Can someone pls explain Mandarin vs Chinese vs "Standard Chinese"? How many people actually speak standard mandarin?

I do not understand this stat:

““About 70 percent of the total population can speak Putonghua, and 95 percent of the literate population knows how to use standard Chinese characters. However, only 10 percent [of that 70 percent] can speak standard Putonghua fluently,” Li told reporters on Sunday at an event promoting “linguistic unity,” held in Shijiazhuang, Hebei.”"

only 10% of people speak fluent “standard chinese” while the vast majority of chinese speak “mandarin”. This makes no sense to me.

Every chinese person tells me that Chinese = mandarin and everyone learns it, but it also says on wikipedia that: ." Many local Mandarin varieties are not mutually intelligible. Nevertheless, Mandarin is often placed first in any list of languages by number of native speakers (with nearly a billion)."

Can somebody who speaks or has lived in China please clear this up for me. Is everyone in china only semi proficient in mandarin and using it as a lingua franca or what. If someone learns the standard version, say, that is taught on lingq, how many people will actually be able to communicate with in that language?

Thank you.

Geez, Bloomberg is kinda exaggerating with that 10% figure. They’re probably using “Standard Chinese” to refer to those news reporter pronunciations that are near “perfect” so eg. distinguishing every single “shi” and “si”, “yin” and “ying”…and the list goes on. (That is the Mandarin you see in most Lingq lessons, especially beginner)

Based on my trips to Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Beijing, almost everyone in urban areas under 60 years old will speak Standard Mandarin, often accented, but is understandable across China, with differences in accents between say, migrant workers and age. Many Chinese people do business across the country, so it becomes inevitable for them to be able to speak it fluently. :stuck_out_tongue:

In the countryside, that figure probably decreases significantly, but younger people (under 35) I’ve encountered in rural Anhui (Huangshan) and Jiangsu almost all unanimously can speak Mandarin that I understand. Don’t know about places like Yunnan with many ethnic minorities.

So I would say that at least 70% of people in all of China (and 95%+ in urban areas) can speak Mandarin (albeit not with a godly perfect accent), and about 95+% is able to understand it. So keep learning your Chinese (Mandarin)!

That Wikipedia article is referring to regional dialects. Basically anywhere in China you will have a native dialect. In the north, they’re called 北方话 and are closer to Mandarin so Wikipedia is referring to them as “Mandarin varieties” but unless if you’re listening to the Beijing Dialect (which just adds a smothering of 儿’s everywhere), you will have a lot of trouble understanding anyone speaking an authentic dialect anywhere. Just try understanding this video of Chinese dialects below.
(and no I’m not trying to promote my own video :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: )

“Geez, Bloomberg is kinda exaggerating with that 10% figure.”

Bloomberg is just quoting official Chinese government figures, and the figures are pretty accurate, imo.

Also, it is 10% of 70% – so just 7%.


The majority of people that can speak MSM, very well, are mainly limited to central Harbin and some surrounds. Some 60% of CCTV anchors come from Harbin.

The terms being contrasted here are : “可以用比较标准的普通话顺畅沟通的现实” (7%) — vs— plain old “会说普通话” (63%) —vs— (presumably) fangyan/topolects (30%).

I don’t speak Chinese nor have I lived in China, but this is how I understand it.

Simply put, there are many Chinese dialects, but (Mainland China) Mandarin is chiefly spoken in the north, including Beijing; Cantonese (or more correctly, Yue) in the south, including Hong Kong. Pǔtōnghuà is essentially Beijing dialect, which has become the standard.

When it comes to writing, all publications throughout China today essentially write in this standard Chinese — except in dialogue (such as comic strips) or direct quotes, which of course would be colloquial dialect — and all use the same standard Chinese characters, so most of today’s writing can be understood, regardless of differences in dialect.

And as for your concerns, if you learn to speak Mainland China Mandarin, even with a severe accent, and write in standard Chinese, you should be able to communicate with lots and lots of people.

I was just speaking from my personal experience of living in Shanghai and the surrounding provinces. Maybe I should plan a trip to Harbin, and more inland regions in the coming future :smiley:

Also, that article from the Chinese government is intended to “推广普通话” so it is likely to contain a bit of bias :wink:

Yeah, also I think a broader intent to, both, promote standard mandarin and ring a death knell for topolects. Especially, Cantonese.

This video explains the issue of Chinese vs Mandarin vs Puthonghua nicely and in detail:

It falls into the “characters as logograms” misunderstanding, though, as most commentators