MINORITIES IN CHINA

MINORITIES IN CHINA

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More than 115 million Chinese citizens (about 8.5 percent of the population) belong to China's 55 state-designated ethnic minority groups. Their numbers are equal to the population of Mexico. Centuries of isolation and autonomy have made many of them linguistically and culturally distinct from the majority Han. Most of these minorities live in southern China, Tibet or the western Province of Xinjiang or near the borders of Burma, Laos, Vietnam, India, Russia, Mongolia, North Korea and the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Minorities make up the bulk of the population in 60 percent of China's territory, namely in Tibet and Xinjiang. These areas contain important natural resources such as timber, water and petroleum. The Tibetans are China's most well known minority. There are about 6.2 million Tibetans living in China, with 2.1 million of them in Tibet and the remainder in provinces bordering Tibet. The largest of the 55 recognized minorities in China is the Zhuang, with 15 million people. They are concentrated mainly in Guangxi province in southern China. The smallest minority is the Lhoba in Tibet with only 2,300 people.

Most minorities have their own language. Some have their own script, although some of these have fallen into disuse under Communist rule. Most minorities live in a specific area of China. Jonathan Kaiman and Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times: “Over the past 30 years, a variety of social, economic and political forces have pushed them toward assimilation into mainstream Chinese culture. The lure of well-paid work in the cities draws young people away from traditional village life. Television and popular music have eclipsed traditional forms of entertainment.” [Source: Jonathan Kaiman and Andrew Jacobs , New York Times July 16, 2011]

Ethnicity has been incorporated into views about Chinese nationalism. Pioneering, early 20th century, Chinese leader Sun Yat-sen described China’s main ethnic groups---the Han, Manchu, Hui, Mongolian and Tibetans---as the “five fingers” of China. With one of these five fingers missing the Chinese feel their nation is not whole---a view aggressively promoted today by the Communist Party.

Based on the 2010 census, some 91.5 percent of the population was classified as Han Chinese (1.1 billion), meaning that ethnic minorities constituted about 8.5 percent of the population. The other major minority ethnic groups are (according to the 2000 census) are Zhuang (16.1 million), Manchu (10.6 million), Hui (9.8 11 million), Miao (8.9 million), Uygur (8.3 million), Tujia (8 million), Yi (7.7 million), Mongol (5.8 million), Tibetan (5.4 million), Bouyei (2.9 million), Dong (2.9 million), Yao (2.6 million), Korean (1.9 million), Bai (1.8 million), Hani (1.4 million), Kazakh (1.2 million), Li (1.2 million), and Dai (1.1 million). Classifications are often based on self-identification, and it is sometimes and in some locations advantageous for political or economic reasons to identify with one group over another. There is also some debate about what constitutes a separate ethnic group in China. Some officially-designated groups—such as the Nu—seem be comprised of groups that are different enough they should be regarded as distinct ethnic groups but are conveniently grouped together based on geography. [Source: Library of Congress]

According to the 2010 census, about 4 percent of Beijing's population, or 800,000 people, belonged to ethnic minorities, most of whom were Mongolian or Manchurian. Ethnic tensions are rarely reported in the capital. [Source: Patrick Boehler, South China Morning Post, May 13, 2013]

Primary Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: China, Russia and Eurasia edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company); Wong How-Man, National Geographic, March 1984.

Good Websites and Sources: Book Chinese Minorities stanford.edu ; Chinese Government Law on Minorities china.org.cn ; Minority Rights minorityrights.org ; Minority Travel: China Trekking (click under Minority Towns) China Trekking ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times Interactive Map nytimes.com ; Ethnic Groups in China (Chinese government site) chinaethnicgroups.com

Info on Individual Ethnic Groups : (click the ethnic group you want) Ethnic China (very good site with good academic articles) ethnic-china.com ;Cultural China (site with nice photos cultural-china.com ; China Travel chinatravel.com ; Wikipedia List of Ethnic Minorities in China Wikipedia ; Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com ; China.org (government source) china.org.cn ; OMF international (a Christian group) omf.org ; People’s Daily (government source) peopledaily.com.cn ; Ethnic Publishing House (government source)e56.com.cn ; Paul Noll site` paulnoll.com ; China Highlights (on some groups) China Highlights ; See Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China .

