15 January 2011

Simplified vs Traditional

Written Chinese has two versions, traditional and simplified. Traditional characters is the style that has been used for centuries, simplified characters were created by the PRC to increase literacy. Simplified Chinese focuses on reducing the number of strokes needed to write it. Not only does this make it easier to write, but it makes it easier to read when in small print, as some more complicated traditional characters are illegible in small type. For example, the word 'Taiwan' in traditional characters looks like this: 臺灣  Not so easy to see right? Let me magnify it:
Even then its not that easy to read. Simplified characters make reading them easier by making them less complex. 'Taiwan' in simplified characters looks like this: 台湾
That makes it more clear, but sometimes the system does not make as much sense. 
There are traditional characters that are simple enough yet the PRC's system simplifies them anyway. 
Characters like 門 (mén) (gate) look simple, yet they are simplified to 门.
For some simplified characters, they are hardly different from their traditional counterparts. 
Characters such as  (Shà) (skyscraper) are simplified to . Can you spot the difference? The one on the left is traditional, the right is simplified.
廈 厦
The simplified one has the small dash on top removed. Wow! That makes it so much simpler!
Traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and overseas Chinese communities. Simplified characters are used in Mainland China and Singapore.
I personally prefer traditional characters because they are more well, traditional. But sometimes I mix them and substitute simplified characters when the traditional ones are insane like the example above.
For someone learning Chinese as a second language it really doesn't make much of a difference learning one system over the other. Its Chinese for gods sake, its going to be a challenge either way. The simplified system was created to increase literacy because they are easier to memorize and write for children who already knew the spoken language.


  1. Isn't it ironic that they created the simplified written version, in order to make it easier... but it seems like all Chinese people know both since they're both used in various parts of China/HK/Taiwan, etc.?

    [As a non-Chinese person] I had to learn how to write Chinese in both ways during college, and would've much rather learned one traditional method, rather than have to learn both ways!

  2. To Above: actually, most Chinese people (ones grew up in Mainland China after simplified characters were introduced - so practically everyone) know only simplified Chinese, but can read traditional Chinese somewhat functionally by interpreting "what it looks like" based on their simplified Chinese knowledge and working from context.

    HK/Taiwan/Macau do use traditional Chinese, yes, but they're in reality a tiny fringed portion of the entirety of Chinese people. We see a lot more Hong Kong/Taiwan people in the west because historically and politically they're more open so more of them come out here, but that doesn't make their culture the "norm" for China, which people will realize as mainland itself becomes more and more open.

    I am a strong advocate for Simplified Chinese because it's the latest version, the most efficient version when considering it as a tool, and I am not convinced of any aesthetic arguments for Traditional Chinese. People say Traditional Chinese are more beautiful, but I think they're ugly because really complex characters can be next to really simple characters, thus causing sentences and paragraphs unstable-looking. Simplified Chinese is more aesthetically pleasing since characters can't get too complex. "Traditional" arguments also don't make much sense considering both "Traditional Chinese" and "Simplified Chinese" as we know it are pretty new when compared to China's thousands of years of history. Character sets have changed many, many times, and it's impractical to expect everyone to use the symbols found on those oracle bones (the earliest known surviving Chinese, similar in status to Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Sumarian Cuneiform, or the Mayan Code) in the modern day. So, if we can't use Chinese v1.0, then why should we prefer Chinese v7.0 when Chinese v8.0 is available?

  3. Simplified Chinese is too radical. I guess that reflects the state of mind of the Chinese at that period in the history. In the example of the character: door (men) how could a dot go between two lines? How many other characters have this component? Talking about consistency which is fundamentally what makes something easy to learn. Kanji is this best because it's aesthetically pleasing simplifying only the necessary ones.