Learn Chinese: Traditional Chinese to Simplified Chinese

Learn Chinese Language History

Traditional Chinese Tea Character

Chinese is among the longest existing writing system. Chinese has constantly been changing throughout the years. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese today looks completely different than the Chinese used thousands of years ago. Luckily, in order to learn Chinese now, you don’t have to know about ancient Chinese. There are many older systems, but I’m going to focus on the change from Traditional Chinese (The Chinese used in Taiwan) to Simplified Chinese (Chinese used in mainland China).

The Dialect Problem

China and the United States are similarly sized, but the United State’s culture is much more unified. The United States is a much younger country, and it slowly grew from the East coast to the West Coast. China has an extremely deep history. Each province developed its own special characteristics. They even have their own dialects for speaking.

Each province having its own special characteristics is not a bad thing, but China was trying to become more unified. It is hard to understand a region’s dialect if you are not from that region. Cantonese is an example of a dialect that’s difficult to understand. My mother is from Wuhan (武汉),so whenever I visit relatives, it’s hard to understand what they’re saying. I have to try pretty hard to try to catch anything they’re saying. Since people couldn’t really communicate with each other, it’s A LOT harder to have a unified country.

Standardization

The Qing dynasty tried making everyone use their own standard of Chinese, but adoption throughout China failed. It was the official language of the Chinese court, but most southerners continued using their dialects. The different governments constantly attempted to standardize the language. Each built off the foundations of the previous government. A standard dialect was beginning to be taught in public schools. In general, Chinese people learned both the standard dialect and their local dialect, but communication became easier.

Traditional Chinese

Every student began learning the standard language along with the standard writing system. Communication was definitely made simpler than it had been in the past. However, when the students began to learn Chinese, there were some difficulties. Traditional Chinese is pretty difficult to write. For example the word mom (妈 vs 媽) has more than twice as many strokes as its simplified counterpart. It was hard for the kids to read and write at an appropriate level, so they continued the process of simplifying.

Simplified Chinese

When they began simplifying the characters, there was some opposition by those who work closely with the characters such as calligraphers. Others have embraced the use of the simplified characters such as Cao Xueqin, the author of Dream of the Red Chamber. Cao Xueqin wrote his book using vernacular Chinese rather than classical Chinese. In Chinese, the words are usually made up of a combination of different words and radicals. Even a single character can be extremely meaningful. For example, the traditional love (愛) character has the word heart inside while the simplified version of love (爱) removes the heart. People were worried that Chinese would lose its meaning.

The government tried its best to keep the meaning of the word while also making it easier for students to learn the language. There have been many attempts, but the current system in mainland China is pinyin(拼音). Having an alphabet allows people to connect the Chinese characters to sounds. This system greatly improved the amount of people that could read and write Chinese. Taiwanese people use an older system (注音)that’s also based on connecting Chinese characters with sound. They don’t use an alphabet, but they have symbols that represent sounds instead. Taiwan continues to use that system to this day.

 

Now you can impress people with your knowledge of the Chinese language. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments

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