Around Asia: Nearly one-third of China’s population unable to speak Mandarin

More than 400 million Chinese – or 30% of the population – cannot speak the country’s national language, China’s education ministry said.

Only 70% of the population can speak Mandarin. Still, most have a poor grasp of the language, according to Xu Mei, a ministry spokeswoman.

The report comes as the ruling Communist Party launched another push for linguistic unity in China, home to thousands of dialects and several minority languages.

Efforts to promote Mandarin, formally called Putonghua – “common tongue” – has been languishing, due to the country’s sheer size and lack of investment in education, especially in poor rural areas.

Cantonese and Hokkien are also spoken in several Chinese regions. Some dialects are often unintelligible, creating a virtual barrier among the Chinese themselves.

“The country still needs to invest in promoting Mandarin,” Xu was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

This year’s government efforts will focus on the countryside and areas with ethnic minorities, Xu added.

However, ethnic groups have long contended the promotion of Mandarin – one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world.

In 2010, Tibetans protested against the encouragement of speaking in Mandarin, saying it would stamp out their culture and language.

By: Maesie Bertumen

Image: clemmac/Flickr

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