Books: Ethnic Groups in China, Du Roufu and Vincent F. Yip, Science Press, Beijing, 1993; An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China, Olson, James, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1998; “China's Minority Nationalities,” Great Wall Books, Beijing, 1984

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Chinese Minority Numbers

Officially Recognized Ethnic Groups in Mainland China: (English Name: Percentage of China’s population in 2010; Population in 2010, Population in 2000, Population in 1990): 1) Han: 91.6474 percent; 1,220,844,520 in 2010, 1,139,773,008 in 2000, 1,042,482,187 in 1990; 2) Zhuang: 1.2700 percent; 16,926,381 in 2010, 16,187,163 in 2000, 15,489,630 in 1990; 3) Hui: 0.7943 percent; 10,586,087 in 2010, 9,828,126 in 2000, 8,602,978 in 1990; 4) Manchu: 0.7794 percent; 10,387,958 in 2010, 10,708,464 in 2000, 9,821,180 in 1990; 5) Uyghur: 0.7555 percent; 10,069,346 in 2010, 8,405,416 in 2000, 7,214,431 in 1990; 6) Miao: 0.7072 percent; 9,426,007 in 2010, 8,945,538 in 2000, 7,398,035 in 1990; 7) Yi: 0.6538 percent; 8,714,393 in 2010, 7,765,858 in 2000, 6,572,173 in 1990; 8) Tujia: 0.6268 percent; 8,353,912 in 2010, 8,037,014 in 2000, 5,704,223 in 1990; 9) Tibetan: 0.4713 percent; 6,282,187 in 2010, 5,422,954 in 2000, 4,593,330 in 1990; 10) Mongol: 0.4488 percent; 5,981,840 in 2010, 5,827,808 in 2000, 4,806,849 in 1990. [Source: People’s Republic of China censuses]

11) Dong: in 2010, 0.2161 percent; 2,879,974 in 2000, 2,962,911 in 2000, 2,514,014 in 1990; 12) Bouyei: 0.2153 percent; 2,870,034 in 2010, 2,973,217 in 2000, 2,545,059 in 1990; 13) Yao: 0.2098 percent; 2,796,003 in 2010, 2,638,878 in 2000, 2,134,013 in 1990; 14) Bai: 0.1451 percent; 1,933,510 in 2010, 1,861,895 in 2000, 1,594,827 in 1990; 15) Korean: 0.1374 percent; 1,830,929 in 2010, 1,929,696 in 2000, 1,920,597 in 1990; 16) Hani: 0.1246 percent; 1,660,932 in 2010, 1,440,029 in 2000, 1,253,952 in 1990; 17) Li: 0.1098 percent; 1,463,064 in 2010, 1,248,022 in 2000, 1,110,900 in 1990; 18) Kazakh: 0.1097 percent; 1,462,588 in 2010, 1,251,023 in 2000, 1,111,718 in 1990; 19) Dai: 0.0946 percent; 1,261,311 in 2010, 1,159,231 in 2000, 1,025,128 in 1990; 20) She: 0.0532 percent; 708,651 in 2010, 710,039 in 2000, 630,378 in 1990.

21) Lisu: 0.0527 percent; 702,839 in 2010, 635,101 in 2000, 574,856 in 1990; 22) Dongxiang: 0.0466 percent; 621,500 in 2010, 513,826 in 2000, 373,872 in 1990; 23) Gelao: 0.0413 percent; 550,746 in 2010, 579,744 in 2000, 437,997 in 1990; 24) Lahu: 0.0365 percent; 485,966 in 2010, 453,765 in 2000, 411,476 in 1990; 25) Va: 0.0322 percent; 429,709 in 2010, 396,709 in 2000, 351,974 in 1990; 26) Sui: 0.0309 percent; 411,847 in 2010, 407,000 in 2000, 345,993 in 1990; 27) Nakhi: 0.0245 percent; 326,295 in 2010, 309,477 in 2000, 278,009 in 1990; 28) Qiang: 0.0232 percent; 309,576 in 2010, 306,476 in 2000, 198,252 in 1990; 29) Tu: 0.0217 percent; 289,565 in 2010, 241,593 in 2000, 191,624 in 1990; 30) Mulao: 0.0162 percent; 216,257 in 2010, 207,464 in 2000, 159,328 in 1990;

31) Xibe: 0.0143 percent; 190,481 in 2010, 189,357 in 2000, 172,847 in 1990; 32) Kyrgyz: 0.0140 percent; 186,708 in 2010, 160,875 in 2000, 141,549 in 1990; 33) Jingpo: 0.0111 percent; 147,828 in 2010, 132,158 in 2000, 119,209 in 1990; 34) Daur: 0.0099 percent; 131,992 in 2010, 132,747 in 2000, 121,357 in 1990; 35) Salar: 0.0098 percent; 130,607 in 2010, 104,521 in 2000, 87,697 in 1990; 36) Blang: 0.0090 percent; 119,639 in 2010, 91,891 in 2000, 82,280 in 1990; 37) Maonan: 0.0076 percent; 101,192 in 2010, 107,184 in 2000, 71,968 in 1990; 38) Tajik: 0.0038 percent; 51,069 in 2010, 41,056 in 2000, 33,538 in 1990; 39) Pumi: 0.0032 percent; 42,861 in 2010, 33,628 in 2000, 29,657 in 1990; 40) Achang: 0.0030 percent; 39,555 in 2010, 33,954 in 2000, 27,708 in 1990.

