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Traditional or Simplified? Mandarin or Cantonese?

Traditional or Simplified? Mandarin or Cantonese?

Are you confused?

You don’t need to be a futurist to see that Chinese consumers, with their ever increasing wealth, will be even more important customers in years to come. Domestically, they’re important too. Over 600,000 people in Australia speak a Chinese language. Mandarin is now Australia’s most spoken language other than English.

But marketing your product or service to Chinese consumer may seem daunting at first. Cultural issues need to be considered. At the very least there’s the issue of language. Until we can communicate via image only, let’s tackle some of the most common questions:

  • What’s the difference between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese?
  • What’s the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese?
  • When do you we use what?

Q: What’s the difference between Traditional and Simplified Chinese?

This refers to Chinese writing – which is in characters.

Traditional Chinese characters date back 2,200 years ago to the Han Dynasty. During the 1950s the government in China implemented the First Chinese Character Simplification Scheme, with reduced number of strokes – this is what is now more commonly referred to as Simplified Chinese.

Key difference between Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese:

  • Simplified Chinese has less stokes, i.e. Traditional: 萬 Simplified:
  • One Simplified character could have the meaning of several Traditional characters (polysemy) i.e. one Simplified character of 复 could subtitle a range of Traditional characters including 複, 復 and 覆

Since not all the characters are different, most of the time readers could guess the meaning by only understanding parts of the sentence. However, there is a risk of misunderstanding.

Q: What’s the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese?

They refer to the two most spoken form of Chinese (there are in fact another 20 spoken dialects in China). Cantonese has nine tones while Mandarin only has four, which leads some to argue it’s easier for Cantonese speaker to learn Mandarin, but harder the other way around.

Cantonese speakers and Mandarin speakers would have a hard time understanding each other given the huge difference in tones. That’s why when producing radio or TV advertising or any other communication involving the spoken language, you should cater for the relevant language preference.

Q: So Mandarin speakers use Simplified Chinese and Cantonese speakers use Traditional Chinese?

Not really.

That’s a major misconception. Those from Southern China use Cantonese but write Simplified. Those from Taiwan speak Mandarin but write in Traditional Chinese. The only thing you can be sure of is that people from mainland China use Simplified Chinese characters.

Q: Traditional, Simplified, Cantonese and Mandarin – when should we use what?

Here’s a list of preference for key Asian countries with a large proportion Chinese speakers.

  • China: Simplified / Mandarin
  • Hong Kong: Traditional / Cantonese
  • Macau: Traditional / Cantonese
  • Taiwan: Traditional / Mandarin
  • Singapore: Simplified/ Mandarin
  • Malaysia: Traditional / Mandarin

In Australia, Chinese language media are a mix of all of these, depending on their audience. So your advertising material should match the language used. The Australian Chinese Daily uses Traditional Chinese characters, so your advertising should match that. Radio 2AC broadcasts in Mandarin. The majority of Australia’s local online publishers use Simplified Chinese.

As a very, very general rule, most Chinese print media use Traditional characters, for online it’s Simplified and for radio it’s an even 50/50.

Lunar / Chinese New Year Survival Kit

Lunar / Chinese New Year Survival Kit

It’s not quite new year yet for over 1.1m people in Australia.

For some Asian-Australians, the New Year is still to come. For them, New Year doesn’t start until Thursday, 19 February 2015.

If you have friends, work colleagues or clients who celebrate “Chinese New Year or “Lunar New Year”, we’ve compiled a concise Lunar/Chinese New Year Surival Kit, with all you need to know, including:

  • What is it called? Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year?
  • How do you celebrate?
  • New Year gift ideas
  • Taboos to avoid
  • Popular New Year Greetings and how to say them

Chinese New Year / Lunar New Year / Spring Festival – Say What?!

Relax. They all refer to the same festival.

It is called the Lunar New Year because the Chinese use the lunar calendar – based on moon phases. The date of Lunar New Year falls on a different day each on our calendar because our calendar is based on the solar phases.

Generally, the new Lunar year begins between late January and mid February in our Calendar.

And to further clarify the matter, the Government of People Republic of China officially named it “Spring Festival” (春节) to distinguish it from the Western New Year. While it’s a three day public holiday, the officially festival lasts 15 days, one full moon cycle. The festival is not exclusively celebrated in China (including Hong Kong, Macau), but also by many other Asian countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and Korea. Of course, this celebration is spreading across the globe with diaspora communities, particularly of those from China, Vietnam and Korea.

