400 Million Chinese Can’t Speak Mandarin

400 Million Chinese Can’t Speak Mandarin

Reuters reported today that China’s ruling Communist Party have stated that more than 400 million Chinese citizens are unable to speak the national language – Mandarin. They went on to state that a large proportion of the population that can speak the language, speak it badly.

China’s ruling Communist Party has promoted Mandarin for decades to unite a nation with thousands of often mutually unintelligible dialects and numerous minority languages. However, the project has not been as successful as the government hoped due to a lack of investment in education, particularly among the rural poor.

Officials have admitted they will probably never get the whole country to be able to speak Mandarin, formally called Putonghua in China, meaning “common tongue”, suggesting everyone should be able to speak it.

Ministry of Education spokeswoman Xu Mei stated that only 70% of the country could speak Mandarin, many of them poorly, and the remaining 30% or 400 million people could not speak it at all, Xinhua news agency reported.

This is a huge number of people even when considering it as a percentage of the total Chinese population – currently estimated at just over 1.3 billion.

“The country still needs to invest in promoting Mandarin,” it quoted her as saying, ahead of an annual campaign to promote Mandarin held every year since 1998.

“This year the ministry will focus on the remote countryside and areas inhabited by ethnic minorities,” Xu said.

The promotion of Mandarin has long been a contentious issue in China, despite the practical benefits of having the entire population fluent in one tongue, and in some cases has led to violent unrest.


  • Louis

    In my humble opinion, having citizens nationwide speak a common language is as essential as promoting national economy. I don’t think it’s tyrannizing to the citizens or means to eliminate dialects spoken by minorities. On the other hand, it is a way to unite citizens from different regions and ethnicity. I suggest that the government not force citizens to speak Mandarin solely but make them bilingual – fluent in both the official language and their dialects. If not, the nation would fall apart, unable to communicate among one another.

    • translatemedia

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Louis.

      It seems that it’s probably just a case of providing universal access to education and working with communities to bridge the language divides.