HAN CHINESE

HAN CHINESE

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The Han nationality is the main Chinese nationality and the largest ethnic group in both China and the world. Han Chinese make up 91 percent of the population of China and share a common written language, social organization, values, and cultural characteristics that are recognized as Chinese. Their languages vary quite a bit. The population of China in 2020 was around 1.4 billion, The number of Han Chinese at that time was 1.29 billion, accounting for 91.11 percent of the total population. he Han Chinese population of China increased by 4.93 percent between 2010 and 2020. Based on the 2010 census, they made up 91.5 percent of the population of China and numbered around 1.18 billion.

Another layer of complexity is added when you factor in people who have one parents who is Chinese or Han Chinese and another parent who is of a different nationality or ethnic group, or people who have a grandparent or great=grandparent who is Chinese. Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner wrote in “CultureShock! China”: “Chinese visa officials, for instance, will generally grant special ‘visiting your relatives’ visas to ‘half-Chinese’ children of mixed marriages, but may deny those visas to ‘one-quarter Chinese’ grandchildren of such marriages” [Source: “CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

The Chinese people call themselves Han in honor of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), which itself was adopted from the name of a river. The Han dynasty's founding emperor, Liu Bang, was made king of the Hanzhong region after the fall of the Qin dynasty, a title that was later shortened to "the King of Han". The name "Hanzhong", in turn, was derived from the Han River, which flows through the region's plains. Modern Hanzhong — meaning “Middle of the Han River” is a prefecture-level city in the southwest of Shaanxi province, bordering the provinces of Sichuan to the south and Gansu to the west. Hanzhong is located at the modern headwater of the Han River, the largest tributary of the Yangtze River.

Han is pronounced “hahn”. They are also known as Chinese, Hua and Zhongguo ren. They live mostly in mainland China, Singapore and Taiwan but can be found in nearly every country in the world. Overseas Chinese are most numerous in Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea, North America, Oceania, and Europe. Most of the population of Taiwan and Singapore and most of the Chinese found elsewhere in the world are Han Chinese.Their main language of Han Chinese in China is Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua). The predominate religions are folk beliefs, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009]

The Han Chinese embraces traditionally Mandarin-, Shanghai- and Cantonese-speaking Chinese. They hail from China's Northeast Plain and the Yangtze and Yellow river valleys. Today they are scattered all over the country and many non-Han Chinese feel that their homelands are being overrun by them. Stevan Harrell wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The name "Han" distinguishes them from the diverse minority peoples such as Mongols, Uigurs, Tibetans, Miao, and others. Outside mainland China, the term "Han" is less frequently used, and the people usually refer to themselves by some variant of the term "Zhongguo ren," which in Mandarin Chinese means "people of the central country" and is usually translated into English as "Chinese." (The European terms "Chinese" and "China" are of disputed origin.). [Source: Stevan Harrell, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia - Eurasia / China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

The population of Han Chinese in China in 2020, according to the 2020 Chinese census, was 1.29 billion, accounting for 91.11 percent of the total population. Han population in China: 1,220,844,520 (91.64 percent of the total population) in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 1,139,773,008 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 1,042,482,187 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

Websites and Sources: Book: Understanding the Chinese Personality mellenpress.com ; Understanding Chinese Business Culture legacee.com ; Status of Chinese People Blog chinaview.wordpress.com ; Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project www.pnas.org ; Opinions on Asian Fetish colorq.org ; Wikipedia article on the Mongoloid Race Wikipedia ; Essay on Humor, China and Japan aboutjapan.japansociety.org

Chinese-Han Identity

According to The Economist: Ethnicity is central to China’s national identity. It is the Han, 1.2bn of them in mainland China alone, that most people refer to as “Chinese”, rather than the country’s minorities, numbering 110m people. Ethnicity and nationality have become almost interchangeable for China’s Han, says James Leibold of La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. That conflation is of fundamental importance. It defines the relations between the Han and other ethnic groups. By narrowing its legal labour market almost entirely to people of Han descent, ethnicity is shaping the country’s economy and development. And it strains foreign relations, too. Even ethnic Han whose families left for other countries generations ago are often regarded as part of a coherent national group, both by China’s government and people. [Source: The Economist, November 19, 2016]

