A recent survey by the National Language Commission shows that only 53 percent of China's 1.3 billion population speak mandarin.
The result was publicized by Yuan Zhongrui, chief of the mandarin popularization section of the Ministry of Education, at a Chinese language and character working conference recently held in Yinchuan, capital of the northwestern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
Yuan said nearly half of the Chinese people cannot speak the mandarin, or Putonghua (common speech of the Chinese language), and many of the 53 percent who can are not frequent mandarin users.
The official said China has a great variety of dialects, stemming from its thousands of years of a small-scale peasant economy. People did not need mandarin to communicate because there were hardly any economic activities.
Today mandarin is popular in the developed eastern part of China and the major cities.
Yuan said popularizing mandarin will provide a significant to boost economic development, especially in northwest China's provinces and autonomous regions.