Traditional Chinese vs Simplified Chinese:the Dragon Slayer VS the Eye Opener

dragon slayer eye opener simplified chinese traditional chinese Nov 17, 2023

Some people ask the question: Should I learn Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese?

For 99% of Chinese learners, the answer should be Simplified Chinese instead of Traditional Chinese.

Because Traditional Chinese will become an art of dragon slaying.

The Art of Slaying the Dragon

Let me tell you a story first. More than two thousand years ago, there was a young man in China named Zhu Pingman. He was born into a very rich family and was smart and ambitious. He kept learning and wanted to become stronger.

One day, a man told him that there was a master named Zhili Yi living in a deep valley far away. Zhili Yi knew the art of slaying dragons. But this person is hard to find, and he doesn't accept disciples easily. If you learn his dragon slaying skill, no one will be able to match you.

Zhu Pingman was very excited after hearing this. He sold all of his family's possessions and finally found Zhiliyi and learned to slay dragons with him. After three years of hard work, he learned the art of dragon slaying.

Then he bid farewell to his master and left the deep mountains, ready to make his mark. It was then that he realized there were no dragons in the world.


Traditional Chinese is not yet a dragonslaying technique, but it is close to it, or will become one.

There are more than 1.4 billion people in the world using Simplified Chinese, mainly in mainland China and Southeast Asia such as Singapore and Malaysia.

Comparison of Population Using Traditional and Simplified Chinese (million)

Traditional Chinese is used by about 30 million people, mainly in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

The number of people using traditional Chinese characters is only 2.15% of the number of people using simplified Chinese characters.

Source: Wikipedia--Chinese language

Dark green: Regions using Simplified Chinese

Light green: Regions using Traditional Chinese

If we discuss the area of the region, the area of the region using traditional Chinese characters is only 0.38% of the area of the region using simplified Chinese characters.

Source: 政府信息公开

If we talk about economy, in 2022, the GDP of regions using traditional Chinese characters is 6.3% of that of regions using simplified Chinese characters.

So, which is more useful, simplified or traditional characters? You obviously have a clear answer. And, the gap between the use of simplified and traditional characters continues to widen.


The Art of Eye-opening


As a Chinese learner, it is necessary for you to understand the history of Chinese, what traditional Chinese is and what simplified Chinese is.

Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese are just different forms of writing Chinese. They are two different styles of Chinese characters. Whether you learn Traditional Chinese or Simplified Chinese, your spoken Chinese is the same Mandarin.

But why are there two forms of Chinese writing at the same time?

Chinese characters have gone through several major evolutions since their development.

This one picture shows you what the same Chinese character looked like at different times.

Source: Baidu--Oracle Bone Inscriptions

This is the first generation of Chinese characters. Carved into tortoise shells and animal bones, this type of character was the one used 3,500 years ago. 

Source: Baidu--Bronze Inscriptions

This is the second generation of Chinese characters. These characters were cast on metal artifacts. 

Source: Baidu--Xiaozhuan

This is the third generation of Chinese characters. These characters were widely used 2000 years ago.

Source: Baidu--Lishu

This is the fourth generation of Chinese characters.

Source: Baidu--Traditional Chinese

This is the fifth generation of Chinese characters. This is the traditional Chinese character we are discussing today.

This is the sixth generation of Chinese characters. This is the simplified Chinese that we are using now.

The sixth generation of Chinese characters, Simplified Chinese, was born out of a great project: the Combat illiteracy campaign.

After foreign invaders, old aristocrats and warlords were defeated, the new Chinese government was faced with a broken and poor agricultural country.

80% of the population of this country had never been to school. Access to education was the privilege of a small minority. Ordinary people had no money and no chance to go to school.

In China, if you do not know the Chinese characters and could not read, you are called open-eyed or 文盲. The direct translation of 文盲 is characters blind.

Mao Zedong, the Chairman of China, suggested, "All literate people should be mobilized to teach people to learn to Chinese characters, and all illiterate young adults and adults should be organized to study hard."

As a Chinese learner you should know that Chinese does not have complicated grammar, as long as you can recognize the characters, you can read.