“The Han take their label from the dynasty of that name in the third century BC. Yet the people labelled Han today are a construct of the early 20th century, says Frank Dikötter of the University of Hong Kong. For well over half of the past 650 years, the bulk of territory now called China was occupied by foreign powers (by Mongols from the north, then Manchus from the north-east). Chinese history paints the (foreign) Manchus who ran China’s last dynasty, the Qing, as “Sinicised”, yet recent research suggests that they kept their own language and culture, and that Qing China was part of a larger, multi-ethnic empire.

“But after the Qing fell in 1911, the new elite sought to create an overarching rationale for the Chinese nation state—its subjects spoke mutually incomprehensible languages and had diverse traditions and beliefs. Patrilineage was already strong in much of China: clans believed they could trace their line to a group of common ancestors. That helped Chinese nationalists develop the idea that all Han were descended from Huangdi, the “Yellow Emperor”, 5,000 years ago.

“Race became a central organising principle in Republican China. Sun Yat-sen, who founded the Kuomintang, China’s nationalist party, and is widely seen as a “father” of the Chinese nation, promoted the idea of “common blood”. A century on President Xi Jinping continues to do so. One reason for his claim that Taiwan is part of China is that “blood is thicker than water”. In a speech in 2014 he set his sights even wider: “Generations of overseas Chinese never forget their home country, their origins or the blood of the Chinese nation flowing in their veins.”

“Many Chinese today share the idea that a Chinese person is instantly recognisable—and that an ethnic Han must, in essence, be one of them. A young child in Beijing will openly point at someone with white or black skin and declare them a foreigner (or “person from outside country”, to translate literally). Foreign-born Han living in China are routinely told that their Mandarin should be better (in contrast to non-Han, who are praised even if they only mangle an occasional pleasantry).

“China today is extraordinarily homogenous. It sustains that by remaining almost entirely closed to new entrants except by birth. Unless someone is the child of a Chinese national, no matter how long they live there, how much money they make or tax they pay, it is virtually impossible to become a citizen. Someone who marries a Chinese person can theoretically gain citizenship; in practice few do. As a result, the most populous nation on Earth has only 1,448 naturalised Chinese in total, according to the 2010 census. Even Japan, better known for hostility to immigration, naturalises around 10,000 new citizens each year; in America the figure is some 700,000.

Han Chinese Homeland

The Han people have traditionally been concentrated in the Central Plains of China and from there have spread all over the country. The Han ethnic group originated in Huang Ti times — which includes the Xia , Shang Zhou Dynasties (2200-256 B.C) .—and took shape in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.) and the Warring states (475-221 B.C.). It claims a civilized history of 5,000 years. The name of "Han" began being used from the Han Dynasty. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]

In ancient times, the ancestors of the Han lived in the Yellow River basin. Over the centuries they competed with, fought, and merged with neighboring tribes. Later the Han founded Huaxia, which slowly expanded along the Yangtze River and unified China under the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) with Huaxia at its center. Many Han Chinese migrated to south China (south of the Yangtze River). The Han population there eventually exceeded that of the north about 600 years ago. From the Han Dynasty onwards the history of China and the Han Chinese is the same.

C. Le Blanc wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life: “It is generally believed that the Chinese, as a unified nationality (with Huaxia as its core), came into being during the period of Han Dynasty. It was due to the political and cultural importance of this dynasty that the Chinese came to be known as the "people of Han" or simply "Han."” Han Chinese “are mainly concentrated in cities and large river valleys where agriculture is most developed and productive."The Han Chinese created present day China in many cases by conquering territory and overpowering local tribes by sheer numbers through mass migrations. Tribal kingdoms in Tibet, Sichuan and Yunnan have a long history of battling the Han Chinese for control of their homelands. Some of these groups were driven from the fertile valleys by the Han Chinese into the hills and mountains where they now live.