41) Nu: 0.0028 percent; 37,523 in 2010, 28,770 in 2000, 27,123 in 1990; 42) Ewenki: 0.0023 percent; 30,875 in 2010, 30,545 in 2000, 26,315 in 1990; 43) Gin: 0.0021 percent; 28,199 in 2010, 22,584 in 2000, 18,915 in 1990; 44) Jino: 0.0017 percent; 23,143 in 2010, 20,899 in 2000, 18,021 in 1990; 45) De'ang: 0.0015 percent; 20,556 in 2010, 17,935 in 2000, 15,462 in 1990; 46) Baoan: 0.0015 percent; 20,074 in 2010, 16,505 in 2000, 12,212 in 1990; 47) Russian: 0.0012 percent; 15,393 in 2010, 15,631 in 2000, 13,504 in 1990; 48) Yugur: 0.0011 percent; 14,378 in 2010, 13,747 in 2000, 12,297 in 1990; 49) Uzbek: 0.0008 percent; 10,569 in 2010, 12,423 in 2000, 14,502 in 1990; 50) Monba: 0.0008 percent; 10,561 in 2010, 8,928 in 2000, 7,475 in 1990.

51) Oroqen: 0.0006 percent; 8,659 in 2010, 8,216 in 2000, 6,965 in 1990; 52) Derung: 0.0005 percent; 6,930 in 2010, 7,431 in 2000, 5,816 in 1990; 53) Hezhen: 0.0004 percent; 5,354 in 2010, 4,664 in 2000, 4,245 in 1990; 54) Gaoshan: 0.0003 percent; 4,009 in 2010, 4,488 in 2000, 2,909 in 1990; 55) Lhoba: 0.0003 percent; 3,682 in 2010, 2,970 in 2000, 2,312 in 1990; 56) Tatars: 0.0003 percent; 3,556 in 2010, 4,895 in 2000, 4,873 in 1990; 57) Undistinguished 0.0480 percent; 640,101 in 2010, 734,438 in 2000, 749 341 in 1990; 58) Naturalized Citizen: 0.0001 percent; 1,448 in 2010, 941 in 2000, 3,421in 1990.

Chinese Minority by Region

Northern China (English Name: Percentage of China’s population in 2010; Population in 2010, Population in 2000, Population in 1990): 4) Manchu: 0.7794 percent; 10,387,958 in 2010, 10,708,464 in 2000, 9,821,180 in 1990. 10) Mongol: 0.4488 percent; 5,981,840 in 2010, 5,827,808 in 2000, 4,806,849 in 1990. 15) Korean: 0.1374 percent; 1,830,929 in 2010, 1,929,696 in 2000, 1,920,597 in 1990. 34) Daur: 0.0099 percent; 131,992 in 2010, 132,747 in 2000, 121,357 in 1990. 42) Ewenki: 0.0023 percent; 30,875 in 2010, 30,545 in 2000, 26,315 in 1990. 51) Oroqen: 0.0006 percent; 8,659 in 2010, 8,216 in 2000, 6,965 in 1990. 53) Hezhen: 0.0004 percent; 5,354 in 2010, 4,664 in 2000, 4,245 in 1990.

Northwest China (mostly Xinjiang and Gansu Province): 3) Hui: 0.7943 percent; 10,586,087 in 2010, 9,828,126 in 2000, 8,602,978 in 1990. 5) Uyghur: 0.7555 percent; 10,069,346 in 2010, 8,405,416 in 2000, 7,214,431 in 1990. 18) Kazakh: 0.1097 percent; 1,462,588 in 2010, 1,251,023 in 2000, 1,111,718 in 1990. 22) Dongxiang: 0.0466 percent; 621,500 in 2010, 513,826 in 2000, 373,872 in 1990. 29) Tu: 0.0217 percent; 289,565 in 2010, 241,593 in 2000, 191,624 in 1990. 31) Xibe: 0.0143 percent; 190,481 in 2010, 189,357 in 2000, 172,847 in 1990. 32) Kyrgyz: 0.0140 percent; 186,708 in 2010, 160,875 in 2000, 141,549 in 1990. 35) Salar: 0.0098 percent; 130,607 in 2010, 104,521 in 2000, 87,697 in 1990. 38) Tajik: 0.0038 percent; 51,069 in 2010, 41,056 in 2000, 33,538 in 1990. 46) Baoan: 0.0015 percent; 20,074 in 2010, 16,505 in 2000, 12,212 in 1990. 47) Russian: 0.0012 percent; 15,393 in 2010, 15,631 in 2000, 13,504 in 1990. 48) Yugur: 0.0011 percent; 14,378 in 2010, 13,747 in 2000, 12,297 in 1990. 49) Uzbek: 0.0008 percent; 10,569 in 2010, 12,423 in 2000, 14,502 in 1990. 56) Tatars: 0.0003 percent; 3,556 in 2010, 4,895 in 2000, 4,873 in 1990.

