This Fedex commercial gives a good illustration of how Chinese people can fail to understand each other. In a nutshell, more than 200 languages are spoken in China where 7 or 8 main regional groups of languages are more recognised and they share a common writing system. About one-fifth of the world’s population, or over one billion people, speak some variety of Chinese as their native language. Most Chinese spoke their native local variety of Chinese only before the People Republic of China (PRC) and Republic of China (ROC) government made Mandarin the National language and create a compulsory educational system committed to teaching Mandarin as a common language of communication in the mid-20th century. As a result, Mandarin is now spoken by virtually all young and middle-aged citizens of mainland China and Taiwan.
Yet, local dialects are still widely spoken in different parts of China. Like Cantonese (Yue), instead of Mandarin, is spoken in Guangdong province. Owing to its large Cantonese native and migrant populace, Cantonese was used in Hong Kong during the time of its British colonial period and remains today its official language of education, formal speech, and daily life.
To further standardise the spoken language in China, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) Guangzhou Committee proposed increasing Mandarin programming on Guangzhou Television’s main and news channels in July 2010. The proposal to diminish the use of local dialect backfired and triggered fierce criticism in Guangzhou and Hong Kong. In a formal response, Guangzhou TV rejected the proposal, citing “historic causes and present demands” as reasons for Mandarin-Cantonese bilingualism. Read more here.
The table and map below depicts the 7 main dialect groups within China, the geographical area these dialects are spoken in China and a Chinese movie in that dialect.
|Mandarin (includes Standard Chinese)||Guan; 官||c. 1.365 billion||PRC, ROC (Taiwan), Singapore||臥虎藏龍|
|Wu (includes Shanghainese)||Wu; 吴||c. 90 million||Shanghai; most of Zhejiang province; southern Jiangsu province; Anhui, Jiangxi & Fujian province||海上花|
|Yue (includes Cantonese & Taishanese)||Yue; 粤||c. 70 million||Guangdong Province, Hong Kong, Macau||無間道|
|Min (includes Hokkien, Taiwanese & Teochew)||Min; 閩||c. 50 million||Southern Fujian, Taiwan (known as Taiwanese or Hoklo), Southeast Asia (known as Hokkien)||悲情城市|
|Xiang (also known as Hunanese/ Sionglish)||Xiang; 湘||c. 36 million||Central and southwestern Hunan, Sichuan, & northern Guangxi||N/A|
|Hakka||Kejia; 客家||c. 35 million||Eastern Guangdong province; adjoining regions of Fujian and Jiangxi province||童年往事|
|Gan (also known as Jiangxinese)||Gan; 贛||c. 31 million||Central and northern Jiangxi, eastern Hunan, parts of Fujian, Anhui, Hubei||N/A|
Source: Wikipedia (Population figure is to be vertified)