About 1.2 billion people (around 16% of the world's population) speak some form of Chinese as their first language.
The varieties of Chinese are usually described by native speakers as dialects of a single Chinese language, but linguists note that they are as diverse as a language family.
If the simplified and traditional characters are the same they are written only once. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
The internal diversity of Chinese has been likened to that of the Romance languages, but may be even more varied. Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible, and even dialect groups within Min Chinese may not be mutually intelligible.
There are between 7 and 13 main regional groups of Chinese (depending on classification scheme), of which the most spoken by far is Mandarin (about 960 million, e.g. Some, however, like Xiang and certain Southwest Mandarin dialects, may share common terms and a certain degree of intelligibility. Standard Chinese (Pǔtōnghuà/Guóyǔ/Huáyǔ) is a standardized form of spoken Chinese based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin.
Its spoken varieties have evolved at different rates, while written Chinese itself has changed much less.
Classical Chinese literature began in the Spring and Autumn period.