We refer to “Chinese” as the standard language known as “Mandarin” in Western countries, “Putonghua” in mainland China and “Guoyu” in Taiwan, but there are many regional dialects spoken by Chinese people, as well as other languages spoken by ethnic minorities. Nowadays, Chinese has two different methods of writing, simplified form (简体字) and traditional form (繁体字). Essentially, the difference between both forms is cosmetic. Each version of a character has the same meaning and it is pronounced in the same way. However, due to historical and geopolitical reasons, each form is associated to the Chinese used in different areas, each one having its own characteristics in usage and vocabulary, much like the different variations of English that are used in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, etc.
Traditional Chinese has its origin directly from the written form of Chinese. It is easy to tell the difference with the simplified form because most characters look very complicated and are composed of more signs than their simplified counterparts. Traditionally, Chinese was written vertically from top to bottom and from right to left, and sometimes horizontally from right to left. It is only in recent decades that Chinese, influenced by Western languages, has been written from left to right.
Currently, Traditional Chinese is the official written language in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao, each with its own idioms and vocabulary.
The history of Simplified Chinese is comparatively short. Although there were some scholars that proposed a simplification of the writing system in the 1920s and even earlier, it wasn’t until 1956 when the State Council of the PRC implemented and promoted a nation-wide reform, with the purpose of improving literacy among the Chinese population. Nowadays the simplified form is officially used in Mainland China and Singapore.