To Learn Mandarin is To Access a Continent

20 May

Learning to speak Standard Mandarin will give you access to China. But what does that mean? Let us take a look at what China is today, what it has been, and where the country and Standard Mandarin is going.

First let us clarify what we mean when we talk about the Chinese language. There are over 50 languages spoken in China today. The concept of Chinese is therefore more complicated than is the case for most languages. Standard Mandarin is probably what most people would consider the best candidate for the title of what Chinese means today, by sheer virtue of being the most spoken. But that has not always been the case. It has been artificially promoted by the central government because the country was in need of a unified mode of communication after the revolution. The benefits of this is obvious, but still mindboggling. Why was it that China needed to artificially promote one language? In other countries one language seems to have won this battle all by itself.

The answer is probably that China is not a country in the same what other nation states are countries. Over a fifth of mankind lives in China. In this respect China is much more similar to a continent than a country. In fact, to put this statement into context, China has the same amount of people as Russia, Europe and North America combined. Which, incidentally, have a combined total of about 30 official languages, to be contrasted with China’s 50. To complicate things further China does not have one grouping of people. Over the last 100 years there have been a trend making China more homogeneous, but there are still 50 distinguishable cultural groupings, down from 300, only 60 to 70 years ago.

China is also not one country in terms of its geographic environment. 20 to 25 of the worlds 50 most populous cities are located in The Middle Kingdom. At the same time, one of the world’s most desolate areas, the Gobi desert, occupies the entire center of the country. While some of China therefore is only a vast expanse of rocks and sand, some of it is Tundra. While most Chinese people live relatively close to the sea, over half of the Himalayas are located within Chinas borders.

Also in terms of development, China can hardly be classified as one country. Some of China’s urban zones are the world’s most progressive areas in the context of growth, these areas, which combined, account for only about 20 to 30 percent of all of China’s land, accounts for 70 to 80 percent of its growth. To put this idea into the light that it deserves: these 20 to 30 percent (about 1 to 1,5 percent of the worlds total land mass) accounted in 2010 for over 25 percent of global growth.

Another way in which China is not a country, in the same sense as other nations are countries, is the fact that China has between 4000 and 5000 years worth of history. China is more than 2 times older than the Roman Empire and 15 times older than The United States of America.

This history, the scope of the countries variation, in terms of development, geography and population and the fact that all these myriad of facets of human life can be reached by one language is breathtaking to me. Furthermore, it can only get more interesting. Today China is a growing power, and perhaps, in a global context, more so than it has ever been before. In the future, when a Chinese person earns the same an American person, Chinas economy will be four times larger. This is not going to happen overnight but within the next 20 to 30 years, the Chinese average annual income is going to grow faster than those of the developing world. When China’s wages are half of their US counterparts China’s economy will have double the weight of the US economy on global events. The worlds is currently going from a phase where it was dominated by one power, to more bi-polar world order, in the future it will be dominated by a new rising power. By then learning Mandarin will a lot more common.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin academy that is a great option for those that want to learn Chinese. If you are interested in more information about learning Chinese in China, please consult the website of Beijing Gateway Academy.

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