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FAQ: Is Ubuntu 17.10 Chinese Input Broken?

The new GNOME barely supports IBus, and fights with fcitx

Ubuntu 12 logo

As of Ubuntu 17.10, Canonical has dropped the Unity interface and returned to GNOME. In the process the fcitx framework was (temporarily?) left out of the package, leaving us with the long-abandoned IBus and minimal Chinese IME support.

While waiting for 18.04 to (hopefully) resolve this, we can get some basic Pinyin input working, but ibus-chewing and other IMEs are missing or messy, and installing fcitx is a gamble.

My best recommendation is that you go back to a previous version, but let's take a look at what you can do with Artful Aardvark.


Let's take a ride on the IBus

I'm assuming you've already upgraded to or installed Artful Aardvark with Chinese language support. If not, see the installation summary for previous versions here.

Click in the upper left "hot corner" or tap the Super key (Windows/Ubuntu key), and in the search box type "language" or "region". Select Region & Language:


Upon opening Region & Language, I recommend you first click the "Manage Installed Language" button to open the Language Support panel. That will initiate an automatic check for any missing pieces necessary for Chinese support. Install those if any, close Language Support, and return to Region and Language.

Then click the "+" button to see what IBus has available for us.


After clicking the "+" button, Add an Input Source will appear:


Chinese (China) input methods

Looking at phonetic input only, Chinese (China) offers SunPinyin, which supports only Simplified characters. After installing it, logging out, then logging back in, it should show up on your input menu. I cannot get the gear button to work, so no customization is possible, but the basic IME does does function. I'll offer an alternative below, after looking at the installed Traditional character input methods: libpinyin.

The Intelligent Pinyin IME offers Traditional characters, and you may also prefer it for for Simplified characters over SunPinyin. To add it, drop into Terminal and install ibus-libpinyin:

sudo apt-get install ibus-libpinyin

Then, after a logout/login, "Intelligent Pinyin" should be available in the Chinese (China) list. After selection, it may be customizable via the gear button in that last window or via "preferences" in the input menu (I couldn't get either to work), and also in the input menu you can switch between Simplified and Traditional characters. All good, right? Well...

...that will give you Traditional characters from the mainland character set. Although Ubuntu now encodes Chinese in UTF-8, you're still dealing with keyboards and candidate lists from a different region. Most Tradtional character users will prefer the Chewing phonetic and Quick non-phonetic input methods.


Chinese (Hong Kong / Macau / Taiwan) input methods

In a clean install, Chinese (Hong Kong) offers no phonetic input at all! According to what I see in Terminal, Chewing is actually installed but it just won't work. The non-phonetic Quick is popular with Hong Kong people, but few know the others listed there.

Update: Chewing was still missing in version 18, and eventually I learned that we can enable it by generating the Taiwan locale in GNOME. This link will jump you to the right spot on the Ubuntu 18 setup page.

At this time Chewing acts a bit weird in GNOME though. Looking for an alternative? Read on...


Move forward with fcitx! (If you can.)

To get fcitx back into Ubuntu 17.10, first install all the pieces in Terminal:

sudo apt-get install fcitx fcitx-chewing fcitx-pinyin

You may also want to add these input methods as well:

fcitx-sunpinyin fcitx-googlepinyin

I wish I could say just logout/login and you'll be done, but GNOME does not want fcitx right now. You will be able to select fcitx in the Language control panel, but the fcitx input methods will still not be listed in the Region and Language panel. And im-config is no help. Sigh.

This fcitx developer offers a helpful guide on his blog: open new site in new window

I've received confirmation that this does work! If it also works for you or if you find alternatives, please let me know. (I tried three times up to where that blog post says the basics should be working, but just couldn't get fcitx to cooperate. So I stopped there, and decided to wait for 18.04 as I don't really need this update.)



I'm hoping that by 18.04 we'll have fcitx back as the default. I have only played with 17.10 in temporary virtual machinces, and have not upgraded my real installations from previous Ubuntu versions. But if you manage to get 17.10 working to your satisfaction, you may want to learn more about input methods, fonts, and OpenOffice/LibreOffice features:

And as always, feel free to contact me with any questions, comments and suggestions.



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