Where the Han Chinese Live Today

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”:“The majority of the Han people are concentrated in the eastern half of mainland China. Drawing a line from the Xing'an Mountains in northeastern China, across the northern bend of the Yellow River, through the foothills that separate Sichuan from Tibet, and across the northern part of Yunnan Province to the border of Myanmar (Burma), the area to the east and south of the line has sufficient rainfall for intensive grain agriculture, whereas the area to the north and west is drier and more conducive to pastoralism. [Source: Stevan Harrell, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia - Eurasia / China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

Historically, the agrarian civilization built by Han people was confined to the agricultural areas. Even though the drier northern and western regions sometimes came under the rule of Han-dominated regimes, they were not intensively colonized by Han people until the twentieth century. The only areas outside this region that are now predominantly Han are the islands of Hainan, colonized during the last thousand years; Taiwan, settled by Han during the last 400 years; and Singapore, colonized only since the nineteenth century. |~|

“Within the core area of Han settlement, there is great climatic and geographic variation. In the northern region, centered on the drainage area of the Yellow River, winters are cold, summers are hot, rainfall is marginal, and agriculture has traditionally been based on dry grains, such as wheat, millet, sorghum, and barley. In the central region, centered on the drainage of the Yangtze River, and in the southern regions, winters are mild, summers hot and humid, and rainfall heavy, permitting multiple cropping and irrigated crops, especially wet-field rice. |~|

History of the Han Chinese

Stevan Harrell wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: ““The probable Neolithic forebears of the Han were farming in the valleys of the Yellow River and its major tributaries as early as 6000 before present In the late third and early second millennia B.C., a series of city-states arose in the same area; the best-documented of these, historically and archaeologically, are the Xia (centered in the Fen River valley), the Shang (centered in the western part of the North China Plain), and the Zhou (centered in the Wei River valley). Traditional historiography portrays these as successive "dynasties," but they are best seen as successively dominant city-states. [Source: Stevan Harrell, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia - Eurasia / China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

By the later part of the period of Shang dominance (c. 1400-1048 B.C.), written records afford us a portrayal of a highly stratified, kin-based state. The Zhou conquest of Shang in 1048 initially brought about little social change, but throughout the 800-year reign of Zhou kings, China was transformed fundamentally by the intensification of agriculture, the development of bureaucracy, the invention of iron technology, and the spread of commerce and urbanism. The latter part of the Zhou reign, referred to as the Spring and Autumn (771-482) and Warring States (481-221) periods, saw great demographic and economic expansion as well as the development of rival systems of political and social philosophy that formed the basis of Chinese intellectual life for the entire imperial period, which lasted from the unification of China by the Qin in 221 B.C. and continued until the overthrow of the Qing in 1911. |~|

“The 2,000 years of imperial Chinese history encompass great cultural change within a self-consciously continuous tradition. The first long-lasting imperial dynasty, the Han (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), was characterized by the development of a cultural and political orthodoxy often known as Confucianism—an attempt to create a social, political, and cosmic order on the basis of highly developed ideas of individual and social morality. The breakup of the Han was followed by a period of disunity, during which Buddhism became an important cultural force; the early part of the next unifying dynasty, the Tang (618-906 CE.) witnessed the flourishing of a cosmopolitan culture, but its later years were marked by a partially xenophobic tendency." From this period the history of the Han Chinese and China is more or less the same.

“For the past 2,000 years at least, Han people or their precursors have probably always constituted between 15 and 25 percent of the world's population. An imperial census taken in the year 2 A.D. counted over 59 million people; by the beginning of the Qing dynasty in 1644, the population of the Chinese empire was probably around 200 million, the great majority of them Han. This had grown to about 450 million by 1850 and was more than 580 million (and over 90 percent Han) in 1953, when the People's Republic of China took its first comprehensive census.