Southern China (mostly Guizhou and Guangxi): 2) Zhuang: 1.2700 percent; 16,926,381 in 2010, 16,187,163 in 2000, 15,489,630 in 1990. 6) Miao: 0.7072 percent; 9,426,007 in 2010, 8,945,538 in 2000, 7,398,035 in 1990. 11) Dong: in 2010, 0.2161 percent; 2,879,974 in 2000, 2,962,911 in 2000, 2,514,014 in 1990. 13) Yao: 0.2098 percent; 2,796,003 in 2010, 2,638,878 in 2000, 2,134,013 in 1990. 17) Li: 0.1098 percent; 1,463,064 in 2010, 1,248,022 in 2000, 1,110,900 in 1990. 20) She: 0.0532 percent; 708,651 in 2010, 710,039 in 2000, 630,378 in 1990. 23) Gelao: 0.0413 percent; 550,746 in 2010, 579,744 in 2000, 437,997 in 1990. 26) Sui: 0.0309 percent; 411,847 in 2010, 407,000 in 2000, 345,993 in 1990. 30) Mulao: 0.0162 percent; 216,257 in 2010, 207,464 in 2000, 159,328 in 1990. 37) Maonan: 0.0076 percent; 101,192 in 2010, 107,184 in 2000, 71,968 in 1990. 43) Gin: 0.0021 percent; 28,199 in 2010, 22,584 in 2000, 18,915 in 1990. 54) Gaoshan (Taiwan): 0.0003 percent; 4,009 in 2010, 4,488 in 2000, 2,909 in 1990.

Southwest China (mostly western Yunnan): 12) Bouyei: 0.2153 percent; 2,870,034 in 2010, 2,973,217 in 2000, 2,545,059 in 1990. 16) Hani: 0.1246 percent; 1,660,932 in 2010, 1,440,029 in 2000, 1,253,952 in 1990. 19) Dai: 0.0946 percent; 1,261,311 in 2010, 1,159,231 in 2000, 1,025,128 in 1990. 21) Lisu: 0.0527 percent; 702,839 in 2010, 635,101 in 2000, 574,856 in 1990. 24) Lahu: 0.0365 percent; 485,966 in 2010, 453,765 in 2000, 411,476 in 1990. 25) Va: 0.0322 percent; 429,709 in 2010, 396,709 in 2000, 351,974 in 1990. 33) Jingpo: 0.0111 percent; 147,828 in 2010, 132,158 in 2000, 119,209 in 1990. 36) Blang: 0.0090 percent; 119,639 in 2010, 91,891 in 2000, 82,280 in 1990. 39) Pumi: 0.0032 percent; 42,861 in 2010, 33,628 in 2000, 29,657 in 1990. 40) Achang: 0.0030 percent; 39,555 in 2010, 33,954 in 2000, 27,708 in 1990. 44) Jino: 0.0017 percent; 23,143 in 2010, 20,899 in 2000, 18,021 in 1990. 45) De'ang: 0.0015 percent; 20,556 in 2010, 17,935 in 2000, 15,462 in 1990.

Central, Southern, Western China (mostly northern Yunnan and Sichuan) 7) Yi: 0.6538 percent; 8,714,393 in 2010, 7,765,858 in 2000, 6,572,173 in 1990. 8) Tujia: 0.6268 percent; 8,353,912 in 2010, 8,037,014 in 2000, 5,704,223 in 1990. 14) Bai: 0.1451 percent; 1,933,510 in 2010, 1,861,895 in 2000, 1,594,827 in 1990. 27) Naxi: 0.0245 percent; 326,295 in 2010, 309,477 in 2000, 278,009 in 1990. 28) Qiang: 0.0232 percent; 309,576 in 2010, 306,476 in 2000, 198,252 in 1990. 41) Nu: 0.0028 percent; 37,523 in 2010, 28,770 in 2000, 27,123 in 1990. 52) Derung (Dulong): 0.0005 percent; 6,930 in 2010, 7,431 in 2000, 5,816 in 1990.

Tibet: 9) Tibetan: 0.4713 percent; 6,282,187 in 2010, 5,422,954 in 2000, 4,593,330 in 1990. 50) Monba: 0.0008 percent; 10,561 in 2010, 8,928 in 2000, 7,475 in 1990. 55) Lhoba: 0.0003 percent; 3,682 in 2010, 2,970 in 2000, 2,312 in 1990.

