When people start learning Chinese, one of the most common questions that come up in their minds is the difference between traditional and simplified Chinese. Understanding the difference between these two writing systems is important as it will help you decide which one is right for you.

Presently, simplified Chinese is officially used in mainland China and Singapore, and it is frequently used by Malaysia’s Chinese community. Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau all use traditional Chinese.

A brief history

Originally, traditional Chinese was standard in all Chinese-speaking regions. Some argue that characters have been simplified in writing throughout history, most likely for convenience.

Simpler forms of characters have been found in documents dating back to the Qin dynasty. However, the majority of the simplified characters used today were created by the People’s Republic of China’s government in the 1950s and 1960s. The government implemented an official simplified Chinese system in the hopes of increasing literacy rates in China.

Chinese characters

The most obvious distinction between traditional and simplified Chinese is the appearance of the characters. Traditional characters are typically more complicated and have more strokes, whereas simplified characters are simpler and have fewer strokes.

All Chinese characters were originally the same, while some were changed in the simplified Chinese system, others remained unchanged. This is most likely due to the fact that these characters were already so basic that there was no need to change them.

There is also a difference in Chinese tones in both the writing systems that you will get over time. Try observing both systems to assess the right one for you.

Following are a few examples of characters that are the same in both traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese:


While some characters in both writing systems are the same, simplified Chinese changed many characters to make them easier to read and write. This was accomplished primarily by simplifying certain radicals or components that comprise characters.


As it is clear that in all of the above-mentioned words, the radical 言 in the traditional characters becomes 讠in the simplified form of each character. Because of these systematic changes, if you learn one writing system, you can use these rules to help you recognize and learn characters from the other.

But, this is not the case with all characters. While sorting out the mystery of traditional vs simplified Chinese, remember that there are hundreds of simplified Chinese characters that differ significantly from their traditional counterparts.

In fact, many characters are so dissimilar that even people who can read and write traditional Chinese fluently would need to memorize the simplified versions. If you want to get command of both writing systems, you can learn Chinese on italki. Here, the Chinese teachers will help you understand and memorize the difference between traditional and simplified Chinese.

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The number of characters

Simplified Chinese, in addition to simplifying individual characters, uses fewer characters overall. Simplified Chinese frequently employs a single character to represent words with distinct meanings but the same pronunciation. Each word in traditional Chinese has its own distinct character.


Now that you have understood the major differences between the writing systems, it is the right time for you to analyze which writing system is best for you. In Chinese, there is always a debate between Cantonese vs. Mandarin and you need to come up with different strategies to master both of them.

Vocabulary and structure of the sentence

Word choice, vocabulary usage, and character sequences differ between Simplified and Traditional Chinese.

Here are a few examples of how the same word can be represented by entirely different characters:

  • default:  默认 (Simplified), 預設 (Traditional)
  • video: 视频 (Simplified), 影片(Traditional)
  • Speech: 讲话 (Simplified), 演說 (Traditional). In this example, when the Simplified Chinese usage is put into Traditional Chinese (講話), it means only “to speak,” as a verb, but not “speech,” as a noun.

The flow of text

The majority of Simplified text flows horizontally, and Chinese readers are accustomed to this layout. Traditional Chinese, on the other hand, can be written horizontally or vertically, and can even flow both ways on the same page.


There are some punctuation differences between Simplified and Traditional. Simplified Chinese, for example, employs Western-style quotation marks“…” and ‘…’.

When embedding quotes, the single marks are placed inside the double marks, as shown below “…‘…’…” However, in Traditional Chinese, single quotation marks are written as

「…」 and double quotation marks as 『…』. When embedded, Traditional does the opposite, placing the double quotation marks within the single marks.

What should you learn traditional Chinese or simplified Chinese?

The answer to this question depends on your personal goals and learning priorities but there are a few points that you can consider while deciding your preferred writing system.


Consider your goals and which writing system will be most useful to you based on them. Who do you want to be able to communicate with and understand? Where do you intend to put your Chinese?

Simplified Chinese will most likely be more useful if you intend to do business in mainland China in the future. Traditional Chinese, on the other hand, will serve you better if you plan to live in Taiwan.

The interest level

Some people are particularly fascinated by ancient Chinese culture or calligraphy. If this describes you, you should think about learning traditional Chinese or at least studying a few traditional characters here and there.

Some people are also passionate about the long history and culture associated with traditional Chinese, finding it both aesthetically pleasing and meaningful. When discussing this, people frequently bring up the Chinese character for “love.”

Level of difficulty

While resolving the debate of traditional vs simplified Chinese, assess the level of difficulty associated with both of them. Many choose simplified Chinese because the characters have fewer strokes, and they are easier to remember and write. This can be a big help for new students.

Others argue that, while traditional characters may appear threatening, there are many useful links between them, some of which may not be present in simplified Chinese. For example, take the characters 門 (door), 開 (open), and 關 (close). In traditional Chinese, you can see that the same component is used in each of these related characters. This isn’t true for the simplified versions of these particular characters: 门 (door), 开 (open), 关 (close).

Learning to read and write in Chinese will require effort regardless of which writing system you focus on. What matters most is that you learn the type of Chinese that is best suited to you and your objectives.

Chinese is the world’s most widely spoken language, with 1.3 billion native speakers. One-quarter of the world’s population speaks Chinese in some form, including 800 million active internet users, making the language extremely important for any organization that communicates globally.


So, if you are a Chinese learner, you need to make wise learning choices. Every language has its own structure and vocabulary. Learning those is essential if you want to hold successful conversations with people residing in various parts of the world.

For example, you can learn Chinese New year greetings to have friendly conversations with native speakers and it will open endless doors of new relationships and friendships for you.

In the end, the choice of traditional vs simplified Chinese depends on your learning goals, the people with whom you are going to talk, and the places you are planning to visit. Choose wisely!

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