Chinese characters aren't that hard to learn. I learnt them (a subset anyway) while learning Japanese. It took about 3 years of reasonably intense study to be able to pick up and read a novel without too much difficulty. After 2 years I could generally approach newspaper articles. Newspapers are generally one of the easiest written mediums to approach. While there are several thousand characters in use, there is a relatively small subset of frequently used characters. Additional most characters are formed in a regular fashion from simpler characters. Probably the most common form being one phonetic part to indicate the reading and one semantic part to indicate the meaning.
Chinese (apparently) has more characters in common use than Japanese but the difficulty does not scale linearly with the number of characters and Japanese adds the significant complication of having phonetic (Chinese derived) readings and often multiple, irregular native Japanese readings per character, and huge numbers of irregular readings for combinations of characters.
One interesting side affect of characters having semantic meaning is that it often makes the meaning of words even new to the reader, immediately obvious. Especially for science and technology related vocabulary the meanings of words rendered in Chinese characters is often much clearer and more immediately obvious than that of English words derived from Latin/Greek. As an extreme example I can often comprehend Chinese (esp. when written in traditional characters) even though I do not speak Chinese