How Minorities are Defined in Communist China

Since 1949 Chinese officials have declared that the minorities are politically equal to the Han majority and in fact should be accorded preferential treatment because of their small numbers and poor economic circumstances. The government has tried to ensure that the minorities are well represented at national conferences and has relaxed certain policies that might have impeded their socioeconomic development. [Source: Library of Congress]

“The Chinese define a nationality as a group of people of common origin living in a common area, using a common language, and having a sense of group identity in economic and social organization and behavior. Altogether, China has fifteen major linguistic regions generally coinciding with the geographic distribution of the major minority nationalities. Members of non-Han groups, referred to as the "minority nationalities," constitute only about 7 percent of the total population but are distributed over 60 percent of the land. [Source: Library of Congress]

“Because many of the minority nationalities are located in politically sensitive frontier areas, they have acquired an importance greater than their numbers. Some groups have common ancestry with peoples in neighboring countries. For example, members of the Shan, Korean, Mongol, Uygur and Kazak, and Yao nationalities are found not only in China but also in Burma, Korea, the Mongolian People's Republic, Kazakhstan and Thailand, respectively. If the central government failed to maintain good relations with these groups, China's border security could be jeopardized. [Ibid]

“The minority areas are economically as well as politically important. China's leaders have suggested that by the turn of the century the focus of economic development should shift to the northwest. The area is rich in natural resources, with uranium deposits and abundant oil reserves in Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region. Much of China's forestland is located in the border regions of the northeast and southwest, and large numbers of livestock are raised in the arid and semiarid northwest. Also, the vast amount of virgin land in minority areas can be used for resettlement to relieve population pressures in the densely populated regions of the country. [Ibid]

Assimilation and Minorities in China

Over the centuries a great many peoples who were originally not Chinese have been assimilated into Chinese society. Entry into Han society has not demanded religious conversion or formal initiation. It has depended on command of the Chinese written language and evidence of adherence to Chinese values and customs. For the most part, what has distinguished those groups that have been assimilated from those that have not has been the suitability of their environment for Han agriculture. People living in areas where Chinese-style agriculture is feasible have either been displaced or assimilated. The consequence is that most of China's minorities inhabit extensive tracts of land unsuited for Han-style agriculture; they are not usually found as long-term inhabitants of Chinese cities or in close proximity to most Han villages. Those living on steppes, near desert oases, or in high mountains, and dependent on pastoral nomadism or shifting cultivation, have retained their ethnic distinctiveness outside Han society. The sharpest ethnic boundary has been between the Han and the steppe pastoralists, a boundary sharpened by centuries of conflict and cycles of conquest and subjugation. Reminders of these differences are the absence of dairy products from the otherwise extensive repertoire of Han cuisine and the distaste most Chinese feel for such typical steppe specialties as tea laced with butter. [Source: Library of Congress]

“Official policy recognizes the multiethnic nature of the Chinese state, within which all "nationalities" are formally equal. On the one hand, it is not state policy to force the assimilation of minority nationalities, and such nonpolitical expressions of ethnicity as native costumes and folk dances are encouraged. On the other hand, China's government is a highly centralized one that recognizes no legitimate limits to its authority, and minority peoples in far western Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region, for example, are considered Chinese citizens just as much as Han farmers on the outskirts of Beijing are. [Ibid]

“Official attitudes toward minority peoples are inconsistent, if not contradictory. Since 1949 policies toward minorities have fluctuated between tolerance and coercive attempts to impose Han standards. Tolerant periods have been marked by subsidized material benefits intended to win loyalty, while coercive periods such as the Cultural Revolution have attempted to eradicate "superstition" and to overthrow insufficiently radical or insufficiently nationalistic local leaders. [Ibid]

“What has not varied has been the assumption that it is the central government that decides what is best for minority peoples and that national citizenship takes precedence over ethnic identity. In fact, minority nationality is a legal status in China. The government reserves for itself the right to determine whether or not a group is a minority nationality, and the list has been revised several times since the 1950s. Most Han Chinese have no contact with members of minority groups. But in areas such as the Tibet or Xinjiang autonomous regions, where large numbers of Han have settled since the assertion of Chinese central government authority over them in the 1950s, there is clearly some ethnic tension. The tension stems from Han dominance over such previously independent or semi-autonomous peoples as the Tibetans and Uygurs, from Cultural Revolution attacks on religious observances, and from Han disdain for and lack of sensitivity to minority cultures. In the autonomous areas the ethnic groups appear to lead largely separate lives.

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Chinese Minority History

At the end of the Han dynasty in the A.D. 3rd century China split into three independent kingdoms. Political instability in the north caused a large migration of Chinese people to the Yangtze River basin. This caused the people living in this area to move to the relatively wild and uncharted south, where various tribal peoples were already living. This started a process of colonization of indigenous lands by the Han Chinese that continues to this day. Some indigenous peoples mixed with the recently-arrived Chinese, assimilating into the Han Chinese masses. Others, such as the Yao, maintained their independence. However, they were forced to abandon their most fertile lands, and migrate further south and into the mountains to agriculturally less productive areas.

