Simplified Characters and Traditional Characters

Simplified Characters and Traditional Characters

简体字 jiǎntǐ zì 和繁体字  fǎntǐ zì

                       簡體字和繁體字  (in traditional characters)

Brief introduction of simplified characters and traditional characters

  1. Here are the compared sentences and phrases in both simplified and traditional characters:

Simplified: 你好,我姓丁,我叫丁一,我不是老师,我是学生。我们去喝咖啡吧。

Traditional: 你好,我姓丁,我叫丁一,我不是老師,我是學生。我們去喝咖啡吧。

Out of the 19 characters in the above sentences, 3 have been simplified.

  • The character “師” has been simplified as “师” by writing it in cursive form with fewer strokes.
  • The character “學” has been simplified as “学”by simplifying its top component “𦥯”.
  • The character “們” has been simplified as 们 by simplifying the phonetic component “門” as 门。

In addition to these simplifications, some characters have been simplified with much fewer strokes and sometimes different components, resulting in a significant difference between their simplified and traditional forms. For example, characters for yōuyù de wūguī, “depressed turtle” in traditional Chinese are “憂鬱的烏龜”, while the simplified characters are “忧郁的乌龟”.

2. Simplification of Chinese characters from 1920s’ to 1970’s

During the early 20th century, Chinese intellectuals were concerned with their country’s backwardness, and some noted intellectuals of the time believed that the use of Chinese characters hindered the progress of the nation and that the Chinese writing system was the last stronghold for the vestiges of conservation thought; if China truly wanted to modernize, the only solution would be to abolish the Chinese writing system altogether and ultimately to replace Chinese writing system by a phonetic or Romanized writing system, a new language without any traces of Confucius thoughts and Daoist words.  The simplification movement was one of the most conservative language reform proposals.

In 1923, Qian Xuantong (钱玄同), a Chinese intellectual and linguist, proposed to simplify Chinese characters. In 1935, he brought forth 300 simplified Chinese characters with the intention to eradicate illiteracy quickly in China by using simplified Chinese characters with less strokes than traditional characters in general. The Kuomintang government adopted his initial plan. But unfortunately, in early 1939, Qian Xuantong died. He did not see through his vision realized.

After 1949, the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the government adopted the principles proposed by Qian Xuantong and further simplified Chinese characters. In 1955, Mao Zedong (Chairman Mao) wrote to his friend and said, “Romanized language is a rather convenient form of writing, while Chinese characters are too complex. Currently, only simplification reforms of Chinese characters are being made, but someday there will be a fundamental reform.”

There were three rounds of simplification that took place in 1956, 1964, and in 1977. Simplification character is a term used to refer to those which got simplified, and traditional character to refer to those which didn’t get simplified.

  • Round 1: In 1956, 352 characters were simplified. All 352 characters were simplified when used as individual characters, but not when used as components of other characters.

The majority of the simplified characters were derived from conventional abbreviated forms, cursive scripts (Caoshu), and ancient forms. For instance, the character 来(lái, “come”) was originally written as 來in the Han dynasty’s clerical script (隶书, lìshū). Similarly, the traditional character 雲 (yún, “cloud”) was written as 云 in the Shang dynasty’s oracle bone script, and had been used as a phonetic loan character for the meaning of “to say,” while the 雨 radical was added as a semantic indicator to distinguish between the two. Simplified Chinese merged them into one character as 云.

  • Round 2 of simplification took place in 1964, and it resulted in the simplification of 132 characters, both as standalone characters and as components of other characters. For example, 門 was simplified to 门, and 們 was simplified to 们.

Additionally, 14 meaning radicals were also simplified, such as 訁to讠 for language and speech, 飠to饣 for food and eating, 糹to纟 for silk, and 釒to钅 for metal and gold. An example of a character that uses the 讠 (訁) radical is the word for “to speak,” which was traditionally written as 說 and simplified to 说. The systematic approach to simplification resulted in 1,753 characters being simplified overall.

  • A third round of simplifications was promulgated in 1977 but was later retracted in 1986 for a variety of reasons, largely due to the confusion caused by over-simplification and the unpopularity of the second-round simplifications.

Since 1954, about 2,200 Chinese characters have been simplified, while many other characters remain unchanged and are therefore identical in both the traditional and simplified Chinese orthographies. Nowadays, a typical Chinese character dictionary lists around 8,000 characters, including both simplified and unchanged characters.

While Simplified Chinese has become the standard in Mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia, Traditional Chinese remains the standard in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and other overseas Chinese communities. The debate over traditional and simplified Chinese characters is an ongoing dispute among users of Chinese characters, stirring up heated responses from supporters on both sides in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and overseas Chinese communities. The debate is often intertwined with political ideology and cultural identity issues.