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There are so many aspects in „Chinese culture” which I can’t understand. One of them is connected with Cantonese written language. At the beginning of 20 century people were using (officially) classical Chinese but among Cantonese they used colloquial Cantonese. So if they used Classical Chinese only in written form, why they have changed it into 普通話 , which has much longer form ? I know that Classical Chinese become completely incomprehensible in spoken form, but if Cantonese were using spoken Cantonese it shouldn’t be a problem for them. Of course I understand that Cantonese from GuangDong and Mainland China had to learn it, but why people from 香港 and澳門 changed Classical Chinese into Putongwa which they also don’t use in spoken form? Couldn’t they still use 文言 for official purposes?
Simply speaking, there are two aspects of Chinese, written Chinese and spoken Chinese.
Starting with the written Chinese, there are two forms, namely 文言文 and 白話文.
For the spoken Chinese, I do not know much about the form used in the past. Nowadays, the two forms are Putonghua and Cantonese. Cantonese is spoken in Guandong province, HK and Macau while Putonghua is spoken in other parts of China.
Putonghua highly resembles the written Chinese. Thus it is like you write what you say and you say what you write. This makes Putonghua esaier to learn too. However, the resemblance does not apply to Cantonese. Cantonese, to me, is a very random language. It is because it highly stresses on "understanding each other in a communication" a lot more than grammatical rules. Thus there are a very wide variety of expressions. Not to mention Cantonese is one of the msot complicated lanuagea in terms of phonology. However, it is believed that Cantonese was spoken in China in the past (before putongua becomes the dominant one). So I guess it was later replaced by Putonghua due to the higher resemblance of putonghua to 白話文.
Hong Kong + Taiwan use Traditional Chinese Characters. Other parts of CHina use Simplified Chinese Characters. Traditional Characters have been used since the language appeared. However, Chinese Government implemented a new set of the characters, the Simplifed Characters, in 1950s. Simplifed characters have fewer strokes and are less complicated structurally. THus thru this implementation, China gov wanted to imrpove the literacy level of Chinese, considering there are a significant population who still do not know how to write and read.
Adding my 2 cents worth...
Cantonese did not change their written form. Mandarin did! it was done to raise the level of literacy like others had explained. However some of the changes were good but others destroyed the meaning and the cultural aspects of the language making the language into a cultural desert. Take the character for wind for example. It full form is 風 vs 风. Ancient Chinese believe that wind is caused by the beating wings of insects. Hence you see the insect radical with it wing in the "wave front". The simpilfied version threw out all that is cultural. However there are some good simplified forms such as 纔 becoming 才 or 麤 becoming 粗.