Hong Kong split between simplified and traditional characters

Hong Kong split between simplified and traditional characters

Half of Chinese speakers in Hong Kong aren’t in favour of simplified characters being taught in schools, but why?


Learning simplified Chinese at Canadian International School of Hong Kong’s Chinese Cultural Centre.
Photo: Jonathan Wong/SCMP

Hongkongers are divided on the use of China’s official spoken and written languages, with a recent survey finding that half did not support the teaching of simplified characters at school.

Only 41 per cent of the 700 respondents were in favour of teaching the simplified characters used on mainland China, according to Chinese University’s Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, which conducted the survey of people aged 18 and above from April 19 to 22.

About 32 per cent said they felt resistance to using simplified characters, 10 per cent were happy to do so, and 56 per cent said they were indifferent.

But more and more international school parents are choosing for their children to learn Chinese in simplified characters, said Hui Xu, Director of Chinese Studies at the Hong Kong International School. Students with Mandarin as their native or near native language at the school can opt to learn either traditional or simplified Chinese, while students learning Chinese as a second language are taught in simplified Chinese.

“When it comes to handwriting, it’s faster and easier to use simplified characters,” said Hui.

In Middle and High school, about 70 per cent of students choose to study the language using traditional characters, but in Primary school, the ratio is currently half and half.

Should Putonghua be used as the medium of instruction in Chinese lessons?

May Huang, a recent graduate from the Chinese International School, said she chose to study in traditional because she was Taiwanese. “Traditional characters also say more about the history of the words, so I prefer them. It deserves to be preserved because it better reflects Chinese heritage” she said, adding that it was also useful to learn simplified characters because it makes doing business with China easier. “I’d start with learning traditional for sure, because it’s easier to learn simplified after having learned traditional, whereas it’s more difficult the other way round.”

Other schools, like the French International School, only offer a Chinese curriculum in simplified Chinese.

The study also found that while 84.6 per cent of respondents agreed with teaching Putonghua as a subject – against 10.4 per cent who disagreed – only 51.5 per cent supported the use of Putonghua alone to teach Chinese, against 37.6 per cent opposed to the idea.

About 14.4 per cent resisted using Putonghua, while 14.3 per cent said they were happy to use it.

Some 55 per cent did not expect Putonghua to take the place of Cantonese and become the most commonly spoken language in Hong Kong within the next 20 years, while 6.6 per cent said it would happen.

And 61 per cent of respondents did not think simplified characters would become the city’s main written language in 20 years’ time, with about six per cent predicting the opposite.

In terms of usefulness of the languages, 36.4 per cent did not find simplified Chinese characters useful at all, while a similar proportion felt they were somewhat useful. About 26 per cent found the system quite useful or very useful.

Some 14.5 per cent said Putonghua was not useful at all, while 84 per cent saw different levels of usefulness.


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