An early Chinese dictionary contained almost 50,000 characters, most of them rare variants. An educated Chinese today will recognize approximately 6,000 characters, while only 4,000 characters are necessary for reading a newspaper on Taiwan. In mainland China knowledge of 3,000 characters is required to read a newspaper.

On the mainland literacy for peasants is defined as knowledge of 1500 characters, while knowledge of 2,000 characters is required for literacy among the workers.