Be mindful though, “Happy Chinese New Year” may not be appropriate if you are greeting with Vietnamese or Korean, in such case, “Happy Lunar New Year” would be a better phrase.

When is New Year’s Day?

This year, New Year starts on Thursday, 19 February 2015.

What animal is it this year?

For Chinese, the zodiac animal for 2015 can be Sheep, Ram or Goat – the Chinese character for these animals. For Vietnamese, it’s only known as the year Goat.

So depending on the culture, expect to hear that 2015 is the year of the Sheep or Ram or Goat.

How to celebrate?

  • Making loud noises: dragon dance, lion dance, firecracker, fireworks, music (especially percussion) to ward off evil – watch the story of Nian video above.
  • Lots of red: why not another color? See the story of Nian
  • New things: for the New Year: new clothes, new home, new furniture. It’s about starting a whole new chapter
  • Start the new year with luck: understand your Chinese Zodiac and be mindful of the Chinese New Year taboos. Luck is not passive, you can do things to help improve it in the new year.
  • Abundant feasting: full days and nights of feasts! Food like noodles (symbolic food of long lasting life and luck) and dumplings (the gold ingot shape helps to retain wealth) are key mascots on the feast table for New Year!
  • It’s about family: family gathering and reunion.
  • It’s about thanksgiving: giving thanks and sending blessings to your family and friends

Lunar New Year Gift Ideas

Give red envelope ( Simplified Chinese: 紅包 ; Traditional Chinese: 利是). There must be something worthy in the red envelope, i.e. for kids, it could be a candy. Giving an empty envelope would be regarded as bad luck since it’s “空” (empty) which is similar to the sounds of “凶” (bad luck/danger).

It’s a custom for seniors to give red envelope to the juniors, particularly parents to unmarried children. However, children may also give envelopes to the elderly parents. Relax, you’re not expected to give red envelopes to work colleagues. However, during prosperous times, bosses give a red envelope as a bonus to employees.

If you’re invited to a New Year party: bring either alcohol, tea, candies, tobacco, fruit (except for pears, it sounds similar to the word “separate”). Good thing comes in pairs so bonus points for bringing even numbers of gifts, such as 2 tins of tea.

For those who are in their Zodiac Year   (犯太): If it’s the zodiac year of your loved one, give them something they can wear or use each day that’s red in color. That should protect them from the bad luck they may face in their year. Consider bracelets, clothes, underwear or socks. See the website about Chinese New Year zodiac above for more information.


As always, it’s just not about the do’s but also be mindful of the don’ts

  • Avoid everything that associated with the number “4” as the sound in Chinese is similar to “death”
  • Anything that’s in black/white/light blue. They are funeral colours
  • No Books, In Chinese, “book” has the similar sound of “lose”
  • The worst gift idea: clock. it has the meaning of “attending the funeral”
  • Avoid any sharp object, e.g. knives, scissors, as they symbolize cutting ties
  • Don’t throw anything away in the first few day of the New Year period as you may also throw your luck away. That goes for sweeping the floor, in case you sweep out your luck.

Lunar New Year Greetings

If you want to impress your cultural diverse friends, colleagues or clients, learn more than just the standard greeting messages. Download the following common Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean greetings to your smartphone and keep them handy!

Year of Sheep special in Mandarin (to include the sound of “sheep” into the greetings):

Start strong in the New Year! (三陽開泰)

A new fresh year! (新春飛掦)

Full of joy! (羊年喜洋洋)

Strong business business performance! (生意洋洋得意)


Vietnamese Lunar New Year (Tết) greetings in Vietnamese:

Happy New Year! (Chúc mừng năm mới)

All wishes come true! (Vạn sự như ý)

Wish you a wealthy new year! (Năm mới tấn tài tấn lộc)


Korean Lunar New Year greetings in Korean:

Happy New Year! (신년을 축하합니다)

Bless your New Year! (새해 복 많이 받으세요)


2015 Lunar New Year – where the action’s at in Sydney?

2015 Lunar New Year – where the action’s at in Sydney?

A whole list of awesomeness await…

7 Feb – 29 March Sydney: Chinese New Year Festival, City of Sydney
In its 19th year, the Festival is organised by the City of Sydney and is by far the largest Lunar New Year celebration in NSW; from entertainment, arts, food, markets, tours and workshops.  Popular events include Dragon Boat Races, Chinese New Year Markets and Twilight Parade.

