Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Chinese, traditional or simplified

Keen readers may notice that "Random Walk in Learning" had no post at the beginning of December. It was because I was in Beijing and Hong Kong.

There was no posting not because of Internet connection. In fact in Beijing, the hotel I was staying had free broadband Internet in every room (yes, some rooms' connection were not working). In Hong Kong, I was staying with my sister who had very fast broadband as well. There was no posting during that time because I was overwhelmed with all the experiences that I needed time to absorb.

My last visit to Beijing would be over 20 years ago. This time, my impression of Chinese capital has totally changed. It is modern, fast moving and lively. People are much nicer too. Girls are beautiful, modern and well dressed. Weather was cold and with high wind-chill factor.

I spent one day alone in the Forbidden City (currently the national museum) and sometimes in a local book store. These two visits formed the most heart-arching experience I have for a long time.

As I walked slowly pass the historical display of work in the Forbidden City, I found that I can read the words on these thousands-year old document, word by word. Although some of the usage may seem strange, but I can read them and understand what was written on these historical records. Chinese written form has been stable for the last 3 to 4 thousand years.

When I was flipping books in a local book store, my heart sunk. Books are in simplified Chinese. As I look around, I was wondering how many of the young people who were also browsing would be able to read the historical work in the Forbidden City.

Traditional Chinese has about 56,000 characters. Simplified Chinese has about 3,000 characters. Hence it is necessary that several traditional characters be mapped to a single character. Just from an information entropy angle, a huge amount of information has been lost in such a mapping process.

I want to start a project. A project to estimate how much Chinese culture has been lost due to the use of Simplified Chinese. If anyone can help, please contact me.


aligotskind said...

Have you ever started this project? I will be very interested to know the outcome! I am a Mandarin Chinese teacher from Taiwan living in US. I am really strugleing on whether to teach Traditional or simplified...

Albert Ip said...

Hi aligotskind,

I have not started a project. But I will be in Hong Kong later this month and hope to be able to meet some people who may help to start the project. As you are from Taiwan, you definitely can read traditional Chinese and no doubt you can read simplified as well. Have you tried to do some tests yourself?

If the choice is yours and for the sake of protecting the Chinese culture, I greatly encourage you to teach traditional Chinese. I believe it is more fun too!

kittykat said...


I've been on the internet looking for either a school in Australia or an online school which teaches Traditional Chinese. Just wondering if you would be able to help in this area?


Albert Ip said...

Hi KittyKat,

Sorry, I am not exactly in the field of teaching Chinese. But if you look for websites in Taiwan, you should be able to find some. There are only two places in the world where traditional Chinese is still official : HongKong and Taiwan.