Hello world! This is Lenny, reporting from Taiwan J
For those of you who are interested in learning Chinese, or already know Chinese, sometimes you will see written Chinese that may not look the way you are familiar with. This is probably because of the difference between two types of written Chinese, and that’s what I am going to talk about today!
Taiwan’s official language is Mandarin Chinese, same as the official language of China. The major difference between the two countries is that for writing Taiwan uses Traditional Chinese, which is the set of Chinese characters that came to be through thousands of years of Chinese culture, while China uses Simplified Chinese, which is a simplified version of Traditional Chinese.
Both versions of written Chinese have their pros and cons. Traditionally Chinese characters are logograms, meaning each character was actually a drawing of the thing it represents, kind of like Egyptian hieroglyphs with all the lions, feathers and birds. People had different aesthetics and wrote/drew their characters differently in the beginning, but after hundreds of years, a more unified version of Chinese characters slowly emerged and became the Traditional Chinese as we know it today. The best feature of Traditional Chinese is that every character holds historical and artistic value, every character has its own story. The downside of Traditional Chinese is that it takes more time to learn to write as there are some quite difficult characters. (Imagine learning to write your name when you’re only 7, and your name is 龍嚴馨 or the like……)
Simplified Chinese was created in the 1950’s by the Communist Party in China. I don’t know about others, but I thought the reason for this is to improve literacy, after doing a bit of research, I found out surprisingly that this was actually a step taken to achieve the ultimate goal of completely abolishing written Chinese and replacing it with Latin alphabets. Apparently the Communists thought the very complicated written language was a tool used by Capitalists to suppress the lower uneducated classes. Huh. Glad they didn’t go through with that plan in the end!
They simplified the characters by taking out strokes and replacing certain parts of characters, for example, the character for “dream”=夢, became梦 once simplified. The upside of Simplified Chinese is that it’s much easier to write. There is debate on whether it makes Chinese easier to learn- because the simplifying process was done rather hastily, there is inconsistency in some similar characters, meaning they can easily be misread or misinterpreted. Also, to greatly decrease the total number of words in use, many words that made the cut have to carry multiple meanings, which can be confusing sometimes. (There are a lot of jokes about Simplified->Traditional conversion errors, but somehow the ones I know are R-rated, go ask your Chinese friends if you are interested!) Another downside is that by simplifying the characters it also takes out the historical and artistic value infused into the Chinese characters.
I grew up learning, reading and writing Traditional Chinese, and I am proud to be a part of Chinese history every time I use it. I can’t read Simplified Chinese; it just hurts my eyes to look at so many similar-looking words squished together, and I dislike anything that doesn’t follow logic and pattern. Sometimes I do use Simplified Chinese characters, namely when I take notes, but I only use maybe two or three characters ever, I much prefer to increase my writing speed by using English conjunction words or symbols to up my write speed. Whether to use Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese is a matter of preference, and I respect that. But if you really want to study the cultural history of Chinese people, then I would advise you to try to learn Traditional Chinese, who knows, you might just fall in love with it!
Can you write Chinese? Do you prefer the simplified version or the traditional version?