Simplified characters were introduced in Mainland China with the intention that this would improve literacy by making reading and writing easier. This seems intuitive: a character like 學 looks a lot more intimidating than 学 if you are considering the number of strokes. But I think it may not be much more difficult for native speakers who don't need to learn characters stroke by stroke. Also, literacy doesn't seem to be a problem in regions where complex characters are still used: This site https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/literacy-rate-by-country shows a 99% literacy rate in Taiwan vs. 97% in Mainland China.

Of course it's possible that it takes children slightly longer to reach full literacy in Taiwan, which would mean Mainland Chinese children can use that time to learn other things.

Have there been any published studies comparing learning effort between simplified and complex characters, and if so do these indicate that there is an advantage in simplifying?

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    Simplified characters were introduced in Mainland China with the intention that this would improve literacy by making reading and writing easier - I see this repeated everywhere, but it feels like an urban legend. The actual stated goal is to get rid of characters and transition to Romanisation. Here's the proof. The Simplification movement has now been abandoned.
    – dROOOze
    Feb 6 at 23:03
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    my opinion is "NO!" using simplified characters is bad for learning Chinese
    – Tang Ho
    Feb 7 at 1:01
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    Do bear in mind two things: 1. character simplification has been an ongoing process for thousands of years. It's not a new thing that was started by the CPC. 2. The contemporary simplication was actually started during the 5.4 Movement. Only that the RoC government abandoned the effort after a very short period. Feb 7 at 2:41
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    No, that's not an urban legend. That's a well established fact. For example, when you compare different "groups" of Chinese characters, such as 大篆、小篆 and 隸書, the characters have definitely been simplifying. Having more characters have nothing to do with simplifications of the characters themselves. Feb 7 at 5:42
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    Simplification good: characters did not start out so complicated as in Trad. Chinese. Don't make reading and writing a sport for the elite. Romanisation: Nooooooo!! Never, never ever do that to Chinese! Chinese has about 50 000 characters and more than that words, but English has, no one knows exactly, about 1 million words!
    – Pedroski
    Feb 7 at 15:05

3 Answers 3


Definitely not, something that can be seen from the fact that both areas using simplified and traditional have very very high literacy rates. Although it may have in those very first group of people trying to

Also, something easy to slip past unawares, is the fact that the vast majority of simplified characters already existed, and would already be learned by a fully educated person-- they just weren't standard--they were cursive or equal alternatives etc etc. There were some newly created characters, but there is a reason they are called "two different standards of chinese writing." ((Well, there is also the fact that standards vary even among the places that simplified and among the places that traditionaled, but thats even more nuanced then your question needs so I'll just footnote it here)).

What really made chinese easier to learn is massive increase to public schooling starting at a young age-- a trend clearly seen in all languages and countries worldwide who have done so. Although it may have made a difference in those very first group of people trying to rapidly educate as adults, for a caveat.

All that said, you can make a real argument that simplified chinese is definitely quicker to write. However its not by some crazy degree that makes traditional unreasonable. And of course, as we move more and more into the technological age, these handwriting difference matter less and less overall.

  • +1 the vast majority of simplified characters already existed Feb 7 at 5:10
  • That's not a good comparison. You are talking about the current situation, which totally misses the historical factors. What was the literacy rate in China around 1910? Feb 7 at 5:44
  • "The vast majority of simplified characters already existed" is a misleading statement. The vast majority of variants, both "simpler" and more complex, already existed. The only time when the so-called "simpler" variants were selected for inclusion in Chinese was in the Late-Qing Simplification movement. Unorthodox variants, including much of what passes today for Simplified Chinese, were simply illegible.
    – dROOOze
    Feb 7 at 7:25
  • We know literacy rates don't differ significantly between the Mainland and HK/TW, not to any degree that could be attributed to simplified/traditional characters. But do we know if the simplified characters make it any easier to attain literacy? Could it just be that they have to work harder in HK/TW? Seems unlikely to me but I'm wondering if this has ever been quantified. Feb 7 at 7:48

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Simplifying the characters missed the point: prosperity was what led to universal literacy on both sides of the Straits. Case in point: impoverished nations with alphabetic orthographies are STILL suffering from low literacy. In fact, it could be argued that unsystematic simplifications actually made characters quicker to write, but MORE difficult to remember. Notice how traditional forms 燈鄧凳 all share the same phonetic 登. The corresponding simplified forms 灯邓凳 seem totally unrelated, thus making them more difficult to memorize (the vowel in 灯 is wrong). enter image description here enter image description here


You are correct to say that the system of simplified Chinese characters may not be able to improve literacy nationwide by itself. It may not make reading and writing easier. The status of literacy in a nation is mainly determined by the education system, which in turn is determined by the economic and political situation of the nation.

There were three significant achievements in the New Culture movement about 110 years ago. The most important one is the Vernacular Movement 白话文运动 which greatly changed the writing style of the Chinese language. The second one is the Unified Mandarin Movement 统一国语运动 which promoted the standard spoken Chinese language. The third one is the Movement to Abolish Chinese Characters 废除汉字运动。The last one did not get what it was supposed to get but yielded two by-products, the Pinyinization of Chinese (Phonetic symbols to Hanyu Pinyin) and Simplified Chinese characters 汉语拼音化 (注音符号-汉语拼音) 和简化汉字。

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