Originally Posted by rainbow kirby
Wasn't it because the Communists thought the traditional system was 'decadent' because it was used in the times of the emperors?
The Communists inherited an illiterate country. In order to ease the task of teaching the masses to read and write, they embarked on an ambitious program of language reform.
A lot of research and effort was put into this task by scholars of the language. One useful result was the pinyin system, which was intended for teaching young children Chinese without burdening them straight away with characters.
Simplification of characters was another important aim and it was done in several stages. Often, the simplified character is just the handwritten version of the printed version. In these cases, it's really just a matter of formalising the natural evolution of the characters - nothing new was invented.
In other cases, various characters or parts of characters with the same pronunciation were replaced by a single character. Again this mirrors what has happened in the historical evolution of the character system.
I think the simplification process was well thought-out and largely reasonable. I know there are particular examples which seem unfortunate (like 'ai' (love) or 'long' (dragon)) but simplified Chinese seems to me a lot cleaner in its printed form and certainly more pleasant to learn. The characters I see in HK look too "busy" and crowded to me. Less beautiful.
Of course, this is all from the point-of-view of someone who does not natively speak Chinese and who has studied Mandarin/simplified characters. So my opinion is probably biased.
Interestingly, the Communists orginally intended to go much further with language reform. There was another round of character simplification that was abandoned, as far as I recall. Also, Mao's personal opinion was that the Chinese language had somehow stalled in its natural and inevitable development into a fully phonetic language. So his intention was ultimately to replace the character system with pinyin.
There does not seem to be any prospect of further top-down changes these days though.
An interesting question is how long you think it will take before HK adopts simplified characters