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Which variety of Chinese do I need?

Chinese characters

Which variety of Chinese do I need?

Are you thinking of translating your marketing materials or product documentation into Chinese? Do you know the varieties of Chinese that exist?

On a fairly regular basis, we receive requests from customers who are looking to translate their content into Mandarin or Cantonese. We then have to explain that Mandarin is actually a term that refers to a spoken language. It is not possible to write a document “in Mandarin”. This language is used in most of the People’s Republic of China and in Taiwan. A Beijing speaker therefore has no trouble speaking to a Taiwanese person, as both of them usually use Mandarin. Cantonese is also a spoken language, common in southern China, but Mandarin Chinese has been the country’s official language since 1912.

However, there are two ways of reflecting Chinese in a written document: traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.

Differences between traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese

Traditional Chinese —as the name suggests— is the oldest. The characters of traditional Chinese have been used without major changes for 2000 years, and archaic representations of many of these characters existed 3000 years ago. Today, it is still commonly used in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. The integration of Hong Kong and Macao into the People’s Republic of China has not meant that these cities have been forced to use simplified characters, and even companies from mainland China that market their products in Hong Kong use traditional characters on packaging and in product documentation for distribution in this market.

The so-called simplified Chinese was developed in the People’s Republic of China from the 1950s and is also predominant in Singapore. It is a simplified version of traditional Chinese that was designed to facilitate the literacy of this immense country, thanks to its less complex nature and the lower number of strokes in the characters.

Aspects to consider when translating into Chinese

What other aspects should be considered when translating into Chinese?

An initial point is the font, the typeface. The same font used in the original document written in a European language cannot be kept, and another one must be chosen that is compatible with the thousands of different characters, referred to as ideograms, used in Chinese. But don't worry, if you don't know which font to use in your materials in Chinese, we can advise you and recommend one that is suitable.

Advertising materials in Chinese

Another key point, especially in advertising materials, is compliance with the strict Chinese regulations on advertising, which include severe penalties. Superlatives such as “the best” or “the most advanced” are not permitted, nor is it legal “to go against good social norms”, something that can be difficult to determine if you don't have a certain knowledge of the cultural context of this great country. With the help of STAR's offices in China, we can review your marketing materials and ensure you comply with the stringent local regulations.


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