Estimated native speakers: 1.3 billion
Estimated total speakers: 1.35 billion
Official/de facto official language in: People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, Macau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Singapore
Language family: Sino-Tibetan - Sinitic
A brief history:
About one-fifth of the world’s population speaks some variety of Chinese as their native language. For political and cultural reasons, Chinese people see the various languages spoken within China as dialects of a single Chinese language as opposed to separate languages, but there are significant differences in the spoken language across the country. The written language, however, is consistent all over China and is based on the most widely spoken form of Chinese: Mandarin (sometimes called Modern Standard Chinese).
Mandarin in the modern dialect of Beijing , spoken by around 850 million people as a mother tongue and many more as a second language. Until the mid-20th century, most southern Chinese only spoke their native local variety but this has changed greatly in recent years. The creation of an elementary school education system committed to teaching Modern Standard Chinese has spread the dominant language across most of the country, with the one notable exception being Hong Kong, where, after a century of British rule, Cantonese is still number one, although this is now changing.