|Taipei Main Station uses the Simplified (台) instead of (臺)|
This is the way that many of us look at the world of Chinese characters, especially as a student of Mandarin Chinese. Teachers don't generally talk about Hong Kong, or talk about what might be useful if you're living near a strong overseas Chinese community. The options we have, from the very beginning, feel political.
Anyone who pretends the argument isn't about politics is fooling themselves. Putting that aside however, language learners still tend to focus on studying one form or the other until the inevitable day arrives when you stumble upon a website, a Facebook message, a Tweet, or even a book that uses the other character system.
For those readers who have spent time in Mainland China, you'll know that you are bound to run into Traditional Chinese characters from time to time. Places like restaurants, temples and museums are notorious for having the Traditional versions of some characters, and while guessing the meaning (of a character you might already know in the Simplified form) can be somewhat of a challenge, you eventually get used to it. However, things are little different here in Taiwan, because everything is already in Traditional characters, or at least we like to think so. But then you start to notice some little inconsistencies on the streets, Simplified characters are here too if you look hard enough. The first time I noticed it was at Taipei Main Train Station, where the Simplified "台"(Tái) took the place of the Traditional "臺" in the Chinese for 台北(Táiběi).
As time went on I began to notice a few other similar instances of Simplified characters being used. Two of the most prominent examples are found on Taiwan Mobile's street signs, and on the cans and bottles of Taiwan Beer, where the Simplified "湾"(wān) is used instead of the Traditional "灣" (pictured below).
|Showed using the Simplified （湾）instead of the Traditional （灣).|
"(rough translation)We don't consider it to be a Simplified character, its more like those other company trademarks (logos). It is meant to bring the bottle to life, it curls and winds. Its design is to make the character stand out from the others, and give it a more visual sense."While the answer sounds like the perfect marketing response when put under pressure, I would like to posit that there is nothing wrong with using these Simplified characters in the first place, because they aren't political, they're just simplified. The character 湾 much like 台 has actually been in use since the Song and Yuan Dynasties, and are part of a Simplified character group known as the 宋元以來俗字, a group of nonstandard characters, or a demotic writing system used by the common people of the time. A book entitled 《宋元以來俗字譜》，or "A Glossary of Popular Chinese Characters Since Song and Yuan Dynasties" actual researched and outlined 6,240 of these kinds of characters and published the results in 1930 (more info can be found here).
These characters are actually referred to as 簡化字 (jiǎnhuàzì) in Chinese, but are often translated into English just as Simplified characters, where as perhaps something like abbreviated characters might better capture the meaning. Some other such characters that are in common usage today in Mainland China include (but are not limited to):
实、宝、礼、声、 会、怜、怀、搀、罗、听、万、庄、梦、阳、虽、医、 凤、义、乱、皱、台、办、战、归、党、辞、断While over 330 of these abbreviated characters have been worked into the system we know call "Simplified Chinese," which is used by the UN and the People's Republic of China, it is clear that their origin goes well beyond this past half-century. Furthermore, many people, even here in Taiwan, use many of these abbreviated characters when taking pen to paper. In that way then, what better choice is there than to use the "common mans" character on something as common and everyday as beer or a cellphone?
So, next time you come across a Simplified character here in Taiwan, I hope your first thought is historical, rather than political, cause many of these Characters have been around a lot longer than people who have been arguing about whether they should be studying Simplified or Traditional.