Mandarin Chinese in Two Forms
Traditional and simplified Chinese are both used throughout the modern world. This leaves one to wonder whether one has more advantage over the other, especially when considering educational or business goals. This article aims to make a comparison between the two systems and draw out the benefits of each. It is important to note that 'traditional' and 'simplified' only pertains to the writing systems used- the spoken language follows independent traditions from the written characters.
Traditional Chinese was used exclusively until the mid twentieth century, and for over a thousand years before that. Every Chinese emperor would have issued documents in traditional Chinese script, as well as all classical Chinese poets.
The writing system uses the full range of Chinese radicals (character components), the most complicated of which uses seventeen strokes. This can make for extremely difficult writing, as some single characters have upwards of twenty strokes.
The entire Sino-influenced world wrote Chinese characters in this style until mainland China's Communist revolution in the 1940's. This means that current regions without direct Communist Party control retained the system of traditional Chinese writing. Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan to this day keep the traditional characters their standard written interface.
What is more, the populations of mobile Chinese immigrants in the mid twentieth century were accustomed to traditional Chinese, so they retained this system when moving to foreign countries like USA and Canada. Chinatowns in these areas also use traditional Chinese for much of their written communication.
The mainland Chinese government, as mentioned, simplified the writing system around 1946. They succeeded in improving basic literacy in this way, by substituting much easier symbols for complicated Chinese radicals. As a result, some characters that perhaps had ten or more strokes in the traditional writing system were simplified to two or three easy strokes.
Only lately with the global emergence of modern China has this simplified system of Chinese characters become of greater interest to the rest of the world. Even though the only other two countries with simplified Chinese as an official written language are Singapore and Malaysia, more and more regions across the world are moving to accommodate the writing system with the greater spread of mainland Chinese influence.
Comparing the benefits of traditional and simplified Chinese
One wonders which system has greater benefit over the other. Traditional Chinese enjoyed unchallenged authority for more than 1500 years. It is the most suitable system for putting Chinese thought into historical, academic, and linguistic context. It is also most suited for poetic expression, as it retains all of the cultural elements forged in China's long history.
Simplified Chinese, however, is the system used by the majority of the world's Mandarin Chinese speakers, simply by force of numbers. China's 1.3 billion residents dwarfs any other population count in the world, which automatically makes its language the most widespread in terms of speakers. Combine this with the emerging economic importance of China as a global power, and it makes studying simplified Chinese characters all the more attractive.
In conclusion, if one's goals lie in academic and cultural studies, then traditional Chinese writing would be of most benefit. However, with more and more communication, technology, and business infrastructure being laid in simplified Chinese characters, it seems to be the most benefit to the average Western learner to study the latter. The longer it stays around, the harder it will be to revert back to the historic system of the Chinese dynasties.