Overview of the Chinese Language

What type of Chinese is used in China?

The simple answer, and the answer you should know if you’re planning on marketing to Chinese consumers, is that the official language of China is Mandarin Chinese and it is written in “simplified” characters. Simplified Mandarin Chinese is used all across Mainland China from the biggest cities to the rural areas. It is used for government and business, it is used in school and at work, and it is used on TV, print media, radio and the Internet. There are over a billion people in the world and over 600 million Chinese Internet users that read this form of Chinese.

Unlike English, which is written with letters, Chinese is written with characters. Most modern Chinese words are composed of 1 or 2 characters. Because of this, Chinese words and sentences are usually shorter than their English counterparts. For example, the Chinese translation of the English word “accelerate” is “加速.” This is just one of the many reasons that Chinese websites are designed differently than English websites.

The complete answer to the question above is a bit more complex. Until the middle of the 20th century, “traditional” Chinese characters were used exclusively. Simplified characters were then made standard for the mainland beginning in the ‘50s. This resulted in simplified characters being used on the mainland while traditional characters continued to be used in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Many Chinese communities abroad also use traditional characters although simplified characters are becoming more and more common.

Simplified and traditional Chinese characters for the word fa
In some cases there are even two traditional character equivalents for one simplified character.

As for the spoken language, there are too many dialects in China to count. Some dialects, such as Cantonese and the Shanghai dialect, are so different from Mandarin that Mandarin speakers cannot understand them. Other dialects, such as the Nanjing dialect are understandable by Mandarin speakers for the most part. However, most speakers of such dialects also speak and understand Mandarin. Plus, all of these dialects can be written in both simplified and traditional Chinese characters.

To repeat, if you want to know which language to use to reach consumers in Mainland China, use Mandarin Chinese written in simplified characters.