Speed of writing is cited as an advantage of simplified Chinese over traditional, which is especially important for schoolchildren, but are there any studies or measurements to this effect? How much faster is it really to write simplified, given similar skill levels?

I'm referring to writing all the strokes, by hand. Of course the differences disappear if people are writing cursive, or electronically using IMEs.

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    This paper concludes: 1) in the test of sample text, the 1128 traditional characters' strokes are on average 6.69 stroke-per-character more than the simplified ones. 2) in the high-frequency text test, 3479 traditional characters' strokes are only on average 6.69 stroke-per-character more. Now I cannot read the whole paper but I highly doubt if its statistical methodology is sound -- you know, as the situation 99 persons have no money but 1 is a billionaire will result in they're "millionaires" on average. It's unfair.
    – Stan
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 12:31
  • Sorry for my typo above. "2) in the high-frequency text test, 3479 traditional characters' strokes are only on average 6.69 stroke-per-character more" should be 2.19 stroke-per-character.
    – Stan
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 18:05
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    @Stan, you omitted to mention that the additional 2.19 strokes is equivalent to 30% more strokes in that test, which is statistically significant no matter how you look at it.
    – 杨以轩
    Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 4:09
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    It's difficult to compose a rigorous answer to this question in only 7 days. It requires too much research work -- mainly on the gathering, filtering of the corpus. So it seems no one would won the bounty.
    – Stan
    Commented Feb 26, 2014 at 5:29
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    I am not sure the difference does disappear when using IMEs. The IME will sometimes generate a longer list of alternatives in traditional than in simplified, and it may take longer to scan the alternatives. Of course it will depend on who is doing it. As a foreign beginner, more trained in simplified than traditional characters it takes me a lot long for IME in traditional. For one thing I go back and catch more mistakes. Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 13:39

2 Answers 2

  1. How much faster is it really to write simplified, given similar skill levels?

    Basically, writing simplified characters (SC) can be faster than traditional characters (TC).

    SC comes into stage primarily because of its handy characteristics. Some people really want to boost up the writing speed, among other personal reasons, and there's no such awesome typing machine like notebook today, so what can they do is fairly predictable, such as scribbling around, or just dropping some elements.

  2. Speed of writing is cited as an advantage of simplified Chinese over traditional, which is especially important for schoolchildren, but are there any studies or measurements to this effect?

    Provide you with my own experiment result here. I've timed and written the above Wiki page with its first two paragraphs in the introduction part, both SC version and TC version. There're 306 characters. It took me:

    • 14 minutes 43 seconds (883 seconds) to write up the SC version or 2.9 seconds per character on average, and
    • 21 minutes 36 seconds (1296 seconds) to write up the TC version or 4.2 seconds per character on average.

    Didn't write pretty well, just everyday performance.

    The scan of my writing


    SC version script


    TC version script


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    +1 for the experimentalism :D BTW, in your daily life, do you write SC or TC? If you're familiar with writing SC, this experiment can be criticized for your possible lacking experience of writing TC.
    – Stan
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 14:33
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    Thanks for encouraging :D My hand cramped up... I've been switching to TC for about a few years. SC is really fast.
    – George
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 14:38
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    Not only speed but less pencil sharpening/ink :-) And eye strain for us folks with bad eyesight.
    – Steve
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 15:08
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    I tried this paragraph too. And my result was: 15:15 for SC and 17:13 for TC. Both are written in running script by a gel pen (when writing TC I was intentional to speed up a little so it looked ugly). Anyway, I believe writing SC is easier.
    – Stan
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 16:47
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    Definitely TC writes slower... so in Taiwan the students in secondary or high school have classes of simplified Chinese so they can write faster when taking notes and so on... Of course, their simplification does not match that in mainland China exactly, for instance, 專 is simplified to 专 as in mainland China while 團 is simplified to 囗 + 专 instead of 囗 + 才 as in mainland China. This is more logical because 專 in 團 is the pronunciation indicator, so the form like 团 does not really make sense.
    – user58955
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 20:51

First of all, thanks to Congliu's experiment. And I think this is a very interesting question.

I found this research called The Dynamic Statistics and Comparison of the Stroke Counts of Simplified and Traditional Chinese Characters (ftp://ftp.cs.sjtu.edu.cn:990/gshulun/%B7%A2%B1%ED%C2%DB%CE%C4my_published_papers/%BC%F2%BB%AF%D7%D6%D3%EB%B7%B1%CC%E5%D7%D6%B1%CA%BB%AD%CA%FD%B5%C4%B6%AF%CC%AC%CD%B3%BC%C6%D3%EB%B1%C8%BD%CF.pdf) on Shanghai Jiao Tong University's website. I'm not sure about how serious the research was, but I think it can bring some insights to the topic.

Their findings are:

  • Among 3479 high-frequency TC characters, TC characters have 2.19 (30%) more strokes than SC characters.

  • For another 1128 random TC characters, the difference is 6.69 strokes.

So if we can set an average stroke speed, SC is definitely faster.


This is not a surprise. Intuitively, Simplified Chinese should be faster since speed its one of its purpose and it was achieved by trim down the strokes in the characters. And it is very understandable that TC users may find SC repelling. I'm a SC user (I'd like to use TC, but I think I'd better do it by formal training rather than just use the TC function in the IME which may lead to subtle misuse). But if I were a TC user, I probably would frown when I see SC as well since some of the characters I tried hard to learn had been trimmed down without inconsistently and they just look awkward. Also it would be easier to criticise something new (relatively). But process of simplification lost some of the characters origin and tradition is a fact.

But there are two sides of the story. Indeed the SC was part of the Soviet political scheme. However, I think it did benefit the population in less literal area to become semi-literal quickly. I mean, for the speed of China's economy, those people really don't have the time the differentiate the four ways to write character 茴 (look it up, it's called 茴香豆的茴字的四种写法, it's famous criticism on Chinese characters by Lu Xun). Now think about another fact: for years, college students were required to pass CET English test to graduate in Mainland China, which has been lifted just recent year. Facing a huge illiterate population who resides in poor areas, SC did help to smooth the process for making them to read and write at least and make time to learn English as well.

But this question got me to think about the current situation for SC. Today, most of us Chinese, like the rest of the world, use computers, cellphones more than ever. Personally, I only actually write when I want to practice my handwriting. Pinyin really helped in this aspect, so the writing speed in production environment seems to be less an issue. If we start switching back to TC characters now, speed wouldn't be a big problem for economy (And most people in economically developed part can read most TC). And for schoolers, they have and should spend the time to learn each characters closely. But on the other hand, TC might be too complex for displays, especially in small sizes. And SC has become part of the history and reality.

Those are my personal thoughts about the SC v.s TC issue. I know that my thought is inconclusive regarding which one is better issue. But I think it will just become part of asian history. It doesn't make any more sense than arguing which one is more correct between Japanese Kanji and Chinese Characters except in terms of politics.

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