Nine Widely Spoken Languages Across China

A woman in a burgundy traditional robe and golden head dress with colorful details stands in front of terraced rice paddy fields with a Chinese town in the background

While Mandarin became China’s only official language in 1956, there are nearly 300 languages spoken throughout the Asian nation. Of those nine are widely spoken by millions of people, including several minority ethnic groups.


Most Chinese people who live outside of China speak Cantonese. But the language is also spoken by some 60 million people within China, primarily in the province of Guangdong and in Hong Kong.

Hakka Chinese

Hakka is one of China’s main regional languages, spoken by more than 30 million people. Part of the same language group as Mandarin, it shares more similarities to the Gan language which is mainly used in Jiangxi province. The use of final consonants -p, -t, and -k is one of the language’s most unique characteristics.


The Hmong people are a subgroup of China’s Miao ethnic minority. Nearly three million people speak the Hmong language, also called Chuanqiandian Miao. They reside primarily in the mountainous regions of Southern China, including the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi.


Natives of Shanghai speak this variety of Wu Chinese along with Mandarin. In fact, Shanghainese shares 30% of word sets with Mandarin. The language is considered a status symbol between natives and migrant workers, which make up a large part of the city’s population.


Tibetans speak three variations of this language, which is repressed by the Chinese government along with Tibetan culture. Ü-Tsang, known as Standard Tibetan, is the most widely spoken form of the language. Kham is spoken in western Sichuan, and the people of Qinghai province speak the variation of the language known as Amdo.


China has a small percentage of Korean speakers who live in the country’s northeasters Jilin province, bordering North Korea. The language is one of two official languages of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture.


This Turkish language influenced by Persian and Arabic is spoken by some 11 million people in China. Most of its speakers are concentrated in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Uyghur, which uses the Arabic script, is also accepted as an official language in Xinjiang.


Belonging to the same Turkic language family as Uyghur, Kazakh is widely spoken in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which shares a border with Kazakhstan.


Mongolian is the official language of Mongolia but is widely spoken by the ethnic Mongol residents of China’s Inner Mongolia province. It’s more than five million speakers also include people living in the provinces of Gansu, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Xinjiang, and Liaoning. In Mongolia, the language is written in the Cyrillic script as with Russian and other Slavic languages. Speakers of the language in China use the Mongolian script.