Traditional Characters vs. Simplified

August 14, 2009, 09:40 AM posted in General Discussion

Which (trad. or simp.) facilitate the learning process for foreigners.  Which is better for reading comp.?

I think an inter./upper. inter. lesson on this would be great too.

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August 14, 2009, 10:38 AM

Great flame wars:

Linux versus Windows.

PC versus Mac.

Simplified versus Traditional.

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August 17, 2009, 12:59 PM

"Simplified Chinese characters" (or cursive style) have long been used by Chinese people in order to "cut corners" when handwriting for more than two thousand years regardless of character style. Modern Chinese people, both in 简体字 regions and 繁体字 regions, also use their own simplified (cursive) characters when handwriting a letter, a memo and a diary. Of course, you're required to exactly write characters in the exam, unfortunately.

An "unofficial" simplified style changed into an official/authentic character style in the past. Clerical scripts (隶书), officially established during West Han dynasty (西汉, 202 ~ 8 BC), originated in simplified forms (used during Qin dynasy) of small seal scripts (小篆), which was the most authentic character style in Qin dynasty (秦朝, 221 ~ 207 BC). The character "书" in 简体字 (made in the PRC) was created based on a cursive form of the traditional character "書".

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August 14, 2009, 11:32 AM

OK, let's start this flame war ;-)

繁體字 = 好看
简体字 = 难看

难看:  业, 车, 广, 义, 乡, 艺, ...
好看:  業, 車, 廣, 義, 鄉, 藝, ...

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August 14, 2009, 11:55 AM

Simple characters for simple minds.

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August 14, 2009, 12:03 PM


dont forget "great taste" vs "less filling"

One size does not fit all, so it is a pointless argument. Its a personal choice, and you can learn both.

 tvan- behave.:-)

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August 14, 2009, 12:25 PM

rjberki, you're right, there's no doubt quite a few others I left off. The joy of flame wars is seeing adults degenerate into name-calling.  In the words of that American soothsayer and riot-instigator Rodney King, "can't we all just get along?" :-)

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August 14, 2009, 05:22 PM


Well said.

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August 15, 2009, 02:28 AM


I wonder then do you think American English is for simple minds?  (Dialogue/dialog, cheque/check, colour/color and so on.)

Please don't take my comment too seriously.  Just pokin' fun ;)

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August 15, 2009, 03:28 AM

Hi 47alden

Simplified characters are naturally easier for both foreign and Chinese people to learn than traditional characters because they are simplified characters, hehe. As for reading comprehension, they are basically the same, at least, for me.

FYI, knowledge about traditional characters is a must for people who want to learn the history of Chinese characters. Some books on Chinese characters published in the PRC are still written with traditional characters.

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August 15, 2009, 08:26 AM





Less is more, but when it comes to characters, more is more...more or less :)

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August 14, 2009, 11:05 AM

It suppose it depends on whether you plan to live/visit Taiwan or China...


Taiwan use traditional Characters

China use simplified.


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August 15, 2009, 02:31 PM


thats all very interesting but it means little to me when I make a learning choice. I dont care why, I just want to learn that which I will encounter the most (today) in the environment I expect to spend time in. The govt has mandated, and most people are learning in school, the simplified set, so I will do likewise. If I ever master that, I would love to know both to expand my horizons (and certainly I do pick up some now) but your he-man traditional for traditions sake attitude is quite neanderthal and not at all pragmatic. Real men know traditional. Who cares. Now If I was planning to be in HK or TW I would make a different choice. Making a religion out of this is simple minded. It is simply an exercise in pragmatics.

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August 15, 2009, 03:16 PM

RJ, no disagreement really.  When I lived in mainland China, in 1981 nobody would teach me Chinese or, for that matter, most Chinese were afraid/unwilling to talk to me; when I subseqently settled in Taiwan, the opposite was true.  Consequently, I learned traditional.

I do believe that it is quite possible that the role of simplified characters in improving China's literacy was/continues-to-be greatly overstated.  If that is true, then the whole simplification exercise was a rather colossal waste of time and money that could have been better spent elsewhere.

I won't comment on the artistic merits since my writing is best described as traditional chicken-scratch and simplified chicken-scratch.

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August 15, 2009, 03:45 PM

Hi tvan

postwar Japan's literacy rate was on the order of 98%.  The same was also true for Taiwan, despite it's traditional character "handicap."

As you know, Taiwanese people were forced to learn and use Japanese in public appearances when Taiwan was under Japanese rule. So, I guess this might be about Japanese language, but not about 台湾语 (a dialect similar to 闽南语).

