Did you know that Han Chinese (Mandarin) is the most widely spoken language in the world? The need to learn Chinese Mandarin has certainly increased over the last two decades as China's booming population and increasing wealth have become more integrated in the global economy.
The People's Republic of China is one of the world's oldest civilizations. Most languages in China belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family, spoken by 29 ethnicities. There are also several major linguistic groups within the Chinese language itself. The most widely spoken varieties are Mandarin (spoken by over 70% of the population), Wu, Yue (Cantonese), Min, Xiang, Gan, and Hakka. Non-Sinitic languages that are widely spoken by ethnic minorities include Zhuang (Thai), Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur (Turkic), Hmong, and Korean. Check out our top 10 facts on Han Chinese language and culture below.
1. 汉语 means “Mandarin” in Chinese Mandarin. It literally means “Han language,” that is, the language of the Han people, which are the majority ethnic group who speak Mandarin. The Chinese characters are called 汉字 hàn zì. There are over 50,000 different characters!
2. Mandarin is the most widely-spoken form of Chinese, with 955 million speakers globally. It is the standard language spoken in China and taught in schools.
3. There are two types of character systems in China: simplified and traditional. Simplified characters are used by the majority of Mandarin speakers in mainland China and Singapore, while traditional characters are used by Mandarin speakers in Taiwan.
4. Mandarin is a tonal language, meaning the way you pronounce a syllable can change its meaning. Learn to pronounce the four tones in Chinese Mandarin from a native speaker so you don't accidentally call your mom a horse.
5. The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, begins each year on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Popular foods that people enjoy during the Moon festival include mooncakes, pumpkins, pomelos, duck, and wine with flowers.
6. The Chinese New Year typically occurs sometime between the end of January and the middle of February each year. It is China’s largest celebration and could be compared to Christmas or Thanksgiving in the United States, because it involves family reunions, plenty of food, and peace. The 2018 Chinese New Year marks the beginning of the Year of the Dog.
7. Lion dances are one of China’s oldest traditions and are performed during Chinese New Year and other spring festivals. The lion masks are oversized, giving the appearance of a dragon. Two dancers fill the costumes — one takes the head and front limbs, while the other takes the hind legs.
8. Rice and noodles are the most commonly eaten staples in Chinese cuisine. It is customary to eat long noodles on your birthday as they represent longevity, according to the InterNations' guide on China. You can bite through the noodles, but don’t cut them — this symbolizes cutting your life short! Other typical main dishes in China include sweet and sour pork, gong bao chicken, dumplings, wontons, chow mein, and spring rolls.
9. Handshakes are a common gesture for greeting, especially in a business setting. Verbal forms of address in Chinese culture vary according to the situation as well as profession or qualifications of the person that you are greeting.
10. Gifts are accepted with both hands. According to local experts at the Top China Travel agency, gifts should not be opened in front of the giver. Rather, customary ettiquete dictates that the recipient opens the gift later and then send back a gift or a thank-you message. If you can't contain your excitement when someone gives you a gift, you could ask the giver, "Would you mind if I opened this gift now?" For gift-givers, wrapping ettiquette is color-coded, with red wrapping paper for happy circumstances, white or black for funerals, and silver or gold for wedding gifts.
Interested in learning more about Chinese Mandarin language and culture? Learn to confidently speak Mandarin like a local with Mango's Mandarin language course. Log in or create a free profile with Mango to start learning Mandarin at home and on the go with our desktop, Android, and iOS apps.