The overthrow of the Qing in 1911, led partly by Han ethnic nationalists, resulted in the establishment of the Republic of China. Under this banner, a series of regimes, culminating in that of the Nationalist party, or Guomindang, ruled parts of mainland China until 1949, when they retreated to the island of Taiwan, where the Nationalist party remains in power today. Population grew rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s (with a large setback in the famine years of 1960-1962), finally inducing the People's Republic to institute a series of increasingly strict population-control plans, culminating in the one-child-per-family policy begun in 1979. These policies, largely though not completely successful, have reduced the population growth rate in recent years. Outside mainland China, the Republic of China government on Taiwan also encouraged population control since the late 1950s, but through much gentler means, relying (ultimately successfully) on urbanization, economic development, and a strong propaganda campaign to curb population growth. The population of the island was 19.8 million in 1988, of whom over 98 percent were Han. Together with Overseas Chinese populations of approximately 27 million in Asia (mostly Southeast Asia), over 2 million in the Americas, and perhaps 1 million elsewhere, the total Han Chinese population worldwide in 1992 is probably slightly over 1.1 billion. |~|

Han Chinese Culture and Language

The Han ethnic group have their own spoken languages, dialects and written languages, which are effectively those referred to as being used by Chinese. Belonging to the Han-Tibetan language family, the Han language is further divided by Chinese sources into nine dialects, the northern dialect, Wu dialect, Hunan dialect, Jiangxi dialect, Hakka dialect, southern Fujian dialect, Shanxi dialect, Guangdong dialect. . [Source: Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities in China, kepu.net.cn ]

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Han language, usually called Chinese, has been adopted by the United Nations as an official international language. Although there are several dialects, the written script, invented more than 3,000 years ago, is compatible with all of them. The popularization of the northern dialect (sometimes called Mandarin Chinese), which has become the common spoken language (putonghua) of China, has contributed to better communication and understanding among the various peoples, nationalities, and regions of China. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

Art forms associated with the Han include bronzeware, silk, pottery, architecture, and painting. Among the highlights are Song art and pottery, Tang poetry, and Ming and Qing novels. Four great inventions—papermaking, printing, the compass, and gunpowder—are acknowledged by the world. Traditional festivals include the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival, Pure Brightness, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-autumn Festival and Double Ninth Festival. ~

Many Aspects of Chinese Culture and Life Discussed in this site are those of the Han Chinese. See Clothes, Food, Art, Crafts, Music, Tea, Cuisines, Courtyard Houses

Han Religion

Stevan Harrell wrote in the “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The Han have historically accommodated religions of diverse origin. Popular oral traditions reflect early beliefs in nature gods and deified heroes. During the Han B.C.-A.D. 220) three religions grew: Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. They were based on the respective teachings of three men: Lao-tzu, Confucius, and the Buddha. Buddhism had the most followers. [Source: Stevan Harrell, “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”, Gale Group, Inc., 1999]

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life: “Since the concept of patriarchal clan is deeply rooted in Han society, the continuity of patrilineal family is a matter of prime importance, having a great impact on attitudes and behavior even at the present. Another cultural trait deriving from the remote past is the Han belief in the idea of God's will. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

“The Han have historically accommodated religions of diverse origins. “Inscriptions on "Oracle Bones," dating from the 14th century BC, testify to the belief of the ruling class in the deified ancestor, ancestor worship, and bone divination (to know the ancestor's will). Earlier popular oral traditions reflect beliefs in a plurality of nature gods (terrestrial and heavenly) and deified heroes. *\

Han Chinese Kin Groups and Descent

Stevan Harrell wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Han people have had patrilineal kin groups since the period of the earliest written history, and a hierarchical arrangement of clans was the basis of stratification in the feudal order of the Shang and Zhou periods. Nothing is known about the kin group organization of the nonruling classes before the Song period. In the Song period, the Chinese patrilineage as we now know it began to appear. The core of this type of lineage includes all male descendants of a founding ancestor; women tend to become more attached as they grow older to their husbands' and son's lineages and to relinquish their minor roles as sisters and daughters of their natal lineages. [Source: Stevan Harrell, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia - Eurasia / China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

