History of China. its language and its script (with censuses)


In China, where Mandarin Chinese has been the language of the emperor for the past 650 years, and a traditional script of characters was used to represent words, peoples learned to pronounce each word their own way in their own dialect.

In looking at their history, China's earliest records show its first dynasty (after the flood) to be the Xia dynasty.
In 1000BC, the census estimate was 14 million.
In 200BC at the start of the Han Dynasty that finalized the Great Wall and the Silk Road, about 20 million.

Click here for a map of the Great Wall in 200BC, and a map today following the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644).

In 1AD at the time of Christ, the protection of the Wall took it to about 60 million, which it stayed at for about 1500 years. Sadly, wars and enslavement were commonplace, even infanticide if you were born with little.

Click here for the life of Sheng Xuanhuai, the early Telegraph, and the events of its last dynasty ending in 1911/1912, that immediately preceded the Republic of China.

End Intro

Below is recent history
1912 - 1927 After the close of the Manchu led Qing Dynasty and the start of the Republic of China in 1912, Beijing, the traditional capital city in the north (known for hundreds of years internationally as Peking) was ruled by a series of military generals and warlord presidents. Outer Mongolia declared its independence, becoming closely associated with Russia. In Canton (Guangdong) in the south, Chiang Kai-Shek (1887 - 1975) became a founding member of the Kuomintang (literal meaning "Nationalist People's Party") in 1919 under its party leader Sun Yat Sen. When Sun Yat Sen died in 1925, Chiang Kai-Shek took over in 1926, and with the assistance of Russia his army captured Nanjing (known to them as Nanking), also in the south, in 1927 and Beijing in 1928. They renamed Beijing (or Peking) as "Beiping", with the National Government also writing it in Roman characters as "Peiping" , as there was no standard Romanization of Chinese characters in place at the time.

1927 - 1949 Nanking, the National Government's Romanized name for Nanjing was declared to be the capital city of the Republic of China, a situation which lasted from 1927 to 1949. Then in 1931, Japan invaded and captured Manchuria in the far north. And from 1935, an opposition party, Mao Zedong's Communist Party and his Red Army became increasingly backed by Russia as well as by the Chinese people, as they fought the Japanese from Yan'an (in Shaanxi Province in the north).
In 1937, much of China's eastern coast was surrendered to the Japanese by the National Government, including Nanking, and a Japanese-collaborationist government set up. Subsequently with the entry of the Japanese into World War 2, on December 18 1941 Hong Kong was invaded, with all captured soldiers, and Royal Medical Corps executed.

The Japanese renamed Beiping in the north back to Peking. The National Government relocated to the southwestern city of Chongqing until 1946. When they reacquired Nanking, they temporarily renamed Peking back to Beiping (or Peiping).

In August 1945 at the moment of Japanese surrender to the Western Allies, Russia captured Manchuria in China's far north. In March 1946, Russia transferred its provincial control of Manchuria as well as all the Japanese weapons that they had captured to Mao's Red Army.

In October 1948, following Mao's blockade of the Manchurian city of Changchun and their subsequent surrender, all the eastern coastal cities rapidly surrendered to the Red Army, the following year.
In December 1949 Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang relocated to Taiwan.

Mao re-established Peking as the capital of China, re-employing that postal, international, name temporarily until 1958.
In 1958 the government renamed Peking and Nanking back to Beijing and Nanjing as their official names inside China, and in 1979 that became their names outside China.

During the 1950s and 1960s, China has developed a simplified script taught in schools everywhere on the mainland.
Ever since the 1980s, for typing into personal computers they have increasingly used a Roman based alphabet (called Pinyin).

The country's population has exploded since 1949 from about 555 million to 1.4 billion.

