Picture Chinese

Chinese speaking countries

Chinese is an official language in Hong Kong, China, Macao, Taiwan and Singapore and is spoken in 20 other countries as monther tongue by a part of the population.

With 1.31 billion native speakers, Chinese has the highest prevalence in China. As a percentage of the total population, the largest share of around 95 percent is in Hong Kong. A total of about 1.4 billion people worldwide speak Chinese as their mother tongue.

Subdivision of Chinese Languages

The Chinese languages (also standardized as "Chinese") do not denote an independent language, but a group of languages based on the Sino-Tibetan and Tibetan-Burmese language families. All Chinese languages have a uniform script and are considered as a unit by the ISO 639-1 standard, among others.

The best-known and most widely used languages are Mandarin and Cantonese. The official language in China is "High Chinese," which is based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin. There are also other Chinese languages:

Mandarin is spoken by about 955 million people. The main distribution areas are in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Wu and Min each have about 75-80 million native speakers. Both languages are only spoken in Taiwan and some regions of China. Cantonese (also called "Yue") is the fourth-largest Chinese language with 70 million speakers, although it is only spoken in Hong Kong, Macao and neighbouring Chinese regions. The languages Gan, Jin, Hakka and Xiang are further, lesser-known languages with less than 50 million native speakers each and are spoken almost exclusively in individual regions of China.

Chinese languages abroad

The high spread of Chinese languages and dialects in Southeast Asian countries, as well as overseas, goes back to China's history. The south of China, especially the regions around the Pearl River Delta near Hong Kong, has been strongly influenced by trade and emigration for over 2,000 years. In the 19th century, numerous Chinese fled from poverty and unrest to neighbouring countries. The term "foreign Chinese" is used today not only to refer to emigrated Chinese, but also to those whose ancestors once lived in China. In 2005, the number of Chinese living abroad in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia was over six million each. In Thailand alone, the proportion of the population with at least partial Chinese ancestry is estimated at over 40 percent, although exact statistics are no longer possible to obtain due to the strong assimilation.

Distribution Chinese

CountryRegionOfficial languageDistributionTotal
ChinaEast Asiayes92.0 %1,311,617,000
TaiwanEast Asiayes87.5 %20,633,000
ThailandSoutheast Asiano12.3 %8,807,000
Hong KongEast Asiayes94.8 %7,028,000
United States of AmericaNorth Americano0.9 %2,987,000
SingaporeSoutheast Asiayes50.8 %2,770,000
MalaysiaSoutheast Asiano7.4 %2,484,000
PhilippinesSoutheast Asiano1.9 %2,164,000
VietnamSoutheast Asiano1.4 %1,365,000
AustraliaAustralia/New Zealandno2.8 %719,000
MacaoEast Asiayes92.0 %632,000
CambodiaSoutheast Asiano3.1 %514,000
CanadaNorth Americano1.2 %459,000
JapanEast Asiano0.2 %251,000
New ZealandAustralia/New Zealandno2.2 %113,000
South KoreaEast Asiano0.1 %52,000
BruneiSoutheast Asiano9.3 %41,000
North KoreaEast Asiano0.1 %26,000
ReunionEastern Africano2.8 %20,000
Costa RicaCentral Americano0.2 %10,000
French PolynesiaPolynesiano2.5 %8,000
Northern Mariana IslandsMicronesiano6.7 %3,000
ArubaCaribbeanno1.5 %2,000
PalauMicronesiano1.8 %400
NauruMicronesiano2.0 %300

Unless otherwise described in the text, this page is about native speakers — not the total number of speakers. How many people understand or speak Chinese as a subsequently learned language is not the subject of this page. Countries where native speakers make up only a few thousand, or even a few hundred people, or countries with a percentage well below 1% are unlikely to be listed here.