“Han lineages, until very recent times, have been rigorously exogamous (even a common surname was enough to prohibit marriage in the late imperial period), and with patrilocal marital residence this resulted in lineage villages or even lineage districts populated almost entirely by members of a single lineage. Particularly in the core areas of southern and eastern China, where agriculture and commerce were most developed, lineages often held large amounts of land collectively, using the income from tenant rents to fund ritual, educational, and sometimes even military activities. Such wealthy lineages often contained corporate, property-holding, sublineages within them, and a large lineage of 10,000 or more members might have ten or more genealogical levels of property-holding segments. Such lineages were highly stratified internally, often containing both scholar officials and ordinary peasants. |~|

“The importance of lineages varied greatly by region and locally, however, and probably only a minority of Han people in the late imperial period were members of a large, powerful lineage; indeed, many were not members of any lineage at all. In the overall social structure, lineages were one important kind of corporation, but they might be locally eclipsed by local, occupational, ethnic, or sectarian organizations. |~|

“The new government effectively destroyed the power bases of lineages when they confiscated all lineage-held land in the Land Reform and replaced lineage-based local governments with structures responsible to the party. But lineages remained localized during the collectivist period, and, since the 1979 Reforms, lineages have returned in some areas to the local scene in limited ways, sponsoring ritual and other activities and becoming the focus of local loyalties. |~|

“Kinship Terminology. Kinship terminology reflects the patrilineal bias of kinship relations. Agnatic cousins are partially equated with siblings and distinguished from both cross cousins and matrilateral parallel cousins, who are ordinarily not distinguished from each other. Some Chinese kin terminology systems display Omaha features, such as the equation of mother's brother with wife's brother with son's wife's brother. The most important distinction is between elder and younger relatives; elder relatives are always addressed with a kin term, whereas younger relatives are addressed by name. Rural people in some areas use kin terms to address people of a senior generation who are not relatives.

Han Family Names

"Strokes in the surnames" is a commonly used phrase in China. "Surname" here specially refers to the family name, namely the character denoting the name of each family. However, before the Qin and Han dynasties, surnames (Xing) and clan-names (Shi) were different, each representing different content and meaning. "Surname" originates date back to when the matriarchal clans were important to the Han. Surnames related to one’s matriarchal clan's name or other characteristics. Surname mainly played the role of "clarifying blood relationships. “ Men and a women with same surname could not marry each other. Clan-names become the branches derived from surnames. Until the patriarchal clan system became dominate, surnames and clan-names became the marks of different patriarchal clans or tribes. Originally only nobles had clan-names. After the Spring and Autumn Period and Warring States Period, surnames and clan-name gradually fused with each other. After the Qin and Han Dynasties, the surname and clan-name were combined, a state that has continued to today.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

How many Han Nationality surnames are there? The well-known book, "Surnames of a Hundred Families" (the Qing Dynasty edition) records 504 surnames altogether, of which 444 are single-word and 60 are double-word. However, the real number of surnames is far beyond that. As early as in the Eastern Han Dynasty,Ying Shao recorded about 500 surnames in the surname chapter of his book General Meaning of the Custom. In the clan chapter of General Records, the book of Song Zhengqiao, reports: "there are 32 kinds of people who have the surnames and are awarded the clan-names," approximately 1,745 surnames altogether. After a comprehensive study, Zhang of the Qing Dynasty concluded that there were 5,129 surnames altogether. Now there is still no accurate statistical number of surnames. According to the rough estimate, more than 3,000 ones are still being used. ~

Similar to the surnames, the "names (Ming Zi)"—which now refer to given names—had different meanings in ancient times, when people had both "Ming" and "Zi". On top of this people also had aliases. The So-called "Ming" name was actually a name that distinguished someone as a nobleman. In ancient times, people generally had two names, one of which was a name given at birth. For example, the infant name of CaoCao (Emperor of the Wei Kingdom in the Three Kingdoms (220-265)) was Ah Man. Liu Chan, the son of Liu Bei (Emperor of the Shu Kingdom) was called Adou. Another given name was given when a person grew up, This was called the formal name. Women generally only had an infant name. Before the Qin Dynasty, people generally had single-character names. Two-character names became more common place in the Qin and Han Dynasties, and accordingly the ways of giving names to people become much more varied. ~

