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Diversity and Unity: Language Policy 

Articles in the Constitution of 

the People's Republic of China 

The People's Republic of China is a unified, multi-ethnic and multilingual  country,with 55 ethnic minorities, one majority ethnic group Han and 129 living languages in total (Lei, 2008). The people of all nationalities in China have jointly created a splendid culture and valuable indigenous languages. With the founding of the modern state, language is valued as an effective equipment of governing and its use is usually favored or discouraged by policymakers. This clear trend toward politicizing language originated from the West and influenced other eastern countries, including newly founded China, which was announced to be founded in 1949. To govern people, social affairs and production activities, laws are designed and implemented from the Constitution, national laws and regulations, and regional laws and regulations. Of these, the Constitution is empowered the supreme authority and is defined as “fundamental principle of all the activities for all state organs, armed forces, political parties, public organizations, enterprises and institutions”(Constitution of P.R.C, 2004). Consequently, fundamental regulations and guidelines of language learning, usage and promotion are made in it. Since the first Constitution of the P.R.C was published in 1954, its articles pertaining to language issues continuously embody two features of language policy: diversity and unity, which means the combination of maintaining language diversity and popularizing Mandarin, the official language based on the dialect of the Peking area in north China. And there is a slight difference of emphasis during difference stages.

Articles about indigenous language revolve around preserving, protecting and promoting. From the first Constitution of P.R.C (1954) to the recent Constitution of P.R.C (2004), one article remaining to be the first article about language usage in the text of the Constitution is:

All nationalities in the People's Republic of China are equal.

All nationalities have the right to use and develop their own languages and words.

All nationalities have the right to preserve and change their own customs.

The state prohibits ethnic discrimination and oppression in any form, and bans any behavior aimed at undermining ethnic unity and causing ethnic antagonism.

--From Article 4, Constitution of the P.R.C, 2004

It presents that the primary concern about indigenous language is to treat each language equally, especially the minority languages. Besides this unchanged context, which emphasizes equality of language usage, a slightly changed article is related to language development. In the Constitution of P.R.C (1954), it is regulated explicitly that “all nationalities have the right to use and develop their own languages and words” (Article4, 1954). However, “develop” was deleted in the Constitution of P.R.C (1975) because counter-revolutionary cliques condemned the value of minority language and its culture during the Cultural Revolution. Until 1982, when a new Constitution was made, “develop” is added into its text and embodied governor’s revoked awareness of protecting indigenous language and maintaining language diversity. At the same time, more particular articles related to language usage and development appear in the Constitution of P.R.C (1982)(See Table 1). This Constitution marked the beginning of a new period that respects indigenous languages and protects speakers’ human right of speaking minority languages.


Table 1

Articles about indigenous language in the Constitution of P.R.C (1982)

Number of Article


Article 4


All nationalities have the right to use and develop their own languages and words, and to preserve and change their own customs;


Article 19

When the office of autonomy district is executing duty,it is required to use the common use language of the local according to Autonomous regulations of this district;


Article 143


The People's Courts and the People's Procuratorates are required to translate for litigants who don’t understand the common use language. 



Unity is reflected in the text related to popularizing Mandarin as the official language. Mandarin is the common language of Han ethnicity. It defines Beijing accent as the standard accent and northern dialect as the basis of dialect. Mandarin is firstly referred to as a lingua franca in the Constitution of P.R.C (1982), saying that “the country promotes the nationwide use of Putonghua (Mandarin)”. Since then, Mandarin achieved superior legal status and became legally the lingua franca of China. Until the latest edition of constitution 2004, this article is still in use.



Lei Zhilong. (2008). 5 language families, 129 languages and 117 are in danger. Retrieved from

Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. (2004). Retrieved from


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Lan, Yuting. (2015). Diversity and Unity: Language Policy Articles in Constitution of the People's Republic of China. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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