Traditional Chinese vs Simplified Chinese

Are you tapping into the Chinese market but unsure whether to use Traditional or Simplified Chinese? You’re not alone! As the two languages have significant differences and can drastically impact your marketing campaign’s effectiveness, it is essential to understand what each language entails before making a choice on how best to reach out to Chinese-speaking customers.

In this blog post, we will explore the key distinctions between Traditional and Simplified Chinese so that you can make an informed decision when creating a strategy for marketing success. 

Chinese characters and writing system

Chinese characters are the logographic symbols used in the written form of Chinese. They consist of single characters that represent entire words or concepts, and are usually composed of multiple strokes which must be written in a specific order for it to be legible. Each character is also often associated with a meaning or interpretation which can change depending on context.

Chinese characters are the basic building blocks of words, phrases and sentences. Each character has its own meaning, and when combined with other characters you form a new word or concept. Unlike English or other alphabetic languages, Chinese has no spaces between words and does not use capitalization for proper nouns.

Traditional Chinese vs Simplified Chinese: An Overview

Traditional Chinese is the original form of written Chinese and has been used for over two thousand years. It is still used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, as well as by overseas Chinese communities. Traditional Chinese characters are more complex and have more strokes than Simplified Chinese characters.

Simplified Chinese was introduced in the mid-20th century as a way to increase literacy rates in mainland China. The simplification process involved reducing the number of strokes in many of the complex characters, merging similar characters, and creating new characters through combining different characters. Around 2,200 characters were simplified, reducing the number of strokes by as much as 60% in some cases.

Simplified Chinese characters have fewer strokes and are simpler in appearance than Traditional Chinese characters. They are now the standard form of written Chinese in mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Here’s a table of the Chinese characters commonly used in different Asian countries and regions:

Country/RegionChinese Character Used
Hong KongTraditional
Mainland ChinaSimplified

How were Chinese characters simplified?

The simplification of Chinese characters involved several strategies to make them less complex and easier to write. Here are some of the ways in which Chinese characters were simplified:

  • Reducing the number of strokes
  • Combining characters
  • Phonetic simplification

For example, the Simplified Chinese character “面” (miàn), which can represent the Traditional Chinese characters “麵” (miàn; noodles) and “面” (miàn; face, surface) depending on the context.

Another example would be “發” (fā; develop, grow ) and “髪” (fà, hair) merged into “发”.

Most of the machine translation tools still have troubles converting Simplified Chinese characters into Traditional Chinese, especially if the characters are combined from several one (like the two examples above).

Make sure you have a native Traditional Chinese user to proofread your work.

Differences between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese

Character complexity

Traditional Chinese characters are generally more complex and have more strokes compared to Simplified Chinese characters. 


Character Set

The character set for Traditional Chinese is significantly larger than that of Simplified Chinese. There are over 50,000 characters in the Traditional Chinese system, while Simplified Chinese has around 8105 characters as stated in “Table of General Standard Chinese Characters”. 

In Traditional Chinese, each character has its own individual meaning, sound, and tone. When combined with other characters, they create more complex words and meanings. 

Simplified Chinese, on the other hand, has a more limited character set. New characters were created by simplifying the more complex traditional characters, combining similar characters, and phonetic simplification. 


Since Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese use different character sets and writing systems, a Chinese reader who can read Traditional Chinese may not be able to read Simplified Chinese and vice versa without additional training.

For example, a person who grew up reading Traditional Chinese characters may find it difficult to read a document written in Simplified Chinese. This is because the Simplified Chinese characters may look like completely different characters, even if they represent the same word or idea.

Word choice

The differences in word choice between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese can be attributed to the evolution of the Chinese language and the influence of regional dialects.

For example, the word for “bus” is written as “巴士” in Hong Kong which is the transliteration of “bus”, while “公交车” in mainland China takes more a literal meaning.

Here are some different Chinese words used across Hong Kong, Taiwan and China:

Traditional Chinese 🇭🇰Traditional Chinese 🇹🇼Simplified Chinese 🇨🇳

After deciding which written system you would like to use, make sure you are aware of the regional differences.


Both Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese use full-width punctuation, which means that punctuation marks would take up the same amount of horizontal space as a full-width character. It is preferred for achieving consistent spacing and visual harmony with full-width characters. Some examples of full-width punctuation marks include periods (。), commas (,), exclamation marks (!), and question marks (?).

However, Simplified and Traditional Chinese differ in their use of punctuation. Let’s take quotation mark as an example – Traditional Chinese uses the single quotation marks 「…」 and double quotation marks 『…』. On the contrary, Simplified Chinese employs Western-style quotation marks such as “…” and ‘…’. 

Choosing the Traditional or Simplified Chinese characters for your market?

The choice between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese depends on a few factors such as your purpose, target audience, and geographic location.

If you are targeting a mainland Chinese audience, it is recommended to use Simplified Chinese. On the other hand, if you are targeting a Taiwanese, Hong Kong, or overseas Chinese audience, Traditional Chinese would be a better choice.

In some cases, both Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese may be required. For example, if you are producing content for a global audience, you may need to provide versions in both Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese to cater to different regions.

Ultimately, the choice between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese depends on your specific needs and audience. If you are unsure, you may want to consult with an expert or do some research on your target market to make an informed decision.


Does Hong Kong use Traditional or Simplified Chinese?

Traditional Chinese is more commonly used in daily life, education, and official documents in Hong Kong.

Is Mandarin Traditional or Simplified Chinese?

Mandarin is a spoken form of the Chinese language, it is not directly related to the written forms of Chinese. However, Mandarin is spoken in both countries that use Simplified Chinese characters (mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia) as well as in countries that use Traditional Chinese characters (Taiwan). Therefore, Mandarin can be written using either the Traditional or Simplified Chinese writing system, depending on the region where it is being used.

Where is Traditional Chinese used?

Traditional Chinese is most commonly seen in Hong Kong and Taiwan, where it is the official language used. It is also often used in many overseas Chinese communities such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. It is also used in some formal contexts in mainland China, such as calligraphy.

Where is Simplified Chinese used?

Simplified Chinese is mainly used in mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia as the official language. It is also seen in overseas Chinese communities, where people may prefer to use simplified characters.

Aubrey Yung

Aubrey Yung

Aubrey is an SEO Consultant with 5+ years of B2B and B2C marketing experience.