"Zi" is another title derived from the meaning of "Ming" and functions as the explanation and supplement to the latter. “Zi" is not given to people until they are grown-ups, and indicates that they start receiving other people’s respect from that moment on. For example, Zhu Geliang became known as Kong Ming; Yue Fei became known as Peng Ju; Zhao Yun became known as Zi Long. Originally, giving "Zi" to a person was a privilege only enjoyed by nobles, but later the practice was expanded to intellectuals. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the system started s to be generally spread among the common people. ~

"Hao" is another name for people, often associated with artists and intellectuals. Scholar-officials in imperial times, especially the writers, often had other names. For example, Li Bai was called Lotus Hermit, Du Fu was called Shaolingyelao, Wang Anshi was called Banshan, and Tang Bohu was called Liurujushi. Ming and Zi were given by others to express the individual's wishes.

Ming, Zi and alias were all people's names, which were given in different ways. Ancient people attached great importance to the social status and etiquette implied by the names and were very fastidious in their use. Ming was generally a name used among friends or equals, or by a person of high status addressing a person of low status. Zis and aliases were used for addressing others or high status. If people did not follow name rules, they were considered to be impolite. It it was perceived to be "greatly disrespectful" or an act of “rebellion" to address the emperors, one’s parents and seniors by their Ming. Such people were condemned; some even received severe punishment.

Cultural Diversity Within the Han

Dru C. Gladney wrote in the Wall Street Journal,The peoples identified as Han reside 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.

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.

Han Linguistic Diversity

Han Chinese are distinguished by the linguistic diversity. The spoken forms of their different dialects vary as widely as the languages of Europe. Han Chinese speak seven or eight mutually unintelligible dialects, each of which has many local subdialects. Even so all Han use a common written form of Chinese and share common social organization, values, and cultural characteristics that are recognized as Chinese. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]

According to the Columbia Encyclopedia: “The Han Chinese are linguistically homogeneous in the north, where they speak Mandarin (the basis of the national language, known as putonghua, of China), while in the south Cantonese, Wu, Hakka, and many other dialects are spoken (some 108 dialects are spoken in Fujian prov. alone). Putonghua is spoken as a first or second language by roughly half of the population. The written language is universal; Chinese ideographs are common to all the dialects. [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., Columbia University Press]

Dru C. Gladney wrote in the Wall Street Journal,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. [Source: By Dru C. Gladney, Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2009, Dru Gladney is president of the Pacific Basin Institute at Pomona College]

Han Unity

20080224-Han-2 Nolls.jpg
Han Chinese woman
British journalist Dr Martin Jacques, the author of “When China Rules the World: the Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World.“, said “China has had a very weak conception of cultural difference and is very disrespectful to those that do not belong to the Han identity, which they believe is the cement that holds the country together. The biggest political value in China is unity. How power is constructed in China is much different than the West. They view state power as the patriarch of the family. And this rule has not been challenged in the past 1,000 years.” [Source: Time Out Hong Kong, July 8, 2015]

Cultural differences (cuisine, costume, and custom) are as great as the linguistic ones. Modern Chinese history provides many examples of conflict, up to the level of small-scale regional wars, between linguistic and regional groups. Such diversities, however, have not generated exclusive loyalties, and distinctions in religion or political affiliation have not reinforced regional differences. Rather, there has been a consistent tendency in Chinese thought and practice to downplay intra-Han distinctions, which are regarded as minor and superficial. What all Han share is more significant than the ways in which they differ. In conceptual terms, the boundary between Han and non-Han is absolute and sharp, while boundaries between subsets of Han are subject to continual shifts, are dictated by local conditions, and do not produce the isolation inherent in relations between Han and minority groups. [Source: Library of Congress]

