Watch this short webcast for an introduction to Chinese language and culture. You can also consult the database of DVDs related to China and available from the Language Centre.

Wikipedia: China, Chinese language

Chinese clay figures

Student feedback

 “Extremely engaging with presentations and videos covering varied topics and followed by debate. Very enjoyable. It provides interesting insight into the background of such a large and diverse country.”

“Learning about the development of the characters and the development of the language is amazing. I like the little game activities and mini-presentations, and I feel very comfortable asking questions.”

“Useful exercise, fun games that helped, the teacher is very experienced in the business part with great method of passing on knowledge: very motivated and interactive in teaching us until we understand.”

“Every class has been very interesting - having the point of view of a native Chinese teacher is very illuminating.”

Chinese Language

Chinese is spoken by more people than any other language in the world. Chinese has more than twice the number of speakers of English. Chinese has been an official language of the United Nations since the founding of the organization in 1945.

Standard Mandarin (Putonghua) is the official language of the People’s Republic of China. Mandarin, based on the pronunciation of Beijing, is spoken by about two-thirds of the population. The other major dialects are (I) Wu, spoken in Shanghai and Zhejiang; (2) Cantonese, spoken in Guangdong and Guangxi; (3) Fukienese, or Min, in Fujian, Amoy Island, and Taiwan; (4) Hakka, spoken in the northeast of Guangdong and southern Jiangxi; (5) Xiang, spoken in Hunan. In addition the Fukienese dialects are widely spoken in Malaysia and Singapore, while Cantonese is also spoken in Hong Kong and on the Southeast Asia mainland, many overseas Chinese speak Cantonese.


The Romanized phonetic spelling system created in 1950s for Standard Chinese is called Pinyin. Pinyin adopts the Latin alphabet to transcribe Chinese sounds, and four tone marks to indicate the different tones of Chinese characters. Pinyin is now widely used for the study of Chinese language, and has helped the popularization of standard Chinese (Putonghua). It uses 25 letters in English except “V”.
The Pinyin system is also used as a basis of many Chinese input methods, which are required when typing Chinese characters into computers.

Initials list
b p m f d t n l g k h j q x zh ch sh r z c s y w
There are 23 initials. Some people regard “y” and “w” as semi-vowels

Finals list
a o e -i -i er ai ei ao ou an en ang eng ong i a iao ie iu ian in iang ing iong u ua uo uai ui uan un uang ueng ü üe üan ün

Single vowels and compound vowels amount to 38 finals

Four tones
Tone1 55 Tone2 35 Tone3 214 Tone4 51

Characters (Hanzi)

Although different Chinese dialects exist, the written language is a common form of communication, which is Hanzi. Primarily Chinese in China uses simplified characters. It is taught in Mandarin-Chinese classes internationally as well. These characters are simpler, i.e., have less strokes than traditional Chinese characters. Each Chinese character corresponds to one syllable. A syllable is usually consisted of an initial, a final and a tone.

Chinese characters are often criticised for being overly complex. One reason for the added complexity is the different information content of the characters. Roman letters give relatively precise information on pronunciation, but less information on meaning. In contrast, Chinese characters give less precise (and sometimes no) pronunciation information, but do give information on meaning.

However, learning Chinese characters is not as difficult as one would think. Firstly, because the majority of Chinese characters are Phonetic Complexes, learning to pronounce them is not so difficult. Secondly, because all characters are derived from a couple hundred simple pictographs and ideographs in ways that are usually quite logical and easy to remember, learning to recognise and write them is not that hard either.

Chinese words

Most characters are words, most Chinese words are not just a single character, but rather are composed of at least two characters. Chinese has many hundreds of thousands of words, most of which are created by combining just a few thousand characters. Multiple-character words are created by several methods. A typical one is that the two or more characters composing a word might each contribute meaning which in combination indicates the word's meaning. While this pattern is most common, in some cases two characters with essentially identical meanings are combined to form a word, not surprisingly, with the same sense.

The written Chinese does not mark word boundaries. Instead, each Chinese character is written one after the other without spaces.


Comprehensive websites for Chinese culture: China Fun and


The ancestors of Chinese people

Yandi and Huangdi were two legendary heroes who have been honoured as the ancestors of Chinese people. Di, means emperor. They led their troops to fight with evils and other opponents and won.
From ancient times to now, Yandi and Huangdi have been reputed to the origins of the Chinese culture and the Chinese in all parts of China. Chinese call themselves “the ancestors of Yan•Huang”. Today, at the Qingming festival, the day in April to honour the dead, people from home and abroad hold ceremonies in Huangling county, Shanxi Province, where a tomb was built to honour Huangdi.