China's Early History

There are traditionally four historical capitals of China

  1. In the West, Chang'an also known as Zongzhou, Xianyang and modern day Xian during the years 1045BC - 907AD. It is located about 1,000 kilometres south west of Beijing, and in 2017 had a population of 12 million.
  2. In the East, Luoyang, also known as Chengzhou and Dongdu ("eastern capital"), during much of the same period 1045BC - 907AD. It is located about 370 kilometres east of Xian, and in 2010 had a population of 6½ million.
  3. In the South, Nanjing ("southern capital") became known as Jianye in 229AD, and as Jiankang in 317AD, when it was made the Capital of the Jin Dynasty, the first time the Chinese dynastic capital had been moved to southern China.
    However, the city was razed to the ground by the Sui Dynasty in 589AD who subsequently made Luoyang their capital.

    In 1368, the first emperor of the Ming dynasty renamed the city Yingtian, rebuilt it and made it the dynastic capital, up until 1421 when the capital was relocated by the second emperor to the north, back to Beijing.

  4. In the North, Beijing ("northern capital") was given that name by the Ming Dynasty in 1403. Originally known as Ji, about 1000BC, it has had numerous names e.g. during the Liao dynasty (907AD-1125AD) whose "supreme" capital was Shangjing in Inner Mongolia, it was renamed Liao Nanjing as during those years it was their southern capital (1012 - 1122).

    After Kublai Khan (Genghis Khan's grandson) defeated the Song Dynasty at the Battle of Yamen (Hong Kong) in 1279, he reigned from Beijing but named it Khanbaliq – "City of the Khan" and Dadu – "Grand Capital".

    Beijing has been the capital of China ever since, except for the two occasions where Nanjing became the nation's capital

    1. 1368 - 1420. At the start of the Ming Dynasty.
    2. 1927 - 1949. At the time of Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang. Following which Chiang Kai-Shek relocated to Taiwan, while Mao re-established Beijing as the capital of China.

Below are the individual Dynasties along with their Census-taking
based on www.thoughtco.com plus links to Wikipedia.

Censuses were taken as a rule by ancient rulers beginning in the Zhou Dynasty, but what the rulers were counting is somewhat in doubt. Some censuses refer to the number of persons as "mouths" and the number of households as "doors." But, conflicting figures are given for the same dates and it's possible that the numbers refer not to the total population, but taxpayers, or people who were available for either military or corvée (enforced) labor duties.

Xia Dynasty 2070–1600 BC

The Xia dynasty is the first known dynasty in China, but even its existence is doubted by some scholars in China and elsewhere. The first census was said by Han dynasty historians to have been taken by Yu the Great in about 2000 BC, with a total of 13,553,923 people or possibly households. Probably Han Dynasty propaganda.

Shang Dynasty 1600–1100 BC

No surviving censuses.

Zhou Dynasty 1027–221 BC

Censuses became normal instruments of public administration, and several rulers ordered them at regular intervals, but the statistics are somewhat in doubt

Qin Dynasty 221–206 BC

The Qin Dynasty was the first time China was unified under a centralized government. With the ending of wars, iron implements, farming techniques, and irrigation were developed. No surviving censuses.

Han Dynasty 206 BC–220 AD

About 2 AD, population censuses in China became statistically useful for the entire united mainland.

Six Dynasties (Period of Disunity) 220–589 AD

Liu Sung State, 464 AD, 5.3 million persons, 900,000 households

Sui Dynasty 581–618 AD

606 AD: persons per household 5.2, 46,019,956 persons, 8,907,536 households

Tang Dynasty 618–907 AD

Five Dynasties 907–960 AD

After the fall of the Tang dynasty, China was split into several states and consistent population data for the entire county is not available.

Song Dynasty 960–1279 AD

Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty 1271–1368 AD

Ming Dynasty 1368–1644 AD

Manchu-led Qing Dynasty 1655–1911 AD

In 1740, the Qing dynasty emperor ordered that population statistics be compiled annually, a system known as "pao-chia," which required each household to keep a tablet by their door with a list of all the members of the household. Later those tablets were kept in regional offices.

Succeeded by the Republic of China (1912-1949) a time of short-lived leaders and civil war, see the section on Chiang Kai-Shek above, followed by the People's Republic of China in 1949. As mentioned at the start, the country's population has exploded since 1949 from about 555 million to 1.4 billion.