“Han ethnic unity is the result of two ancient and culturally central Chinese institutions, one of which is the written language. Chinese is written with ideographs (sometimes called characters) that represent meanings rather than sounds, and so written Chinese does not reflect the speech of its author. The disjunction between written and spoken Chinese means that a newspaper published in Beijing can be read in Shanghai or Guangzhou, although the residents of the three cities would not understand each other's speech. It also means that there can be no specifically Cantonese (Guangzhou dialect) or Hunanese literature because the local speech of a region cannot be directly or easily represented in writing. (It is possible to add local color to fiction, cite colloquialisms, or transcribe folk songs, but it is not commonly done.) Therefore, local languages have not become a focus for regional selfconsciousness or nationalism. Educated Chinese tend to regard the written ideographs as primary, and they regard the seven or eight spoken Han Chinese dialects as simply variant ways of pronouncing the same ideographs. This is linguistically inaccurate, but the attitude has significant political and social consequences. The uniform written language in 1987 continued to be a powerful force for Han unity.

“The other major force contributing to Han ethnic unity has been the centralized imperial state. The ethnic group takes its name from the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). Although the imperial government never directly controlled the villages, it did have a strong influence on popular values and culture. The average peasant could not read and was not familiar with the details of state administration or national geography, but he was aware of belonging to a group of subcontinental scope. Being Han, even for illiterate peasants, has meant conscious identification with a glorious history and a state of immense proportions. Peasant folklore and folk religion assumed that the imperial state, with an emperor and an administrative bureaucracy, was the normal order of society. In the imperial period, the highest prestige went to scholar-officials, and every schoolboy had the possibility, at least theoretically, of passing the civil service examinations and becoming an official.

“The prestige of the state and its popular identification with the highest values of Chinese civilization were not accidents; they were the final result of a centuries-long program of indoctrination and education directed by the Confucian scholar-officials. Traditional Chinese society can be distinguished from other premodern civilizations to the extent that the state, rather than organized religious groups or ethnic segments of society, was able to appropriate the symbols of wisdom, morality, and the common good. The legacy for modern Chinese society has been a strong centralized government that has the right to impose its values on the population and against which there is no legitimate right of dissent or secession.

Han Culture and its Expansion: from the View of Chinese Geneticists

Chinese researchers Feng Zhang, Bing Su, Ya-ping Zhang and Li Jin wrote in an article published by the Royal Society: “ The spread of culture in human populations can be explained by two alternative models. The demic diffusion model involves mass movement of people, while the cultural diffusion model refers to cultural impact between populations (Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994). Historical records show that the Hans originated from the ancient Huaxia tribes in northern China and experienced a continuous expansion into southern China over the past two millennia (Ge et al. 1997). [Source: “Genetic studies of human diversity in East Asia” by Feng Zhang , Bing Su , Ya-ping Zhang , Li Jin. Royal Society, June 29, 2007 ***]

“To test this hypothesis of demic diffusion, Wen et al. (2004a,b) examined genetic variations on both NRY and mtDNA in 28 Han populations in China. According to the NRY data, northern (NH) and southern Hans (SH) share similar haplogroup frequencies. The M122-C mutation is prevalent in almost all the Han populations studied (53.8 percent in NHs and 54.2 percent in SHs), while M119-C and M95-T, prevalent in southern natives (SNs), are more frequent in SHs (19 percent) than in NHs (5 percent). Some haplogroups prevalent in SNs, such as O1b-M110, O2a1-M88 and O3d-M7, are only observed in some SHs. According to the mtDNA lineages, NHs and SHs are significantly different in their mtDNA lineages. The frequency of haplogroups dominant in the NEAS (A, C, D, G, M8a, Y and Z) is 55 percent in NHs, which is much higher than that in SHs (36 percent). In contrast, the frequency of the haplogroups dominant in SNs (B, F, R9a, R9b and N9a) is much higher in SHs (55 percent) than in NHs (33 percent). ***

These observations of Wen et al. (2004a,b) are consistent with historical records, in which the continuous southward migration of the Hans caused by warfare and famine is mentioned. Taking this genetic and historic evidence into account, it can be concluded that the migration into South China is one of the main causes of the expansion of Han culture. ***

