The Chinese writing system is vastly different from the English alphabet. Chinese uses symbols that represent concepts in place of letters used, as in English to represent a sound. Pinyin is a Chinese system used to transliterate Mandarin Chinese into 25 English letters; the letter "v" is not included.
Chinese is the oldest known written language, dating back at least 6,000 years. The earliest Chinese symbols, known as Jia-gu wen or Oracle Bone, were written on turtle shells and animal bones. These date back between 1500 and 1000 B.C.
Many different dialects of Chinese exist throughout the country but writing is the common form of communication. Since all dialects use the same characters, people can communicate in written form across different provinces even when they aren't able to do so verbally.
The most common dialect used in China is Mandarin. Mandarin Chinese is the official language of China and is taught in Chinese schools. It is often used in local TV and radio media. Cantonese, the second most common dialect, is spoken in Hong Kong, though government officials and schools in the area are still required to use Mandarin.
China developed the pinyin system in an effort to transliterate the pronunciation of Chinese symbols into the Western alphabet. Pinyin has been used since 1892 to transliterate the Chinese language. Chinese officials made a formal request of the United Nations to use the pinyin system for naming geographical locations in China in 1977.