According to this report on the Window of China website, China plans to issue a new list of simplified characters for written Chinese. According to Wang Ning, the vice director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Linguistics, the changes will be minor and are meant to reduce confusion between characters and make them easier to learn.
China began simplifying the characters used for written language in 1956. Although Taiwan, Hong and Macao retained the traditional characters, the rest of the mainland adopted stripped-down versions of the characters that took fewer strokes and less time to write. In 1986, China’s State Language Commission attempted to to standardize written Chinese by putting out an official list of 2,235 simplified Chinese characters.
However, for some characters, the simplification process proved to be counterproductive. According to Wang Ning, “Over-simplification of some characters actually made them even harder to understand in some cases, which is the problem we are trying to address here.” Some Chinese would like to scrap the simplified characters entirely and go back to the older, more complicated traditional characters. They feel that the simplified characters are not artistic and that preserving the “old way” of writing is an integral part of preserving Chinese culture.
Fortunately for the billions of Chinese people who never learned the old system, that is not likely to happen. In the article referenced above, Wang Ning said, “Switching back to traditional Chinese characters means billions of Chinese would have to relearn their mother language. I don’t think there is any need to switch back to traditional Chinese characters, nor to make the current ones even simpler. Our top priority is to improve and standardize the simplified Chinese characters.”
Most Chinese citizens born after 1956 are probably quite relieved to hear that. After all, can you imagine having to learn how to write in the Old English alphabet?