India and English and Sanskrit and Chinese

Sent: Friday, January 17, 2014 7:49 AM
Subject: Chatting about Chinese the other day

Hi all
While the figure is about 70% that speak Standard Chinese (or Mandarin) at home as their first choice, according to the following table, virtually all of China can now understand it, due to that heavy government push that’s been going on for some time now.
https://en.wikipedia.org /wiki/Chinese language#Varieties
So, Standard Chinese — able to speak — understand it: 1.365 billion
Wu (spoken around Shanghai): 80 million
Yue (Cantonese spoken around Guangdong and Guanxi, Hong Kong and Macau): 60 million
Min (Hokkien — spoken in Taiwan and by many Chinese overseas): 50 million
Smaller ones in the south are
Xiang: 38 million
Hakka: 30 million
Gan: 22 million
and apparently the number that speak English fluently is just under 1%, i.e. just over 10 million.
Also, apparently, while the traditional Chinese script is still used by many in the south east, nearly everyone can read, and most use as first choice now the new, simplified script.
Which means the same “hieroglyph” gets used for the word, regardless of the language the speaker uses. Keeps it simple.
Yep, despite what gets said at times, there doesn’t appear to be a strong “independent” streak in China. Unlike Australia — and England, and India :-)
Central government is the rule, whether it’s the emperor, or the party.
Blessings all Steve

Postscript 8th July 2018

Click here for a translation page for Pinyin — Roman (English) characters to Chinese

In chinese, no plurals — one cat many cat (no plurals) and there are no suffixes.

All language in Chinese is gender neutral (e.g. chair person) not chairman. Prior to 20th century it did tend to assume a male person.
20th Century in particular has brought in gender. So now to specify a male chair person, one can prefix nan (male) or nu (female)
In pidgin it's similar, suffix "man" for male, "meri" for female

Present, past, future tense is same verb. "Eat" disregards time. (no "ate")
Add "le" after a verb (e.g. "find" vs "found") to show completion of task. In Pidgin, add "bin" before a verb.
For future tense, add words that specify "when", next day tomorrow, next month, next year.

In Chinese, use the same character for the noun, the verb, the adverb and the adjective.

British School Hong Kong script

A British School in Hong Kong will teach a controversial script
Published on Inkstone June 6 2018

by Viola Zhou

https://www.inkstonenews.com /education /harrow-international-school-stop-teaching-traditional-chinese-characters-hong-kong/article/2149524 (archived)

A prestigious British school in Hong Kong has stirred up controversy by deciding to stop teaching children the type of Chinese characters widely used in the city.

The Harrow International School Hong Kong, which has ties with the famed Harrow School in England, this week announced it will focus on teaching simplified Chinese characters while phasing out the use of the older, more complicated traditional characters.

Across the Chinese-speaking world, mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia mostly use simplified characters, while the former colonies of Hong Kong and Macau as well as the self-ruled Taiwan have kept the traditional form.

Supporters of traditional characters argue that when Beijing simplified more than 2,000 characters in the 1950s to raise literacy, it also rid the characters of their beauty and rich meaning.

The Chinese government adopted simplified characters in 1950s to increase literacy in the country.
Photo: Gene Lin


And for many who grew up with traditional characters, defending the writing system is not only about aesthetics, but about resisting the creeping influence of the Communist regime.

Harrow International School says the decision to teach simplified characters is to prepare its students for the future, when Hong Kong, now a semi-autonomous territory in China, may become no different from the rest of the country.
"Whilst we know there are many reasons why our context makes the teaching of traditional characters desirable," the school said in a Monday letter to parents, "we need to prepare our pupils to be fully literate in the context that Hong Kong will be in by 2047."

The city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, guarantees that Hong Kong will keep its capitalist system and "way of life" until 2047.


Although Hong Kong uses traditional characters, retailers have put up advertisements written in simplified Chinese to attract big-spending mainland tourists. Photo: May Tse


Ruth Benny, founder of Hong Kong-based education consultancy Top Schools, says many international schools in Hong Kong teach only simplified characters, which are more widely used and easier for non-Chinese speakers to pick up.
The choice also helps if students continue their Chinese studies in the UK or other countries, where the language is mostly taught in the simplified form, Benny says.

