Language management in the People’s Republic of China

Bernard Spolsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, language management has been a central activity of the party and government, interrupted during the years of the Cultural Revolution. It has focused on the spread of Putonghua as a national language, the simplification of the script, and the auxiliary use of Pinyin. Associated has been a policy of modernization and terminological development. There have been studies of bilingualism and topolects (regional varieties like Cantonese and Hokkien) and some recognition and varied implementation of the needs of non-Han minority languages and dialects, including script development and modernization. Asserting the status of Chinese in a globalizing world, a major campaign of language diffusion has led to the establishment of Confucius Institutes all over the world. Within China, there have been significant efforts in foreign language education, at first stressing Russian but now covering a wide range of languages, though with a growing emphasis on English. Despite the size of the country, the complexity of its language situations, and the tension between competing goals, there has been progress with these language-management tasks. At the same time, nonlinguistic forces have shown even more substantial results. Computers are adding to the challenge of maintaining even the simplified character writing system. As even more striking evidence of the effect of politics and demography on language policy, the enormous internal rural-to-urban rate of migration promises to have more influence on weakening regional and minority varieties than campaigns to spread Putonghua. Overall, linguists and a strongly developed cadre of sociolinguists have played a useful role, but the driving force has been the Communist leadership.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e165-e179
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Bernard Spolsky 2014.


  • China
  • Chinese scripts
  • Language management
  • Language policy
  • Minorities
  • Politics
  • Varieties of Chinese


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