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Would a Korean person be able to more-or-less understand written modern Chinese (i.e. not traditional Chinese)? I know very little about either language, other than that written Korean started with Chinese characters and now has significant additions/differences.

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Younger Korean people (under 40) nowadays have very limited knowledge of Hanja (Chinese characters) in general, many of them only being able to read few Hanja that are relatively common. So it's not very likely that a Korean in the younger generation in the present day can get a gist of what is written in Chinese. (However, some younger people, especially those who are highly educated in subjects such as history or Korean literature are still very much literate in Hanja.)

However, educated people over 40 have lived through the days when many Hanja were still very commonly used in daily life. For example, below is a picture of a newspaper from 1986, which you can see is filled with Hanja.

enter image description here

So for the average person, it is likely that they can read many of the Hanja (Hanzi) that are used in modern simplified Chinese texts. Since many of the simplified Chinese characters are the same or similar to the traditional ones, depending on the text, if they really try, it's possible to guess what the subject of the piece of writing is about.

For example, here's a random headline from a mainland Chinese newspaper:

冰岛发生火山喷发

The first two characters, "冰岛" which means "Iceland" (literally "ice" (冰/氷) + "island" (岛/島)), and "火山" which means "volcano" (literally "fire" (火) + "mountain" (山)) are recognizable to Koreans who have knowledge in Hanja. From this, they can guess that this article is about a volcano in Iceland.

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  • Hmm, personally I think it's a stretch for an average Korean to infer 冰岛 ("ice" + "island") => Iceland. 火山 is spot on, though.
    – jick
    Commented Feb 21 at 21:18
  • Great answer! Thank you.
    – Jim Clay
    Commented Feb 28 at 15:06

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