More than half of all Chinese people can speak standard mandarin Chinese, while nearly 70 percent of urbanites are fluent in the country's official language known at "common talk", according to a massive survey conducted by the Ministry of Education.
The survey of half a million people shows that 53.06 percent of the population can effectively communicate orally in mandarin. The fluency rate in cities was 66 percent while in rural areas it was 45 percent.
Although the Chinese share the same written language -- Chinese ideograms or characters, which has been in use for three thousand years -- the pronunciation of identical characters differs from region to region. This means people who can't communicate verbally can often communicate by writing Chinese characters that are pronounced differently but have the same literal meaning.
Mandarin, which in Chinese is called Putonghua and literally means "common talk", is taught in every school in the country and is China's standard lingua franca.
Most Chinese are verbally bilingual speaking not only mandarin, which has many regional accents, but a completely different sounding dialect of Chinese.
The survey also found that 56.76 percent of Chinese men can speak Putonghua, while 49.22 percent of women speak it. About 70 percent of people between the age of 15 and 29 speak mandarin, while only 30.97 percent between the age of 60 and 69 can speak standard mandarin.
The sample survey was conducted among some 500,000 people in 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities on the Chinese mainland.
Zhao Qinping, vice minister of education, said on Tuesday that the ministry would focus on promoting Putonghua in the rural areas this year. Lessons in Putonghua will be included in skills training for farmers wanting to migrate to cities to find work.
University student volunteers are also being encouraged to go the countryside to help rural primary and middle school teachers improve their mandarin.