Philosopher: Confucius

Confucius was born in the state of Lu in the Spring and Autumn Period. He is the greatest educator and philosopher in Chinese civilization. His thoughts were compiled into a book known as “Lun Yu” by his disciples.

Physicians: Hua Tuo and Li Shi-zhen

Hua Tuo was an outstanding physician and surgeon in the late Eastern Han Dynasty. He was the first doctor in the world who invented the anaesthetic, called ‘ma fei san’, and applied in his surgical operations.
Li Shi-zhen was a famous pharmacologist in the Ming Dynasty. He practiced medicine and collected the specimens of medical herbs to cure diseases, save people. He devoted himself to compile his masterpiece “Ben-cao gang-mu”, which took him thirty years to accomplish. The book contains 1,892 descriptions of medication and 11,096 prescriptions. It is considered as an encyclopaedia of pharmacology in ancient China.

Poets: Libai and Dufu

Libai and Dufu were greatest poets in the Tang Dynasty, the poems’ most prosperous period.


Rivers: The Yangtze River and the Yellow River

The longest river in China is Yangtze River. It is originates from the Qinghai-Tibet plateau and flows east wards through the middle of China and empties into the East China sea. It is 6,300 kilometres long, third in the world.

The second longest one in China is the Yellow River. It originates from the same plateau and flows east wards through north China and empties into the Bohai Sea. It is 5,500 kilometres long. Being the birthplace of Chinese, the Yellow River is always called the “Mother River” of China.

Mountains: Mount Tai

Mount Tai is located in Shangdong province. The first emperor who came to Mt. Tai to offer sacrifices to heaven and earth was Emperor Qin. Subsequently, some emperors of the Han, Tang, and Song dynasties journeyed here to worship and pray to heaven.

Mt. Tai is 1,545 meters high and famous

Chinese minorities

With a history of more than 5,000 years, today China has 56 ethnic groups. In addition to the Han people, who form the majority of the population, there are 55 minority nationalities who constitutes 8 per cent of China’s total.

There are five autonomous regions in the country equivalent to provinces: Inner Mongolia, Ningxia(Hui), Zinjiang(Uygru), Tibet,and Guangxi(Zhuang). In addition, in the small minority-compact communities in some provinces there are autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties.


China is a renowned "Culinary Kingdom." In the past several thousand years, Chinese cuisine has become a complete culture system with its unique characteristics, and has given birth to tea culture, wine culture and so on. "Food" is one of the most important part of China's abundant tourism resources.

Colour, aroma and flavour are all important elements in Chinese cooking. Nutrition is also given a priority. Throughout the country, eight cuisines form: Shanghai cuisine, Sichuan cuisine, Guangdong cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Anhui cuisine, Hunan cuisine, Beijing cuisine and Fujian cuisine.



The first group of sound films were released initially in 1931. Cai Chusheng's "Song of the Fisherman" In 1935 is the first Chinese film that won an international award, a prize at the Moscow Film Festival. In 1959, the China Film Archive was founded in Beijing. Chen Kaige's "Yellow Earth" caused a sensation in 1985 at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, which started China's era of foreign festival success.

From1988 to 1999, quite a few films gained international awards, which included Zhang Yimou's Golden Bear for "Red Sorghum" at the 1988 Berlin International Film Festival, Zhang's Golden Lion for "The Story of Qiu Ju" at the 1992 Venice International Film Festival, at which Gong Li also won best-actress honours and emerged as the first major international film star from mainland China, Chen Kaige's Palme d'Or for "Farewell My Concubine" at the 1993 Festival de Cannes, and Zhang's Golden Lion for "Not One Less" in Venice in 1999.


Chinese Language

  • BBC Languages: listen to some real Chinese video clips, practise your characters and tones
  • Chinese Podcasts: Chinese conversations for you to improve your listening and speaking and help you get to know more about Chinese life
  • Euroasia Software: learn Chinese
  • Shu Fa West: practise your tones
  • Zhong Wen: offers rich information to help students understand, appreciate and remember Chinese
  • Hanban the executive body of the Chinese Language Council International (a non-governmental and non-profit public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education). Its aim is to promote Chinese language and culture teaching at a worldwide level.
  • China.Org: live in China, get to know China and learn some Chinese language
  • Centre for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language: learn Chinese, including videos and texts, grammars, characters etc.
  • Mandarin Tools: tools for learning Chinese, using Chinese, computer tools etc.
  • Clavis Sinica: read Chinese articles, learn new characters and words.

Other Useful Links

UCLan Chinese program partner Institutions in China

Thanks to the close relation developed over the years with some prestigious universities, UCLan's Chinese programs have established partnerships with the following institutions, where our students can spend their year abroad in China.