Simplified Chinese characters have been used for several decades to write Chinese Mandarin. Originally designed to make the reading process quicker and easier, these days people can’t imagine life without them.
What is “Simplified Chinese”
The concept of Simplified Chinese has nothing to do with simplifying grammar or syntax. Whether they are transcribed using traditional or simplified characters, Chinese words are always pronounced the same way and sentences are always formed according to the same rules.
What does change, however (often significantly), is the complexity of the actual written characters. As you may have guessed, simplified characters are easier to write and memorise, making writing and reading quicker and easier as a consequence.
Simplified Chinese characters were officially introduced by the People’s Republic of China in 1956 to combat the poor literacy rate, making Mandarin easier to learn to read and write. In 1986, an official list of simplified Chinese characters was released and now features 2,235 characters.
When to use simplified Chinese characters
Simplified Chinese characters are used in all printed (e.g., books and magazines) and digital media.
They are used to teach Chinese Mandarin to foreign students and tend to represent the Chinese we recognise abroad.
Simplified Chinese is also used on signs, which need to feature text that is legible and understandable from a distance.
Most people no longer need to use traditional Chinese characters in China today. On the other hand, traditional Chinese characters play a vital role for historians, artists, writers, poets, linguists, and calligraphers who often have to study traditional Chinese characters as they were the only recognised characters in the country for many centuries.
The difference between simplified and traditional Chinese characters
Traditional Chinese characters are extremely complex and comprise many elements that need to be produced separately. A key difference between traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese is the number of elements comprising each individual character.
Simplified Chinese contains fewer characters, which can be written with a continuous pen stroke, just like cursive handwriting.
That being said, it’s worth pointing out that not all traditional Chinese characters have been simplified. Some characters have remained the same in both writing systems.
While some characters have been completely redesigned, others have been duplicated, coexisting with the traditional ones in a simpler form.
Most simplified Chinese characters are missing some parts of the original traditional characters. In practice, complex and unnecessary parts of traditional characters have simply been abolished. These actions, which have never been much appreciated by linguists with a fondness for tradition, have led to significant differences between the two types of characters.