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Learning hanzi -- the eternal dilemma of simple or traditional

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OK. I interpreted post 36 as saying that such characters were simplifications (i.e. 广 means 廣) before they were substituted for orthodox characters. They have existed before simplification, but not as simplifications.

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I’d like to bring up a few points that maybe haven’t been brought up (although excuse me if they have). In the traditional vs. simplified debate, there are many ways to frame the question: “is one better than the other?” “does simplified actually flow from tradition?” “has simplification increased literacy?” “how was the simplification process connected to other political purges in Maoist China?”“should the PRC move back to traditional?”…etc.

While these issues are all very interesting, I think they are slightly irrelevant for the Chinese learner. The main question, it seems to me should be, “which should I focus on from a learners point of view?” With that in mind, assuming you want to eventually get to a high degree of competency, I’d say the answer is simplified.


1) Many of the best textbooks are only published in simplified. While I think a lot of beginners stuff is in both (although I might be wrong), I think that as you climb the ladder, so to speak, you’ll find that a tremendous amount of useful books are solely published in the PRC.

I’m thinking of the little red book and his blue brother (听力关键词 and 听力惯用语).


Expressions of Written Chinese.


Other HSK materials (there are almost too many to name, here’s one that is good)


Books about science.


Of course, I’m not saying that there aren’t some useful books here and there that are only in traditional, but it seems that over the past few years, the quanity and quality of the books coming out of the PRC has just exploded (granted, I’m sure that there are plenty that aren’t useful, but the sheer size of the market in the PRC means that they will almost certainly produce more stuff and by fitting more specific niches than books made in traditional).

2) A point related to the first point is cost. Books in China are relatively cheap. Studying in the Mainland is also cheaper than in Taiwan (although I could be mistaken).

3) 95% of the Chinese speaking world use simplified. Like it or not, that’s the way it is. Therefore, unless one specifically wants to go to Hong Kong or Taiwan, or unless one lives in an overseas community, then the vast majority of the written Chinese one might find will be in simplified.

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Only a part of the characters (云, 泪 etc.) existed in exactly the same form with exactly the same meaning before the simplification.

云 is not the best example, it is the original way the character for "cloud" was written, but already in Classical Chinese fell out of use as it was used for a similar-sounding word that meant "say, speak", and for sake of differentiation, a rain radical was added. Now in Modern Mandarin the word "say, speak" no longer is used (except in chengyu and the like), and thus the potential for confusion is minimal :mrgreen:

Anyways, I had used the files provided by renzhe as an anki deck and have worked through it, adding all kinds of info to it, working from what the immensely useful pinyin-toolkit plugin provided. But it required considerable effort:

- to properly include all readings and meanings of 破音字. The pinyin-toolkit unfortunately does not give you the most common one, but whichever one comes first in its dictionary.

- to properly distinguish between BJ and TW readings.

- to properly distinguish between variants (i.e. some simplified characters are actually also used in traditional)

- in case of mergers, to properly distinguish the characters that were merged

Sometimes merged characters are also variants and 破音字 making it very complicated.... So here it is, and if you spot any inaccuracies, please let me know:

Also although I was aiming for accuracy, I didn't try to include the most obscure characters etc, usually using the Far Eastern Dictionary as an arbiter of what's obscure.


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Lilongyue in post #17 said:

I forgot to mention that for traditional dictionaries the Far East Book Co. makes excellent books. Also have simplified versions.

Has the Far East Book Company produced a "simplified edition" of its C-E flagship yet that actually includes simplified characters anywhere in the dictionary's indexes too (rather than in just the character entries/main body of the dictionary)? My 1996 printing of their 简明本 certainly hasn't got simplified characters anywhere in its indexes, you see.

And yes, I know this particular Far East, Taiwanese offering uses the traditional Kangxi system first and foremost, but some sort of traditional < > simplified character appendix at least would be nice, and obviously make the dictionary even more useful! (Apologies if some later edition has made these sort of changes already).

As it is however, it seems that the only dictionaries (that I know of) that indexically include and therefore enable one to search for and find both types of characters are the Oxford Concise/Pocket/Desk, the Xinhua, the ABC Comprehensive, and the ABC ECCE. You would search in vain however in Far East-style indexes e.g. for the character 厂 (mentioned earlier in this thread): only the original traditional form 廠 is given, under the 广 radical + 12 residual strokes in the radical index, or in the 15 strokes section of the total stroke count/whole-character index; so there is no point searching under the radical 厂 in the Far East for this particular character's simplified form. (And it's the same thing with whichever simplified examples one might choose, unless they are comparatively easy ones like 语 / 語, or 誓, or 警, all of which you would obviously look for in the Far East under its Kangxi 'speech' radical).

Anyway, most of you know all this already! But I just find it interesting still that some ostensibly modern resources aren't making quite enough concessions for simplified characters, and that simplified character resources are generally much more helpful/flexible with look-up procedures and options (but then, that is the nature of the changes and thus needs that simplifcation brought; traditionalism on the other hand looks to and clings to the past, regardless of any problems that were there).

Edited by Gharial

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Well, the college I attended taught simplified characters, but all the reading materials I found on my own were from Hong Kong and Taiwan, so I ended up learning them both at the same time. It really wasn't that difficult, and I have found them both to be extremely useful. So if you can do that, I would highly recommend it ^-^

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What do you recommend for someone just beginning to learn traditional chinese?

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@Mona I would probably start a new topic with your question and maybe a bit more detail. This topic is 7 years old and may not have much interest.


This topic is about whether to choose simplified or traditional.


If you have already decided on traditional, are you asking what textbooks or other learning material to use?

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