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The Languages of China

The Han people have their own spoken and written language.  Chinese belongs to the Han-Tibetan language family.  It is the most commonly used language in China, and one of the most commonly used languages in the world.

Written Chinese emerged in its embryonic form of carved symbols approximately 6,000 years ago.  The Chinese characters used today evolved from those used in bone and tortoise shell inscriptions more than 3,000 years ago and the bronze inscriptions produced soon after.


Drawn figures were gradually reduced to patterned stroke, pictographs were reduced to symbols, and the complicated graphs became simpler.  Early pictographs and ideographs were joined by pictophonetic characters.

In fact, there are six categories of Chinese characters: pictographs, self-explanatory characters, associative compounds, pictophonetic characters, phonetic loan characters, and mutually explanatory characters.

Chinese words are monosyllabic.  A large proportion of Chinese characters are composed of an ideogramatic element combined with a phonetic element.

Many non-Chinese sometimes get the feeling that there are an unlimited number of Chinese characters.  There are about 56,000 characters, of which only about 3,000 are in common use.  In addition to their functional value as symbols for records and communication, Chinese characters have an aesthetic value as calligraphy.

All of China's 55 minority people have their own languages, except the Hui and Manchu, who use Chinese; 23 of these have a written form.  Nowadays, classes in schools in predominantly national minority areas are taught in the local language, using local language textbooks.  

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