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Chinese Character Codes

What make this world extremely interesting is the variety of standards. Nobody seems to agree to settle with a unified way of doing things. We can see this from the languages that we speak, the food we eat, the houses that we build and a lot of other example.

There are a few ways of representing Chinese characters in computer. The following is a list of existing standards. I have tabulated the Chinese codes for easy referencing.


This encoding characters has defined 20902 CJK characters. The advantage of using this standard is that you can display Simplified Chinese characters, Traditional Chinese characters, Korean characters and Japanese characters on the same HTML page. No other encoding standards is supporting that for the moment.

GB Code

GB (Guo Biao) Code is defined by China. It is the encoding standard used to represent Simplified Chinese characters. It has defined about 6763 Chinese characters (excluding all symbols). Countries such as China, Singapore and Malaysia are using this encoding standard.

Every Chinese character is represeneted by a two byte code. The MSB of both the first and second bytes are set. Thus, they can be easily identified from documents that contain both GB characters and regular ASCII characters.

GBK Code

The Chinese authority soon realized that it cannot ignore the traditional Chinese characters. Thus, it had defined GBK (Guo Biao Kuozhan) to include all the traditional Chinese characters defined in Big 5. It claims that GBK is synchronized with Unicode standard, version 1.1.

Big 5 Code

Big 5 is the character encoding standard most commonly used for traditional Chinese characters. Regions / countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia are using this encoding standard.

Every Chinese Character is represented by a two byte code. The first byte ranges from 0xA1 to 0xF9, while the second byte ranges from 0x40 to 0x7E, 0xA1 to 0xFE.

Note that the MSB of the two byte code is always set. Thus, in a document that contain Chinese characters and regular ASCII characters, the ASCII characters are still represented with a single byte.


CNS-11643-1992 is sometimes refered to as Chinese Standard Interchange Code. It is a Chinese character encoding standard defined by Taiwan in 1992. It has 16 planes. Each plane contains 94*94 = 8836 locations. Each location is supposed to be filled with a Chinese character. However, a lot of the locations are left blank.

Every Chinese character is represented with two 7 bit ASCII codes. Each 7 bit is a printable ASCII character ranging from 0x21 to 0x7E. This implies the first character is every plane starts with code 0x2121.

This encoding standard encompases much more characters than Unicode, GB or Big 5. A lot of characters are very rarely used. However, this encoding scheme is less popular than Big 5. This encoding scheme is used in the Chinese paging (pagers, beepers) industry. However, the paging industry uses only the first plane due to memory constraints in such devices.

Since the characters in different plane may have the same coding, escape sequence is necessary to switch between character planes.


You may find more information about various encoding schemes in these web sites.

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