14 Feb Hurstville, Lunar New Year Festival, Hurstville Council
Hurstville City Council welcomed in the Year of the Sheep with a spectacular Street Festival held on Saturday, 14 February 2014 along Forest Road, Hurstville.

14 Feb Chatswood, St.George Longest Lunar New Year Lunch Table
It is not just any feast, but the longest one! 60 hungry diners will enjoy a 10-course Din Tai Fung feast at Australia’s Longest Lunar New Year Table.

14 Feb Saigon Place, Bankstown, Lunar New Year Festival, Bankstown Council
All of the traditional elements will be there including lion dances, lucky envelopes given by the God of Good Fortune, New Year card making, New Year flower making and Chung cake making classes. Calligraphy by the Learned Scholar and fruit carving demonstrations are always popular but it is The New Year Garden that continues to delight festival goers.

20 Feb Church St Mall, Parramatta: Lunar New Year Festival, Parramatta Council
From 4.30pm, celebrate the Year of the Goat with live entertainment, traditional and contemporary cultural music and dance, delicious food stalls including all your authentic favourites, kid’s activities and the spectacular Chinese dragon and lion dance with fire crackers.

20 Feb King Street Place, Rockdale: Chinese New Year Festival, Rockdale Council
Lunar New Year (formerly known as Chinese New Year) is held annually in King Street Place, Rockdale in celebration of the City’s Australian-Asian community. The event features Dragon and Lion Dances, stalls, traditional performances, authentic food and children’s activities.

20 Feb Lane Cove Plaza, Lunar New Year Festival, Lane Cove Council
Join Council from 4.30pm as it hosts a special Lunar New Year Celebration including a Chinese lion dance that parades through the Plaza to bring good fortune to all. Children will also receive their own lai see (lucky red envelope) for extra good luck.

21 Feb Cabramatta Freedom Plaza: Lunar New Year Festival, Fairfield Council
A lower-key event compared to the Council’s huge Moon Festival, this one has a Vietnamese flavour.  The event will be an action-packed weekend filled with entertainment, traditional rituals and, if you’re feeling a little peckish, you’ll find some of the most authentic Asian dishes in Sydney.

21 Feb Chatswood Mall: Chinese New Year Festival, Willoughby Council
An official opening will be at 11am by the Mayor of Willoughby and the Chairperson from the Chinese Cultural Centre NSW. A Lion and Dragon Dance will welcome the New Year, followed by an assortment of performances and entertainment.

26 Feb Burwood Park, Burwood: Lunar New Year Festival, Burwood Council
Enter the gateway to the Asian food fair where vendors will be selling a variety of Asian food and merchandise, while performers including stilt walkers, spinning plates, calligrapher, God of Wealth, fire dancers and Lion Dancers roam through the crowd.

26 Feb Kogarah Town Square, Chinese New Year Festival, Kogarah Council
This annual celebration showcases the Chinese community through song and dance with the traditional ‘dotting of the eyes’, lion dance and crackers provided by Da Hong Kung-Fu. Other performers include: Ocean Dream Cultural Art Centre, St George Choir, St George Brass Band, Australia International Youth Talent Competition, Grace Chinese Christian Church, CASS Kogarah Activity Group Kogarah Chinese Seniors Group, and Sydney Music Ensemble.

27 Feb – 1 Mar Fairfield Showground, Fairfield, Tet/Lunar New Year Festival, Vietnamese Community
Organised by the Vietnamese Community in Australia (VCA), this is an annual fundraiser for them and the largest Vietnamese celebration in the state, attracting over 60,000 visitors. This is the one to go to if you want to see how the Vietnamese celebrate new year

28 Feb Calvert Street car park, off Illawarra Road, Marrickville: Lunar New Year Festival, Marrickville Council
Celebration of the Lunar New Year with the awakening of the Lions, live entertainment including traditional singing, dancing, musicians and martial arts. The Lions and the God of Wealth will also parade the Marrickville CBD blessing businesses and distributing traditional Red Envelopes.

28 Feb Eastwood Plaza, Eastwood Lunar New Year Festival, City of Ryde
2015 is the Year of the Sheep and Eastwood will host the annual celebrations for Lunar New Year. Come and join the party! Music and Chinese and Korean dance performances, high pole dancing lions, food stalls, fireworks and Eastwood’s longest dragon parade.