In the past decade, the NRY and mtDNA markers have been used to analyse the genetic structure of almost all the 56 officially identified ethnic groups and other unsorted populations. As well as the major members of the CHGDP, more and more Chinese research groups have been joining this promising field of scientific research. ***

“In Korea and Japan, human genetic diversity projects have also been launched and some interesting findings have been published. Hammer & Horai (1995) found that the insertion allele of YAP (also called DYS287) is prevalent (approx. 42 percent) in Japanese populations. Differing from the E-YAP+ haplogroup in Africans, West Asians and Europeans, the Y chromosomes of YAP+ belong to the D haplogroup (defined by M174), which is at a high frequency in Japanese and Tibetans but is rare in many other East Asian populations, such as the Han Chinese (Jobling & Tyler-Smith 2003). It is suggested that YAP+ chromosomes might have migrated to Japan with the Jomon people over 10 000 years ago (Hammer & Horai 1995). Tajima et al. (2002) used seven biallelic Y-SNPs (DYS257108, DYS287, SRY4064, SRY10831, RPS4Y711, M9 and M15) to analyse 610 males from 14 global populations; their results suggested that three major groups with different paternal ancestries separately migrated to prehistoric East and Southeast Asia. Jin et al. (2003) examined eight Y-SNP markers (YAP, RPS4Y711, M9, M175, LINE1, SRY+465, 47z and M95) and three Y-STR markers (DYS390, DYS391 and DYS393) in 738 males (including 160 Koreans and 108 Japanese) in East Asia to study the paternal lineage history of Korea. The distribution pattern of Y-chromosomal haplogroups suggested a dual origin for Koreans (a northern Asian settlement and expansion from southern into northern China). ***

“By sequencing the complete mitochondrial genomes of 672 Japanese individuals, Tanaka et al. (2004) constructed an mtDNA phylogeny with high resolution and found some new haplogroups. This phylogeny will be very helpful for analysing the mtDNA diversity and tracing the migration of the maternal lineage of East Asians. In addition, Tanaka et al. (2004) combined their data with mtDNA sequences from other populations of Asia and revealed that present-day Japanese have the closest genetic affinity to the northern Asian populations. ***

Han Chinese and Minorities

The Han Chinese created present day China in many cases by conquering territory and overpowering local tribes by sheer numbers through mass migrations. Tribal kingdoms in Tibet, Sichuan and Yunnan have a long history of battling the Han Chinese for control of their homelands. Some of these were'driven by the Han Chinese from fertile valleys into the hills and mountains where they now live.

The Chinese government counts 55 ethnic groups other than the Han. Although they make up only 9 percent of the population, these ethnic minorities still add up to 125 million people, which is a larger population than all but 11 countries in the world. These minorities occupy 64 percent of China's land, much of it remote and sparsely populated. Many minorities live in compact communities at the upper reaches of large rivers and in border regions. Much of the land they occupy, such as Xinjiang, is rich in minerals, oil and other resources. There are 18 ethnic groups with over a million people. They include Tibetans, Mongolians, Uygurs, Zhuang, Manchus and Koreans. The smallest ethnic, the Lhoba, has only about 2,300 members. Many of the ethnic groups still dress in traditional clothes and some of them have some very unusual customs.

Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “ “Over the centuries many ethnic groups have been absorbed into the Han majority, especially in the south and west. Sichuan has always had many ethnic groups, but today the large majority are Han Chinese. The majority of ethnic minorities today live in the northeast, northwest, and southwest, undoubtedly as a consequence of the expansion of the Han Chinese over the centuries. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]

“Mongols are one of the largest minorities in China, concentrated especially in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region.Most ethnic Uighurs live in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Beginning in the Han dynasty, Han Chinese fought for hegemony along the Yili and Tarim caravan routes through this region, but it was not until the Qing dynasty that the area was fully incorporated into the Chinese state. Uighurs speak a Turkish language and most are Muslim. Most Tibetans live on the Tibetan Plateau, which includes Qinghai province as well as the Tibetan Autonomous Province. Among ethnic minorities, women's and children's clothing and hairstyle often seems to diverge more from Han customs than men's do.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2021


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