Simplified characters have been winning on the global stage alongside China's growing economic and political power.
In popular tourist spots around the world, street signs and restaurant menus are translated into simplified Chinese for big-spending mainland travelers.

The Chinese government has also established over 500 Confucius Institutes outside of the country, where foreigners learn Chinese culture and language - all in simplified characters.

In the US, traditional characters can still be found in old Chinatowns, but the Chinese characters you see on advertisements or in government offices are mostly simplified.


Shop signs written in traditional characters can be found in the Chinatown in New York City. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP


Both Taiwan and Hong Kong have seen recurring calls to preserve the traditional writing system, either as cultural heritage or a symbol of political identity. In 2011, then Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou ordered simplified characters to be removed from government websites and documents.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong's pro-Beijing government encourages students to learn to speak Mandarin and read simplified Chinese, an education policy protested by pro-democracy groups and independence supporters.


Simplified or Traditional Chinese, Mandarin or Cantonese?

Kay Feng

The market comprised of Chinese-speaking people is obviously massive; over 980 million can be found in mainland China alone, Hong Kong and Taiwan add another 19 million potential customers, and substantial numbers of Chinese-speaking communities can be found in Southeast Asia as well. So if you have a product or service targeting this market, translating and localizing into Chinese is a no-brainer. But that's where the confusion often starts.

Should you translate into Simplified or Traditional Chinese? And how do Mandarin and Cantonese relate to these two options?

Firstly it is important to understand what these terms refer to. Mandarin and Cantonese are the two most common verbal Chinese dialects. But when it comes to writing, you need to distinguish between Simplified and Traditional Chinese instead. The interesting thing is that not everybody who speaks Mandarin writes in Simplified Chinese and not everybody who speaks Cantonese writes in Traditional Chinese. The table below solves the riddle: In mainland China and Singapore, Mandarin is the spoken language and people resort to Simplified Chinese when they write. In Hong Kong, Cantonese is the predominant dialect while people write in Traditional Chinese. The exception is Taiwan where people speak Mandarin and write in Traditional Chinese.
Target Market Written Spoken
China Simplified Mandarin
Hong Kong Traditional Cantonese
Taiwan Traditional Mandarin
Singapore Simplified Mandarin

When it comes to your next translation and localization project, it might be helpful to understand that Simplified Chinese was established in 1949 when communist regime in China took power. The new government started a big push to increase literacy. The complex traditional writing was simplified, using fewer strokes for complex characters. Some characters were replaced altogether in order to motivate more people to learn how to write.

While Simplified Chinese took over mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong stayed with Traditional Chinese, which people have been using for thousands of years. Simplified Chinese itself has evolved over time, too.

As recently as 2013, the Chinese government released an official List of Commonly Used Standardized Characters. This list contained 45 newly recognized standard characters (previously considered variant forms) and 226 characters simplified by analogy, most of which already were widely used.

In the beginning, the differences between the two writing methods only had to do with stroke types. But over time, new words and concepts were added to Simplified Chinese, widening the gap to the traditional way of writing. And because the People's Republic of China and Taiwan added political distance to them being geographically apart, variations in style and vocabulary have formed as well, similar to those between British and US English.

That explains why in most cases, translating from Simplified Chinese into Traditional Chinese or vice versa is not as easy a task as it might seem. A simple machine translation won't cut it because it needs a well-versed translator to pick up on certain unique terms and ways of saying things and correct all the potential mistakes a character-for-character translation will cause. Even if you have a document with Traditional characters perfectly converted from Simplified ones, a native speaker from Taiwan or Hong Kong will likely be able to tell the document was just converted and not properly localized.

So, in the end, it comes down to the geographic location of your target audience. If you find it in mainland China, Simplified Chinese is the way to go. If your potential customers are mainly based in Hong Kong and Taiwan, Traditional Chinese is what you want to translate your documents and services to. An interesting quirk in this equation is that most Chinese living in Hong Kong and Taiwan can read Simplified Chinese, but the majority of residents from the People's Republic have trouble deciphering Traditional characters.

** End of Report

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