China is situated in the eastern part if the Asian continent and is the third largest country in the world.
It covers a total area of approximately 9.6 million square kilometers and is a land of contrasts with deserts in the north, mountains in the south and cultivated areas in the east.
This vast land supports almost a quarter of the world’s population. Over one billion people of different races, traditions and cultures. Although the majority (about 94%of the population) is the Han people, there are fifty-five minority peoples, the largest among them being the Mongolians, the Tibetans, and the Zhuang.
Chinese culture was the cradle of the Japanese, Korean and some South East Asian cultures. The Ancient Chinese considered their country to be the centre of the world and called it Zhongguo, which literally means “The Middle Kingdom.”
The Chinese Language
There are variations in the language of China because of its great distances and the diversity of its people. Some minority people use their own language which differs from the traditional Chinese language. Those who use the traditional language (around 80% of the China population) have developed regional differences in pronunciation, words and grammar. There variations are called dialects. People who speak one dialect sometime find it difficult to understand the speech of someone who speaks another, Just as an Australian might have difficulty understand a strong Scottish accent, so too people who only speak Cantonese [guangdonghua 广东话] may have trouble talking with people who only speak the Min dialect [Fujianhua 福建话]. However, people who speak different dialects can always communicate with each other in the written language, which was unified by the First Emperor [Qin Shihuang 秦始皇] （221 -210BC）
Although the written Chinese language was the same, there were still problem in communication caused by the many dialects. To solve these problems in 1958, the Chinese Government proclaimed that a combination of the pronunciation used by the people of Beijing and other northern cities become the standard speech of China. This is called [Putonghua 普通话] – literally common speech – and is referred to as ‘Mandarin’ by Westerners. Putonghua (also called Hanyu ) – the language of the Han people) is now the language taught at school, used on TV and radio ,and in all official documents.
The written Chinese
Chinese is the oldest living language. It is believed that the history of Chinese writing spans over 5.000 or 6.000years. The earliest writings discovered, date between 1480 BC and 1122 BC, are inscribe in oracle bones and turtle shells, and are called Jiaguwen 甲骨文. These writings are the records of kings in the shang dynasty who asked the gods about their fortune for hunting, going to war or any important event. Some Chinese writing was developed from simple pictures taken form nature. Such as animals, birds, maintains and rivers. The style of writing was changed several times and gradually transformed into the characters used today.
Each Chinese character is pronounced as a single syllable and has its own meanings. Many ideas, thoughts and feeling are expressed by combining two or more simple characters to form a new character with a new meaning.
Two or more characters can also be used together to form a further meaning, but they remain separate characters.