News

400 million Chinese can’t speak national language

400 million Chinese can’t speak national language

A seven year-old boy, one of the youngest in the class, catches a nap during a reading lesson at the only school in the poor mountain village of Yanmaidi, in China's southwest Sichuan province Friday March 18, 2005. Children who normally speak the local Yi minority language often struggle to keep up with classes taught in Mandarin Chinese. Photo: Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) – More than 400 million Chinese are unable to speak the national language Mandarin, and large numbers in the rest of the country speak it badly, state media said on Thursday as the government launched another push for linguistic unity.

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, but has been hampered by the country’s size and lack of investment in education, especially in poor rural areas.

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 said that only 70 percent of the country could speak Mandarin, many of them poorly, and the remaining 30 percent or 400 million people could not speak it at all, Xinhua news agency reported.

“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 lead to violent unrest.

Tibetans have protested against having to use Mandarin in schools, while in 2010 several hundred people took to the streets in the southern city of Guangzhou over fears the authorities were trying to marginalize Cantonese.

Recent Headlines

in Local

Petition Effort To Restore Death Penalty Completed

vote

A referendum petition drive far exceeded the number of signatures needed to keep the repeal of the death penalty from taking effect...and to force a vote on the issue.

in Local

Authorities Seek To Control Mussels

zebra mussel

Now that growing numbers of zebra mussels have been confirmed in Lewis & Clark Lake, the focus changes to slowing the spread of the invasive animal.

in Local

South Dakota Students Above Average

education 2

A.C.T. scores from last spring’s testing have been released by the South Dakota Department of Education, and the states students continue to score above the national average.

in Local

School Districts Seek Additonal Funding

College Money Student

A record number of Minnesota school districts -- 66 at last count -- are asking voters to increase property taxes this year so they can construct new buildings.

in Local

Event To Prepare Meals

grocery bag

A volunteer effort billed as "the nation's largest food packaging event" kicks-off today in Des Moines.