Sinokorean words, and to enlarging one's Korean vocabulary. Hanja are not used to write native Korean words, which are always rendered in Hangul, and even words of Chinese origin — hanja-eo (한자어, 漢字語) — are written with the Hangul alphabet most of the time
Because Hanja never underwent major reform, Hanja characters are almost entirely identical to traditional Chinese characters. Only a small number of Hanja characters are modified or unique to Korean. By contrast, many of the Chinese characters currently in use in Japan (kanji) and Mainland China have been simplified, and contain fewer strokes than the corresponding hanja characters.
In South Korea, Hanja characters are used most frequently in ancient literature, legal documents, and scholarly monographs, where they often appear without the equivalent Hangul spelling. Usually, only those words with a specialized or ambiguous meaning are printed in Hanja. In mass-circulation books and magazines, Hanja are generally used rarely, and only to clarify words already spelled in Hangul when the meaning is ambiguous. Hanja are also often used in newspaper headlines as abbreviations or to eliminate ambiguity. In formal publications, personal names are also usually clarified in Hanja in parentheses next to the Hangul spelling.
Hanja characters are also often used for advertising or decorative purposes, and appear frequently in athletic events and cultural parades, dictionaries and atlases. For example, many taekwondo dojangs will be decorated with banners and flags that incorporate Hanja script.
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