Understanding Your Chinese-Speaking Markets

Business- word written on a smudged blackboard with a Chinese translation,with a hand holding chalk

Simplified Chinese (or Chinese Simplified – CHS or SC):

CHS is the WRITTEN text (of Chinese) that’s used in mainland China and among people of Chinese origin in Singapore.
This written form mainly evolved and was adopted after the end of China’s civil war and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It’s a relatively “modern form” of Chinese text. The reason and purpose for the Chinese government developing this simplified writing system is believed to be “simplifying the writing method, easing the effort in writing, and encouraging more people to become literate.”


Traditional Chinese (or Chinese Traditional – CHT or TC):

CHT is the WRITTEN text (of Chinese) that’s used in Hong Kong and Taiwan. As the name states, this is a traditional version that’s been used by Chinese people for thousands of years.
Although people in Mainland China and Singapore began to adopt the Simplified text after 1949, people in Hong Kong and Taiwan continued to use the “old” traditional text due to the political separation.

Portrait of Chinese business man and woman in a modern urban setting.
Beautiful businesswoman with laptop

Mandarin and Cantonese:

Mandarin and Cantonese are two SPOKEN styles/dialects of the Chinese language. As an official spoken “dialect”, Mandarin is widely used in Mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore. In the translation industry, Cantonese is specifically targeted to the Hong Kong audience only.
This article is mainly a comparison between the written versions (Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese) and not the dialects of Mandarin and Cantonese.
The Difference:

Theoretically, and at the beginning, Mandarin and Cantonese had NO DIFFERENCE except for the written method of the Chinese characters. Simplified Chinese characters have fewer strokes and are easier to write than Traditional Chinese. That’s why it’s called “Simplified”, and the characters were the ONLY difference when the CHS writing system was first developed.


However, the rapidly changing world has brought new words (such as “Internet,” “Software,” etc.) into daily life, and naturally, these new words may have different local versions in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The use of proper terms is the first concern when a specific version of either CHS or CHT is specified as the target translation language.
Secondly, the political isolation between Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan for several decades also created some variations in the style and wording of language, which are naturally reflected in their written forms. To understand this better, consider the difference between the written styles of US English and British English.
Simplified Chinese translators who wish to translate into Traditional Chinese, or vice versa, must be familiar with the style and wording of the target language and make sure to use the proper terms.
This must be done by a trained linguist. It would be similar to expecting an American to be able to write perfectly in British English, not an easy task even for a well-educated American. For example, the word ‘check’ (monetary instrument) is spelt ‘cheque’’ in the UK.
In conclusion:

The above information may sound a little bit complicated to non-Chinese-speaking people. To make things simple, let’s put it this way:

  • For mainland readers, you want to translate into Simplified Chinese text, Mandarin style
  • For Hong Kong readers, translate into Traditional Chinese text, Cantonese style
  • For Taiwanese readers, translate into Traditional Chinese text, Mandarin style
  • For Singapore readers, same as for mainland readers.

Chinese language learning concept. Woman speech bubble on blackboard saying SPEAK CHINESE. Fun happy mixed race student or teacher.
Portrait Of Multi-Generation Chinese Family Relaxing In Park Together

What’s the difference between ZH-HK & ZH-TW (Important for Audio/Video)

People in Hong Kong and Taiwan write and read the same text – Chinese Traditional. However, if you ever visit these two areas, you’ll notice that they speak two “totally different languages!” Hong Kong residents speak Cantonese, while people in Taiwan speak Mandarin.
Why is it like this?
It may appear confusing for non-Chinese speakers. But consider it this way: Chinese Simplified and Chinese Traditional are two different written forms of Chinese text, while Cantonese and Mandarin are two oral “dialects” spoken by Chinese people.
Remember, people in Hong Kong and Taiwan write and read the same text, Chinese Traditional, but there’s a difference between the ZH_HK (Chinese text in Hong Kong) and ZH_TW (Chinese text in Taiwan). ZH_HK and ZH_TW have been evolving on their own this past century and developed a great number of terms unique to their language environment. This is especially the case in modern documents.

Target/Readership: Spoken/Written:
Hong Kong, Macau Cantonese/Traditional
People’s Republic of China Mandarin/Simplified
Singapore Mandarin/Simplified
Taiwan Mandarin/Traditional
United States Cantonese or Mandarin/Traditional

A few examples:

English ZH-HK ZH-TW
Abandon 遺棄 捨棄
Because 因為 因著
Chose 選擇 揀選
If 如果 若果
Information  資料 資訊
Justice 公正 公義
Pay attention 注意 關顧
Picture 圖片 圖案
Rely 依賴 藉著
Screen 銀幕 螢幕
Through 通過 透過


In Hong Kong, people can read Taiwan-style Chinese text and in Taiwan, people can read Hong Kong-style text – they can understand the content without any problem, but that won’t make them as comfortable as reading the text in their own language style.


The tone of wording is also slightly different. When we say ZH-HK, we must make the text read suitably for Cantonese speakers. When we provide ZH-TW documents, we adapt it to Mandarin tongues.


Therefore, for those texts with great significance and extreme cultural sensitivity, for example the ads and important marketing brochures, we need to at least get them read through by the “native speakers” residing in either Hong Kong or Taiwan to ensure your text delivers the right subtle feeling to the targeted audience.


Don’t worry if you don’t have a 100% grasp of all the intricacies of language in the Chinese market, because Yavaway and our linguists do. We’ll translate your material into the correct form, depending on where the material will be read or heard/watched. You can count on Yavaway, the only dedicated language service provider for the Network Marketing Industry, to ensure your material is translated into the right language form.
The information above was provided by Mr. Wu, a Chinese translator, with over 10 years intensive experience in the industry.

Contact Yavaway Today

Get your project translated tomorrow.