Chinese Telegraph Code

I wasn’t expecting to find anything Chinese-related on the new site, Easier to Understand than Wave (referring to Google’s new software, called Wave). But this was the first thing I got:

Chinese Telegraph Code
Obsolete Chinese Telegraph Code
[Source: Wikimedia Commons]

Oh, and by the way, in this instance, Google Wave wins, 65% to 35%, making it part of an exclusive club of things harder to understand than Google Wave, which also includes “women, Scientology, the United States Tax code, Chinese telegraph code, Microsoft Visio 2004, and Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.”


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. What’s even harder to understand is the fact that the UK Embassy in China still requires visa applications to include the telegraph codes for the characters of both the applicant’s name and the applicant’s parents’ names. They call them CCC numbers, but they are the same thing.

  2. […] Sinosplice posted this fascinating image of one of the earlier Chinese Telegraph charts.  When I first […]

  3. One of my Chinese/Japanese dictionaries, published in Japan in 1992, shows a telegraph code (电码) for every direction character. This dictionary was edited based on 现代汉语词典 in the late 1980s, so I guess it’s possible that 现代汉语词典(第二版, 1983) also showed telegraph code….perhaps. 现代汉语词典(第四版,2002) and (第五版,2005) don’t list 电码, but I don’t know about 第三版 (1996).

  4. Just came across this myself through a Danish library’s digitised collection. Probably the source of the wikimedia commons image. What are the chances Chinese telegraph code would present itself to me twice from two unrelated sources? Must be that god intends me to learn the codes. Only logical explanation.

  5. About 40 years ago I saw a Chinese telegraph code book for English speakers. As I remember it, there was provision for 10,000 characters coded to four digit numbers from 0000 to 9999.

    This book (as I remember it) had a number such as 1325 and a picture of the corresponding character with a list of the various English words that might be translated from it.

    I have found links to software that provides the character corresponding to each four digit number and translation from that to English, but not anythinbg similar to the specific book.

    I’d appreciate any info on this.


    Jim Tonge

  6. Don Price Says: January 31, 2013 at 5:30 am

    Does anyone know how to interpret the arbitrary single characters at the beginning of Chinese te;egramsw (at least in late Qing telegrams)?

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