What’s Mandarin and Simplified Chinese? What’s Cantonese and Traditional Chinese? No more confusion!


I have seen so many people who are confused about Mandarin, Cantonese, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese, even those in translation profession. So today I will clarify this once and for all.


Mandarin (oral Chinese) or Simplified Chinese (written Chinese) is the official language in mainland China.

Cantonese (oral Chinese) or Traditional Chinese (written Chinese) is an official language in Hong Kong along with English and a dialect in Guangdong province.

As a matter of fact, every city, even as small as an area, in China has its own local dialects. Cantonese is the dialect of Guangdong province. During the civil war, people from Guangdong province fled to Hong Kong and they brought their language to Hong Kong . Hence, Cantonese became an official language of Hong Kong .

Mandarin was the dialect mostly spoken in Beijing and northern China, also one of the 10 major dialects in China. It officially became the national language for China in 1911 after Dr. Sun Yat Sen overthrew the Qing Dynasty.

Why Chinese official language is called Mandarin?

Historically, the ruler of the Qing Dynasty, the last dynasty in China was an ethnic minority, called Manchu. And the language they spoke was Mandarin, which was widely adopted in Beijing. So, when Beijing dialect Mandarin was made the official language of China, the language was also being called Mandarin.

After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, chairman Mao decided to simplify Chinese characters. However, the policy wasn’t applied to Hong Kong, so Hong Kong / Cantonese still uses traditional Chinese characters.

So, in mainland China, you need a Mandarin interpreter or Simplified Chinese translator, and for HK, you need a Cantonese interpreter or traditional Chinese translator.

I work as a freelance Mandarin Chinese interpreter and Simplified Chinese translator. Feel free to message me or email me for Chinese <> English interpretation and translation services.

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