In the 1950s, the Minzu Shibie (minorities identification project)—the first major work of ethnic identification in China—was carried and for the most part the 56 or so ethnic groups recognized were defined and categorized. Most of the designations are reasonable and logical and are based on linguistic, historical and cultural criteria. But in some cases—especially with small, difficult-to-categorize groups—groups that were different in many respects were grouped together (See the Nu minority) and small groups were thrown in with larger groups because it seemed they didn’t justify the troube of designating them as a separate ethnic group.

During the Cultural Revolution all religious practices were banned. Harsh punishments were inflicted on those who were caught practicing their faith.

Communist Party Take on Chinese Minority History

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “When it comes to China’s ethnic minorities, the party-run history machine is especially single-minded in its effort to promote story lines that portray Uyghurs, Mongolians, Tibetans and other groups as contented members of an extended family whose traditional homelands have long been part of the Chinese nation. Alternate narratives are far less cheery. They include tales of subjugation and repression amid government-backed efforts to dilute ethnic identity through the migration of members of China’s dominant group, the Han. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, August 18, 2014 ~~]

“Chinese historians rarely veer from the officially sanctioned scripts; Uyghur and Tibetan scholars who have insisted on writing about the disagreeable aspects of Communist rule have seen their books banned and their careers destroyed. James A. Millward, a professor at Georgetown University who studies China’s ethnically diverse borderlands, said the drive to shape history, while not unique to China, was zealously practiced by each succeeding dynasty in an effort to malign an emperor’s predecessors and glorify his own rule. ~~

“But the Communists have also sought to use history as a tool against separatist aspirations and to legitimize their efforts to govern potentially restive populations. “The ability to control historical narratives and airbrush out problematic truths is a powerful tool but it also reveals the party’s insecurity over certain aspects of the past it would rather the world forget,” Professor Millward said. ~~

“Party propagandists have been especially drawn to female protagonists, often royal consorts, who were bit players in grand power struggles involving warring states on the fringes of the ancient Chinese empire. In Inner Mongolia, the vast grasslands that form a buffer between China and Mongolia, it is Wang Zhaojun, a lovelorn Han dynasty consort who supposedly offered herself to a “barbarian” Mongolian prince to cement an alliance between the two peoples. ~~

Cultural Diversity Within the Han

The peoples identified as Han comprise 91 percent of the population, from Beijing in the north to Canton in the south, and include the Hakka, Fujianese, Cantonese and others. These Han are thought to be united by a common history, culture and written language; differences in language, dress, diet and customs are regarded as minor. An active, state-sponsored program assists the official minority cultures and promotes their economic development (with mixed results). [Source: By Dru C. Gladney, Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2009, Dru Gladney is president of the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College]

Cultural diversity within the Han has not been officially recognized because of a deep (and well-founded) fear of the country breaking up into feuding kingdoms, as happened in the 1910s and 1920s. China has historically been divided along north-south lines, into Five Kingdoms, Warring States or local satrapies, as often as it has been united. Indeed, China as it currently exists, including large pieces of territory occupied by Mongols, Turkic peoples, Tibetans, etc., is three times as large as it was under the last Chinese dynasty, the Ming, which fell in 1644. A strong, centralizing government (whether of foreign or internal origin) has often tried to impose ritualistic, linguistic, economic and political uniformity throughout its borders. [Ibid]

The supposedly homogenous Han speak eight mutually unintelligible languages (Mandarin, Wu, Yue, Xiang, Hakka, Gan, Southern Min and Northern Min). Even these subgroups show marked linguistic and cultural diversity. In the Yue language family, for example, Cantonese speakers are barely intelligible to Taishan speakers, and the Southern Min dialects of Quanzhou, Changzhou and Xiamen are equally difficult to communicate across. The Chinese linguist Y. R. Chao has shown that the mutual unintelligibility of, say, Cantonese and Mandarin is as great as that of Dutch and English or French and Italian. Mandarin was imposed as the national language early in the 20th century and has become the lingua franca, but, like Swahili in Africa, it must often be learned in school and is rarely used in everyday life across much of China. [Ibid]

Interestingly, most...southern groups traditionally regarded themselves not as Han but as Tang, descendants of the great Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D.) and its southern bases. Most Chinatowns in North America, Europe and Southeast Asia are inhabited by descendants of Chinese immigrants from the mainly Tang areas of southern China. The next decade may see the resurgence of Tang nationalism in southern China in opposition to northern Han nationalism, especially as economic wealth in the south eclipses that of the north. Some have postulated that the heavy coverage by the state-sponsored media of the riots in Xinjiang, as opposed to the news blackout in Tibet, was a deliberate effort to stimulate Han Chinese nationalism and antiminority ethnic sentiment, in an effort to bring the majority population together during a period of economic and social instability. [Ibid]

Life of Minorities in China

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Tibetan girl
Minorities are generally very poor; and their income levels are generally significantly lower than the Chinese population as a whole. By some estimates more than 70 percent of ethnic minorities in southern China live below the poverty line. Many live on less than $60 a year; reside in villages without roads and electricity; lack education; don’t speak Chinese; and didn't know anything of the outside world until they saw a television.

