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Chinese is a language that unlike the romanized European languages does not use a simple alphabet as a writing system. Instead it uses a set of over twenty thousand symbols that represent basic concepts or words which can then be combined to create other words. The spoken language is actually a variety of different languages (falsely called "dialects"), rather one specific tongue, all using the Chinese script. Cantonese and Mandarin are the best known modern versions of these. The development during the 7th to 10th centuries is known as Middle Chinese. The use of Mandarin in southwestern China slowly increased after a plague in the 12th century.

While it is known that the writing system exists from c1500 BCE, little or no evidence exists of its use in Europe in the early period due to the lack of interaction between China and Europe. Even Marco Polo gave no reference to it in his book.