I am still a beginner, but after 1 year I'm still not sure about the difference. I've been talking with some citizens from China mainland on the Internet, when I mentioned that I'm learning 國語, I seemed to offend people, and it sparked some rows in comment sections before.

I have lots of confusion. Now I know 國語 means "the national language", and 普通话 is "the common language", and is a standard. I'm learning based on Taiwanese materials, and they refer to 國語 as the language there, which is for all intents and purposes the same as 普通話.

I'm unsure why it causes so much fuss. Is 國語 an unpopular term outside of Taiwan? If so it makes sense where confusion comes from.

My teachers and materials seem to make no real distinction, and both terms are even interchangeable from how I've been taught. I would love to have this cleared up.

  • If you understood the rivalry between Mainland and Taiwan by now, you should't be confused at all. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 17:38
  • I would suggest avoiding the use of 國語 outside particular contexts to refer to Mandarin. 國語 means "national language", and there are lots of places where 國語 ≠ Mandarin. For example, on Malaysian radio, "學好國語" means “learn Malay well".
    – Flux
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 4:52

4 Answers 4


「國語」is not an unpopular term outside of Taiwan.

It literally means national speech, and is used in places where「普通話」may make less sense. Since「普通話」literally means common speech, regions with populations which prominently speak other languages may avoid the term「普通話」to various degrees, because in those regions the common speech is not necessarily Mandarin.

You may hear「國語」in Hong Kong, Macau, and Xinjiang to refer to Mandarin, interchangeably with「普通話」. Although「普通話」is overwhelmingly more common in the Mainland,「國語」shouldn't incite a reaction there; if it does this could be due to various reasons, e.g.:

  • Some people may take it to be a form of Han/Northerner/Mandarin Chauvinism, aggressively discriminating against other topolects or languages as not being part of the nation;

  • Some people may have political interpretations of the term, and identify「國語」inappropriately with anti-CCP leanings (note that CCP decreed that Mandarin was to be called「普通話」some time in the 1950s, officially making the word「國語」obsolete in Mainland China).

  • You're on the internet, so be prepared to attract angry comments about everything and anything.

Another word for Mandarin is「華語」, which is used by Malaysian Chinese. This is appropriate in their situation because Mandarin is neither the national language nor the common language of Malaysia.

For something that shouldn't incite inappropriate reactions, consider using「漢語」or「中文」instead.

  • 4
    I agree with your answer, except for the last sentence: 汉语 (language of the Han) could be interpreted as condescending.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 19:31
  • @Philipp really? That's interesting, I've never come across that situation before. You should write an answer that details a situation like that, it'll be quite helpful I think.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 19:33
  • Take a look at this answer: chinese.stackexchange.com/questions/10411/…
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 19:44
  • @Philipp I don't see anything about being condescending in that answer. "Language of the Han" is just a literal translation of 漢語. I mean, 中文 is "the writing of 中國", which makes it as offensive as 國語.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 19:57
  • @Philipp I don't understand why or how 汉语 could be a condescending term? Can you elaborate?
    – dan
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 1:16

historically, the national language (國語) of china changed, according to dynasty.

in 清 dynasty (1644-1911), the national language (國語) is manchu language; some regional dialect / accent were mentioned as "北音" (mandarin?), "中州韻", "吳韻"

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in 1911, the chinese empire was succeeded by the republic of china. afterward, the kuomintang "assigned" the mandarin language as the national language (國語). then, in 1949, they went to taiwan, together with 國語.

then, in 1955, the communist called the mandarin language as 普通話.

nowadays, i would say that, there're subtle differences between 國語 & 普通話. mainly the words used, and attitudes, manners of speakers, (see this closed thread)

it's understandable why you'd trigger negative feelings in "that area", when you mentioned that you're learning 國語. if you need further clear up, it'll be a politic question.

i'd say: "you have good karma, to learn mandarin in taiwan"

accept it, c'est la vie :)

last, want to guess what was the national language (國語) in 元朝 (1271 - 1368); when mongolian ruled most of the asia & europe?


The key character is 国 -- it could allude to independent countries to some ears--, which could evoke some political arguments. Some with a strong political mindset would probably care about it. Talking about politics here is improper.

中文 is a neutral term you can use to steer away of it. In my opinion, majority of people wouldn't care that much, but some still would.

  • Not neutral, it changes meaning.中文 might be referring to the Chinese languages, too board. I don't think there exsists a neutral term.
    – user19549
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 1:37
  • @神秘德里克, I don't see any problems if OP put 中文: i'm learning 中文; 我正在学习中文; 我中文说得不好;etc. which is completely fine in those contexts.
    – dan
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 1:48

国语 is "Standard Chinese" as standardised and used in Taiwan. 普通话 is the same in PRC. Two "independent countries" must have different standards if they speak essentially the same language, right? The difference is predominantly political these days, with somewhat cultural roots in pre-revolution China.

There exist two standardised forms of the language, namely Putonghua in Mainland China and Guoyu in Taiwan. Aside from a number of differences in pronunciation and vocabulary, Putonghua is written using simplified Chinese characters (plus Hanyu Pinyin romanization for teaching), while Guoyu is written using traditional Chinese characters (plus Zhuyin for teaching). There are many characters that are identical between the two systems.


There are minor vocabulary differences like 网络 / 网路 and the Taiwanese version has slightly more purely foreign loanwords than the mainland's. Again, political reasons - America's influence.

  • 国语 is "Standard Chinese" as standardised and used in Taiwan. 國語 needs to be prefixed with 中華民國 for this to make sense. For example, this article most definitely isn't talking about the variety of Mandarin standardised by the ROC.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 4:31
  • @droooze You might want to check the Wikipedia link. I am not responsible for the usage of some provincial newspaper. I bet this usage was politically motivated. Yet the "official" meaning is what I offered. If you ask a Taiwanese what language they speak (assuming they speak standard Chinese), they will say guoyu, and a mainlander will say putonghua. I bet you're from Taiwan yourself :) Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 7:33
  • 1
    國語 is used in many regions outside of Taiwan to refer to Mandarin; you should check out the Chinese wikipedia article, which goes into more detail about the use of the word 國語 and lists Taiwan’s variety as officially 中華民國國語文. Also, not that it has anything to do with the question, but I’m from the Mainland.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 14:41
  • I'm more concerned with colloquial use, not official term. this word seems to be extremely debated due to politics, so wahtever most people use it colloquially is fine. Commented Jul 4, 2018 at 20:57
  • @droooze From as in "originally from" or "in, right now"? If in, then given your persistence in using traditional characters on mainland, you must be one of those 北大 literature department purists :) I thought only students did that, because kids want to be contrarian. Anyhow apologies for turning this into an unrelated chat. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 9:35

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