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Does Everyone in China Understand Mandarin?

In China, Mandarin is known as Putonghua, which means "the common tongue." But in reality, Mandarin is far from being universally spoken. A 2013 report from China's Education Ministry revealed that some 400 million people -- about 30% of the country's population -- do not speak or understand much Mandarin at all. Although Mandarin (also known as Standard Chinese) is China's only official language, there are hundreds of other languages and dialects spoken throughout the world's most populous (and third-largest) country. Many Chinese dialects are mutually unintelligible. For decades, the Chinese government has tried to promote Mandarin as a unifying force throughout the large and diverse nation, but many regions and ethic groups have maintained strong support for their own mother tongues, such as Cantonese and Shanghainese.

A not-so-common tongue:

  • The Chinese government does seem to be making progress with popularizing Mandarin, however, as it was reported in 2004 that only 53% of the population spoke Mandarin, compared with 70% in 2013.
  • There are about 960 million native Mandarin speakers in China. Wu (which includes Shanghainese), Min, and Yue (which includes Cantonese) are native languages for 80 million, 70 million, and 60 million people in China, respectively.
  • Around 1.2 billion people (that's 16% of the global population) speak some form of Chinese as their native language.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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