Life is getting better--in a material sense anyway--for many members of minority groups. Families that lived in mud houses with pigs in villages that had no electricity and were a two hour hike from the nearest dirt road now live in concrete houses with pens for animals and have roads and electricity and even telephones and televisions with he government providing infrastructure. Many minority villagers also receive money from children working in the cities.

Medical care is provided by shaman, folk medicine herbalists, and barefoot doctors as well as modern medical facilities if they are accessible. The schools are often little more than huts. Some teachers are minority members who have received some but not much training. Some are Han Chinese who act like Peace Corp volunteers.

Many minority villages are untouched by economic and social changes. As is true with the Han Chinese, many young adults have gone off to the cities seeking jobs and opportunities, leaving behind children to be raised by grandparents.

Minorities often wear distinctive clothing . The groups in the north often wear long garments, robes and coats because it is cold while both men and women in many groups in the warmer south wear skirts or sarongs.

Ethnic minorities have often been portrayed as more sexual than ordinary Chinese because they are not restricted by as many cultural norms.

Folk Stories, Tales and Songs from China’s Ethnic Groups

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Dong girl
Book: The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature (2011), edited by Victor H. Mair and Mark Bender, two of the world's leading sinologists, This collection presents works drawn from the large body of oral literature of many of China's recognized ethnic groups---including the Han, Yi, Miao,Tu, Daur, Tibetan, Uyghur, and Kazak---and the selections include a variety of genres.

Chapters cover folk stories, songs, rituals, and drama, as well as epic traditions and professional storytelling, and feature both familiar and little-known texts, from the story of the woman warrior Hua Mulan to the love stories of urban storytellers in the Yangtze delta, the shaman rituals of the Manchu, and a trickster tale of the Daur people from the forests of the northeast. The Cannibal Grandmother of the Yi and other strange creatures and characters unsettle accepted notions of Chinese fable and literary form.

Readers are introduced to antiphonal songs of the Zhuang and the Dong, who live among the fantastic limestone hills of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region; work and matchmaking songs of the mountain-dwelling She of Fujian province; and saltwater songs of the Cantonese-speaking boat people of Hong Kong. The editors feature the Mongolian epic poems of Geser Khan and Jangar; the sad tale of the Qeo family girl, from the Tu people of Gansu and Qinghai provinces; and local plays known as "rice sprouts" from Hebei province. These fascinating juxtapositions invite comparisons among cultures, styles, and genres, and expert translations preserve the individual character of each thrillingly imaginative work.

Melting Pot China?

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Dongxiang child
Dru C. Gladney, Wall Street Journal, “Indeed, one might even say it has become popular to be “ethnic” in today’s China. Mongolian hot pot, Muslim noodle and Korean barbecue restaurants proliferate in every city, while minority clothing, artistic motifs and cultural styles adorn Chinese private homes. In Beijing, one of the most popular restaurants is the Tibetan chain Makye-ame. There, the nouveau riche of Beijing eat exotic foods such as yak kabobs served by beautiful waitresses in Tibetan clothing during Tibetan music and dance performances.” [Source: By Dru C. Gladney, Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2009, Dru Gladney is president of the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College]

“With the dramatic economic explosion in South China, southerners and others have begun to assert cultural and political differences. Whereas comedians used to make fun of southern ways and accents, southerners (especially Shanghainese) now scorn northerners for their lack of sophistication and business acumen. As any Mandarin-speaking Beijing resident will tell you, bargaining for vegetables or cellular telephones in Guangzhou or Shanghai markets is becoming more difficult for them due to growing pride in the local languages: Non-native speakers always pay a higher price. Rising self-awareness among the Cantonese is paralleled by the reassertion of identity among the Hakka, the southern Fujianese Min, the Swatow and other peoples now empowered by economic success and embittered by age-old restraints from the north. [Ibid]

“To support their policies the he Chinese have argued they are justly proud of the ethnic diversity of China. Why should nationality be defined by language or ethnicity? If Tibetans should be allowed to break away from China, why not the Welsh from Britain, the Basques from Spain, the Kurds from Turkey, or the Kashmiris from India?” [Source:Ian Buruma, The Guardian, April 10, 2009]