Chinese farmers learn Chinese characters after laboring in the 1950s

In those days people worked during the day and got together at night to study Chinese characters under oil lamps. There were no electric lights in those days.

My aunt, my father's eldest sister, was a teenager at that time. She didn't go to school for a single day. Because of that literacy campaign, she can now read newspapers and use a smartphone.

As a Chinese learner, you should have a deep understanding of the complexity of Chinese characters. You know what a huge project it was to get 600 million people to learn Chinese characters.

At that time, China was using the fifth generation of Chinese characters, the traditional characters. In order to make it easier for people to learn Chinese characters, the Chinese government started the Chinese Character Simplification Project. As a result of the simplification project, simplified characters were created.

However, the Chinese government is not so arrogant as to invent a character and then force people to use it by administrative order.

Traditional characters are complicated to write, and over the centuries people have simplified their strokes to improve efficiency.

And some of these simplifications were so popular that they were widely recognized and used. However, these simplified characters are not officially recognized forms of writing and do not usually appear in publications.

The Chinese government organized language and character experts to collect and organize the simplified characters that were widely used in everyday life, and officially released a new standardized way of writing Chinese characters, which is the simplified characters you see now.

Simplified characters ended up being one of the most powerful drivers of the literacy campaign, enabling 60,000,000 people to recognize Chinese characters. You realize that 60,000,000 people represented 20% of the world's population at the time. Simplified Chinese opened the eyes of one fifth of the world's population. It was the great eye opener.

Today China has a population of 1.4 billion people and the illiteracy rate is only 2.6%, and the simplified Chinese characters are a credit to that.

Perhaps someone tells you that Traditional Chinese is more elegant, more classical, more structured, and that you should learn Traditional Chinese.

You can refute him: first, characters are constantly evolving, and simplified Chinese is the result of natural evolution. Second, Simplified Chinese broke the monopoly of the privileged class on knowledge. Simplified Chinese is an eye-opener for the common people; it was created to serve the people, and what is more important than the people?


FAQ about Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese

Then I need to answer some of your questions about simplified and traditional Chinese characters:

1, Why do some people still use traditional Chinese characters when simplified Chinese characters have been around for 70 years?

For political reasons, the Chinese government did not actually control Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan during the period when simplified characters were introduced. Therefore, these regions did not carry out the reform of simplified Chinese characters and have retained the traditional characters to this day.

There are also some Chinese people living overseas who moved overseas before the Chinese government implemented the simplified Chinese characters, so they have kept the habit of using traditional characters.

2, Can people using simplified Chinese characters read and write traditional ones?

The total number of Chinese characters is over 80,000, and the commonly used ones are 3,500 characters. And the simplified characters are 2238. So there are 1,262 commonly used Chinese characters that do not have the distinction between traditional and simplified.

People who use simplified characters can barely read traditional Chinese content without difficulty when they have contextual background, even though they have not learned traditional characters at all.

Because the evolution of Chinese characters occurs naturally, there is an intrinsic connection between different generations of Chinese characters, even though their styles vary greatly. Therefore, people who use simple characters can not only read traditional Chinese, but also read older Chinese without much difficulty.

People using Simplified Chinese cannot handwrite Traditional Chinese because the strokes are too complex. But they can use Pinyin to input Traditional Chinese on the computer without much difficulty.

3, Can people using Traditional Chinese read and write Simplified Chinese?

Same answer as above. People who use traditional Chinese can read and write simplified Chinese, but they have difficulty in handwriting some of the simplified characters.


4, What is the future of simplified and traditional Chinese?

Simplified Chinese is the only writing form of Chinese recognized by the United Nations.
Due to the growing economic and cultural influence of mainland China, young people in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the new generation of overseas Chinese are increasingly exposed to the use of simplified characters.

Taiwan and Hong Kong opened up earlier than mainland China. People from all over the world were first exposed to Chinese from these regions, so a number of people followed them to learn Traditional Chinese and Cantonese.

However times have changed, and Simplified Chinese and Mandarin are the present and the future.


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