Anyway, people used traditional characters both in Taiwan and in Japan before the war, and this was a burden for people, although the number of Chinese characters people needed to learn for Japanese is smaller than that for Chinese.

how much of that was due to simplified characters and how much was due to the fact that Mao's government actually cared about agrarian China's literacy? 

It's a difficult question. All I can say is that the introduction of simplified characters actually reduced the learning burden of Hanzi on Chinese students, which atutomatically means that they could take more time for learning math and physics, for example.

This might be the biggest advantage of using simplified characters. Literacy rate is another story. Regardless of whether you use 简体字 or 繁体字, you have to learn a certain number of characters at school. Otherwise, you can't learn other subjects such as physics and history.

In other words, learning Chinese characters is the first priority at any school in Chinese-speaking countries. The point is that how many hours per week students need to "master" Chinese characters. I think that mainland students obviously have an advantage.....perhaps.

Anyone has data?

I agree that an effective education system is more important for improving literacy rate than a type of characters is.

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August 16, 2009, 12:30 AM

I agree with RJ, but if I were to answer the second question, i.e. reading comprehension and reading comprehension only, I might let the traditional characters win by a slim margin as their radicals look more like what they are trying to represent then the simplified ones do, thus easier to make an association.  But as for which facilitates the learning process for foreigners more goes, the simplified characters win due to ease of writing.  For me this aspect trumps the slight edge that traditional characters's comprehensibility have over the simplified ones.  I think that the traditional characters look more interesting, but I'm a little thankful that they are not used here in the mainland.  Too many strokes, and so too much time. 

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August 16, 2009, 09:12 AM

I've changed my mind...

For my class homework, I was just writting (about 20 times) the traditional character for the word "biān":

Traditional 邊

Simplified 边

Traditional characters suck!!!!

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August 16, 2009, 11:20 AM

Hi calkins

What do you think of Japanese one "辺"?It's very similar to its counterpart in 简体字. I suppose that SKRITTER may not work well for traditional characters.......

P/S. I've never handwritten the character 邊 before.

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August 16, 2009, 11:57 AM

Here is a link to TV documentaries on the history of Chinese characters (subtitled in simplified Chinese) by CCTV (中国中央电视台). I basically don't watch TV in China, but I must admit these programs are very comprehensive and really worth seeing if you're interested in 汉字的历史. Don't miss it.

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August 17, 2009, 03:34 AM

I live in Hong Kong and I know both Simplified and Traditional Chinese.

Some of the people in China think that it is very different and complex to write Traditional Chinese, so they simplified most of the Chinese words.

For example: "How are you?"

People may think it is too long to write.

Some they simplified it to "How r u" ?

It is a simple example to explain the Simplified and Traditional Chinese.

In my opinion, I hate Simplified Chinese. Beause it lose the real Chinese culture.

As we know, most of the Chinese words are come from ancient pictures. But after simplified the words it is meaningless  about the Chinese cultures.

So I hate Simplified Chinese.


Now most of the people in China use Simplified Chinese. So if you just want to learn it for communicate, simplified Chinese is your best choice.

But if you want to study or do some research about Chinese words, you should know Traditional Chinese.

I still keep using Traditional Chinese, because only Traditional Chinese is the symbol of the Chinese.

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August 15, 2009, 01:27 PM

@xiaophil, yeah, our words may be shorter, but we make up for that by inventing lots of words that those "ex-colonial-master, got-their-butts-whipped-by-George-Washington" -types don't have.

However, regarding ease of learning for the native population, I do question that premise.  Part of the rationale for the introduction of simplified characters was to improve literacy on the mainland.  That certainly happened; however, how much of that was due to simplified characters and how much was due to the fact that Mao's government actually cared about agrarian China's literacy?  

It has been pointed out elsewhere on CPod that postwar Japan's literacy rate was on the order of 98%.  The same was also true for Taiwan, despite it's traditional character "handicap."  I would argue that these were both due to the Meiji government's focus on education, not the redesign of the character system.  By extension, pre-1949's dismal literacy rate was due to poor governance, not to mention prolonged warfare.  Ergo simplified characters did little to improve China's literacy; improved governance did that.

One final point:  Literacy rates for Chinese-speaking countries.

Taiwan, Traditional... literacy rate 96.1%
Hong Kong, Traditional... literacy rate 93.1%
Macau, Traditional... literacy rate 91.3%
China, Simplified... literacy rate 90.9%

So pick your poison:  Either, "It pays to have been an ex-colonial-victim-of-imperialism;" or (my favorite) "Simple Characters = Simple Minds."