Melting Pot China, And the Potential for Trouble

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Hani girl
“China’s very economic vitality has the potential to fuel ethnic and linguistic division, rather than further integrating the country,” Dru C. Gladney, Wall Street Journal. “As southern and coastal areas get richer, much of central, northern and northwestern China hasn’t kept up, increasing competition and contributing to age-old resentments across ethnic, linguistic and cultural lines. Uneven distribution of wealth has fueled deep resentment in the poorer, often ethnic regions of China. [Ibid]

“The result of all these changes is that China is becoming increasingly de-centered. This is a fearsome prospect for those holding the reins in Beijing and perhaps was a factor in the decisions to crack down on the June 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, keep a tight rein on the Olympics and respond swiftly and harshly to riots in Tibet and Xinjiang. Last year the government admitted to more than 100,000 mass incidents of civil unrest. [Ibid]

“A China weakened by internal strife, inflation, uneven economic growth or the struggle for political succession could become further divided along cultural and linguistic lines. China’s threats will most likely come from civil unrest, and perhaps internal ethnic unrest from within the so-called Han majority. We should recall that it was a southerner, born and educated abroad, who led the revolution that ended China’s last dynasty. When that empire fell, competing warlords---often supported by foreign powers---fought for turf.

Woeser on the Chinese Attitude Towards Minorities in China

In March 2012 Tibetan poet and activist Tsering Woeser wrote in Foreign Policy: For the Han Chinese, who make up more than 90 percent of China's population, there is an expression engraved in their history books: "Whoever is not among us must be of a different heart." Originally, these words were not frightening. Over the years, though, the sentiments they express have created an atmosphere of raw violence. Minorities stand in the way of the grand unity of China's different peoples; they must be Sinicized or extinguished. The ethnic minorities who live in China, the Tibetans, Uighurs, Mongolians, and others, understand that this view of ethnic minorities is actually quite widespread, that it is the mainstream, that they receive little empathy from the majority.

But even some Chinese dissidents and human rights defenders have double standards when dealing with ethnic minorities. In their view, democracy, human rights, freedom, and other values in China apply only to Han Chinese. When it comes to ethnic minorities, they say, "So sorry, you cannot bask in these rays." Although they consider themselves the victims of autocratic rule, they are still not aware that to ethnic minorities they themselves are the embodiment of autocracy, that they themselves are doing harm.

Minorities Theme Parks in China

Ethnic theme parks are increasingly becoming a popular form of entertainment for middle-class Han, w come to experience what they consider the most exotic elements of their vast nation. There is no comprehensive count of these Disneyland-like parks, but people in the industry say the number is growing, as are visitors. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, February 23, 2010]

The parks are money-making ventures. But scholars say they also serve a political purpose---to reinforce the idea that the Chinese nation encompasses 55 fixed ethnic minorities and their territories, all ruled by the Han...The companies running the parks are generally Han-owned, say industry workers. [Ibid]

“They’re one piece in the puzzle of the larger project of how China wants to represent itself as a multiethnic state,” Thomas S. Mullaney, a historian at Stanford University who studies China’s ethnic taxonomy, told the New York Times. “Theend goal is political, which is territorial unity. Parks like that, even if they’re kitschy, kind of like Legoland, they still play and occupy a political position.” [Ibid]

The most famous park, the Nationalities Park in Beijing, is a combination of museum and fairground. Ethnic workers from across China dress up in their native costumes for mostly Han tourists. (For a while, English signs there read Racist Park, an unfortunate translation of the Chinese name.) In some parks, Han workers dress up as natives---a practice given legitimacy by the government when Han children marched out in the costumes of the 55 minorities during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics. [Ibid]

See Tibet, Xinjiang

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European Chinese and Other Foreigners in China

There are a few European-looking Chinese but not many. Xu Xiangshun is a 58-year-old Italian-born Chinese peasant. He has European features and aquamarine eyes, speaks only a local Chinese dialect and chains smokes and spits like any ordinary Chinese man. Xu was born to Italian parents. His father was killed in World War II and his mother married a Chinese man named Wu and moved with him to China.

Xu’s mother died soon after they arrived in China. Xu dropped out of school in second grade because he was teased so much over his looks by the other students and never learned to read or write. He became a peasant farmer, married a Chinese woman and had three children. He finally got a chance to return to Italy in the late 1990s. By that time he’d long forgotten his Italian name.

According to the 2010 census some people were classified as: 1) Undistinguished 0.0480 percent of the population: 640,101 in 2010, 734,438 in 2000, 749 341 in 1990; and 2) Naturalized Citizen: 0.0001 percent; 1,448 in 2010, 941 in 2000, 3,421in 1990. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

A Vietnamese Chinese in Guangdong Province told the Washington Post. “The government doesn’t help us mainly because we are Chinese Vietnamese. We are poor and uneducated, so no one in our group works for the government. The government knows we are a weak group.”

Image Sources: 1) Maps, University of Washington; 2) Posters, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/; Wikicommons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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