Efforts of simplification of Chinese Characters predate the Communists by decades. I assume that all these native Chinese people in favour of simplification were infinitely better educated than I am. While I use traditional characters, I have always thought it was obvious, why one might want some form of simplification: speed.

I further assumed it was clear why none of the existing scripts was chosen: we don't want to destroy the countability of strokes, that form the basis of the radical system!

Now, I looked a little bit into 行書 and was amazed! It appears faster on average than 簡體楷書 (perhaps this information is wrong?) and I can see it has discernible strokes and radicals! Am I wrong? Why did people not promote 行書 instead of inventing a new 楷書-行書 mix?

Or was the goal memorability? I have tried learning both and found traditional characters more memorable. I started with simplified ones, so it definitely wasn't habit.

Or are there too many short radicals, making it hard to categorise them?

enter image description here

I am not proficient, so I can not use myself as the basis for comparing speeds. Today I even wrote an exam in 簡體 at half the speed of 繁體字,because I constantly had to stop the hand from writing 繁體字

  • Efforts of simplification of Chinese Characters long predate the Communists this isn't true. Simplification started around the end of the Qing dynasty, at most 50~70 years before the communists. It's only true that it wasn't a Communist invention.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 12:30
  • @droooze ok. Depends on what you consider „long“. I would say „long“ enough to not associate the idea with communists.
    – Ludi
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 12:39
  • "Long" is taken by some to mean "simplification was a long-desired idea since ancient times, and the people have been doing it since forever", which is patently false. Characters have about a 3,000 year history, and the Simplification Movement has been around for 100 years since its inception, but stopped being a thing about 40 years ago.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 18:42
  • @droooze I understand where you are coming from and edited after the first comment!
    – Ludi
    Commented Nov 2, 2018 at 19:09

2 Answers 2


The idea behind Simplification was not really to write faster - it was one of several other movements to abandon the administrations and culture of Imperial China, and modernise into the Republican Era. One of the other movements to do with language completely succeeded, which is why the common Chinese language is now based on a vernacular standard rather than literary Chinese.

The premise that the script was preventing China from modernising is an unfounded one, of course, which is why all Simplification movements have actually failed. Mainland China's script reform is permanently stuck in limbo, and Japan's script reform is currently in reverse trend. As late as 1980, the Republic of China (Taiwan) government tried to introduce 行書 as the official script with the publication of 《標準行書範本》, and it also failed.

Simplification, at least in its original inception, has little to do with writing faster. It was one of the many ideas from revolutionary intellectuals at the end of the Qing dynasty wanting to get rid of the shackles of Imperial China and thrust the country into a modern, Republican form of governance. Drawing direct inspiration from "advanced" 1900s European powers, characters were blamed as a blockade to literacy/education. To quote a few typical opinions at that time:



(If) Chinese characters are not abolished, China will surely perish.



Chinese characters are of an extremely uncivilised origin; their shapes are extremely unnatural, learning them is extremely inconvenient, and using them is extremely inefficient. They are truly cumbersome and crude, are the symbols of snake-gods and ox-demons, and are the world's most inconvenient tools.

Key members of both Nationalist and Communist China, including Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong, were extremely zealous of these ideas right up till their death.


-- 人民日報 1977年12月20日


-- 中華民國陸軍一級上將 何應欽《整理簡筆字提案的回顧與前瞻・引言》

Their attempts at implementing Simplification were met with either apathy or resistance at every step of the way. The illiterate masses couldn't have cared less, and were more concerned about putting food on the table for the next day, while contemporary evidence that script had nothing to do with the country's development could easily be found if one looked east towards Japan, which rapidly modernised whilst keeping Traditional Characters.

The Simplification movements were an intermediate step towards the goal of a full conversion to an alphabet script, but Simplification was quickly abandoned after widespread education and promotion of literacy among the general population:

  • Republic of China's Simplification attempts were dealt a fatal blow by 1936;
  • People's Republic of China's Simplification attempts waned after its first implementation, and completely died after 1978 (see Second round of simplified Chinese characters);
  • Japan's Simplification attempts have been steadily reversing. The number of permitted official characters is constantly increasing, and Simplified component shapes are no longer applied to re-incorporated characters.
    • 1946: 1,850 characters
    • 1981: 1,945 characters
    • 2010: 2,136 characters

I assume that all these native Chinese people in favour of simplification were infinitely better educated than I am.

This is not a very good assumption - your average native speaker doesn't qualify for anything apart from letting you know what sounds correct in contemporary Chinese. Any opinion about the Chinese script that's not from professionally trained linguists and/or paleographers should be taken with a grain of salt.

To give an example, there's a widespread but frankly ridiculous idea among native Chinese speakers that "characters have naturally Simplified over time", usually used in defence of the Mainland Government's implementation of Round 1 Simplified Chinese. Apart from most of them cringing at the idea of changing the script to Round 2, the idea completely fails both in theory and practice:

  • Hypothesis: characters naturally simplified over time. By extrapolation, this means that Chinese ancestors must have written a script that's unfathomably complex.

    enter image description here

    Sorry, I don't see it. It looks like characters increased in complexity until the Warring States to Qin period (images 3-4), and stopped changing in complexity after that.

  • Hypothesis: the common folk created vulgar variants (俗字) by cutting strokes off characters, because the official characters were too difficult to write. By extrapolation, the vast majority of variant, non-official characters should have less strokes than the official characters.

    Please visit a

    I seriously suggest having a browse through a proper collation of vulgar and variant characters. Here's「雨」and the number of vulgar "simplifications" that people invented over the years for it because "it was too difficult to write".

    (from 中華民國教育部異體字字典)

The people did not simplify characters! They changed characters to suit their needs to clarify or enhance their utility in expressing their language, both by simplifying and adding strokes. Pure Simplification is an artificial policy pursued by the Republican governments.


Simplified Chinese is much simpler than 行書, involving less strokes overall. Two reasons:

  • Many simplified characters were already derived from cursive forms (草書楷化). Examples include 書 → 书, 車 → 车, 興 → 兴. 草書 is much less strokes than 行書.
  • Simplification involved many different techniques, including removing entire radicals or portions of a character, like 習 → 习, or even reconstructing the character based on new radicals, like 響 → 响. Therefore there's many more ways to reduce strokes than relying on cursive forms alone.

So 行書 wasn't used because it's not simple enough. There was an attempt to go even simpler during the Cultural Revolution, but it failed due to being too radical.

YMMV of course; it's possible that 行書 is genuinely faster for you than Simplified, but on average less strokes = faster handwriting, and Simplified is generally faster to hand-write than 行書. See also: How much faster is it to write Simplified over Traditional?

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