Why do the Chinese Mainland use simplified Chinese characters while Taiwan and Hong Kong use traditional Chinese characters?
As we all know, Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong are all Chinese regions, and all of them use Chinese characters in their official writing. However, did you know that Mainland China uses simplified Chinese characters (简体字), while Taiwan and Hong Kong use traditional Chinese characters (繁體字)?
Figure 1: Traditional Chinese (開、圖、樂、學) vs. Simplified Chinese (开、图、乐、学)
First of all, let's understand the differences between traditional Chinese characters and simplified Chinese characters. Traditional Chinese characters are the official writing system that has been used in China for more than 2,000 years. Simplified Chinese characters, on the other hand, refer to the Chinese writing system promulgated by the official Chinese character simplification campaign in the 1950s by the State Council of the People's Republic of China.
In fact, the writing system of Chinese characters has been under constant development and change throughout history. From the initial Shang-dynasty (c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC) oracle bone script to the later Jurchen script, the Zhou dynasty (c. 1046 – c. 256 BC) was the formation of seal script, the Qin dynasty (c. 221– c. 207 BC) unified the six kingdoms and introduced the small seal script, the Western Han dynasty (c. 202 BC – c. 220 AD) introduced the clerical script, and later the cursive script became popular until the end of the Eastern Han dynasty (c. 202 BC – c. 220 AD) when the regular script was formed, indicating that there were many different ways of writing Chinese characters. However, with the formation of the regular script, the traditional Chinese writing style was set in stone (other writing styles still existed).
Figure 3: Calligraphic work in the style of regular script by Zhuge, Liang (諸葛亮)
Second, we need to understand the history of the Simplified Chinese character movement since modern times. During the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom period (1851–1864), a certain degree of simplification of Chinese characters was implemented. Later, as part of the New Culture Movement, simplified characters were promoted to some extent, and in 1935 the Republican government (National Government of the Republic of China) issued a list of simplified characters. In the 1960s, the "List of Simplified Chinese Characters (簡化字總表)" was formed to fully standardize the simplified character writing system. Therefore, since the 1950s, simplified Chinese characters have been gradually promoted in mainland China and have become the official writing system.
Figure 4: "总" is a simplified form of "總". It appears to have been effected by the abbreviation of "总" (窻窗), and is found in the Ming Dynasty public records and novels of the Qing Dynasty.
"总" is included in the first round of the "List of Simplified Chinese Characters (簡化字總表)"
After the defeat of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) regime in mainland China in 1949, there were attempts to implement the simplified Chinese character movement in Taiwan, but they were not successful. Traditional Chinese characters are also known as orthographic characters in Taiwan. Although both Taiwan and Hong Kong use traditional characters, there are many differences in the writing of traditional characters due to the differences in history, culture, and dialect environment between the two places. However, judging from the average education level of the people in both places, the use of traditional characters does not seem to have had a substantial impact on the spread of education, especially since the widespread use of computers in people's writing has made the implementation of simplified characters less necessary, and so traditional characters have been used.