PEOPLE OF CHINA: DIVERSITY, ASSIMILATION, HAN AND ETHNIC RELATIONS

PEOPLE OF CHINA

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Chinese Giant in 1870

Chinese is both a noun and an adjective and singular and plural. It is the name of the people of China and can be used to describe things having to do with them or with China. Chinese can be used as a name for Chinese citizens and long term residents of China or it can be used to used to describe the Chinese (mostly Han Chinese, See Below) ethnic group which can be found in China and outside it. The word Chinese comes from the word China, whose origin is of some some dispute but some say was coined by Europeans from the ancient Ch'in Dynasty of the 3rd century B.C. This dynasty in turn was named after Emperor Qin (Chin) Shihuang, the man credited with unifying China in 221 B.C.. Chung-kho, the Chinese name for China, means "Middle Kingdom." It is derived from the traditional Chinese belief that China lay in the middle of a flat earth, with deserts and oceans around the edges.

China is the most populous nation on Earth. The Han Chinese are the largest ethnic group in the world. 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. The population of ethnic minorities was 125.5 million, or 8.89 percent. Compared with the 2010 census, the Han Chinese population increased by 4.93 percent, while that of ethnic minorities increased by 10.26 percent. [Source: : National Bureau of Statistics of China,, Reuters, May 11, 2021]

Kate Merkel-Hess and Jeffrey Wasserstrom wrote in Time: “Chinese cultural tradition features regional and ethnic variations of sufficient breadth to support dozens of doctoral theses. We need to think about China, with its mutually unintelligible languages,”not merely dialects,”as more equivalent to a continent than a country. Asians, Africans, Europeans and Americans both South and North shouldn't find it hard to appreciate that a continent-size country might have a culture that is more complex than outsiders imagine or populist nationalists imply.” [Source: Kate Merkel-Hess and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Time, January 1 2011]

About 64 percent of of all Chinese now live in urban areas (compared to 81 percent in the U.S.), Only 11. percentof China's population inhabited urban areas in 1950. In 2010, more than half the population still lived in rural areas. The population growth rate in China is now virtually zero.

Good Websites and Sources: Chinese Personality book on PDF file ihome.ust.hk Book: Understanding the Chinese Personality mellenpress.com ; Chinese Personality and Work personality.cn ; Negotiating and Building Relationships with Chinese by Sidney Rittenberg cic.sfu.ca ; Understanding Chinese Business Culture legacee.com ; Status of Chinese People Blog chinaview.wordpress.com ; Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project www.pnas.org ; Difference Between Chinese and Japanese, a Blog Report socyberty.com ; Opinions on Asian Fetish colorq.org ; Wikipedia article on the Mongoloid Race Wikipedia ; Chinese Personality Constructs highwire.org ; Old Chinese jokes China Vista ; Essay on Humor, China and Japan aboutjapan.japansociety.org

Links in this Website: CHINESE PEOPLE Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE PEOPLE AND DNA Factsanddetails.com/China ;CHINESE PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE PERSONALITY TRAITS AND CHARACTERISTICS Factsanddetails.com/China ; REGIONAL DIFFERENCES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE SOCIETY, CONFUCIANISM, CROWDS AND VILLAGES Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE SOCIETY AND COMMUNISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; CLASSIC CHINESE LITERATURE Factsanddetails.com/China ; MODERN CHINESE LITERATURE Factsanddetails.com/China ; MODERN CHINESE WRITERS Factsanddetails.com/China ; RELIGION, FOLK BELIEFS AND DEATH ( Main Page, Click Religion) Factsanddetails.com/China JAPANESE PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE SOCIETY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Han Chinese

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 pronunced “hahn”. There are no alternate names. They live in mainland China and Taiwan. Overseas Chinese are most numerous in Southeast Asia, Japan, Korea, North America, Oceania, and Europe). Their main language 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. Most of the population of Taiwan and Singapore and most of the Chinese found elsewhere in the world are Han Chinese.

The Han China are the largest ethnic group in the world not just in China. 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.

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.

What It Means to Be Chinese in an International Sense

According to The Economist: “Five men who ran a bookshop in Hong Kong disappeared in mysterious circumstances in late 2015. One was apparently spirited away from the territory by agents from the mainland; another was abducted from Thailand. All later turned up in Chinese jails, accused of selling salacious works about the country’s leaders. One bookseller had a British passport and another a Swedish one but the two suffered the same disregard for legal process as Chinese citizens who anger the regime. Their embassies were denied access for weeks. The government considered both these men as intrinsically “Chinese”. This is indicative of a far broader attitude. China lays claim not just to booksellers in Hong Kong but, to a degree, an entire diaspora. [Source: The Economist, November 19, 2016]

China’s foreign minister declared that Lee Bo, the British passport-holder, was “first and foremost a Chinese citizen”. The government may have reckoned that his “home-return permit”, issued to permanent residents of Hong Kong, trumped his foreign papers. Since the territory returned to mainland rule in 1997, China considers that Hong Kongers of Chinese descent are its nationals. Gui Minhai, the Swede taken from Thailand, said on Chinese television, in what was probably a forced confession: “I truly feel that I am Chinese.” China felt it could act this way because it does not accept dual nationality. The law is ambiguous, however. It stipulates first that a person taking a foreign passport “automatically” loses their Chinese nationality and then, contradictorily, that an individual has to “renounce” their nationality (hand in their household-registration documents and passport) and that the renunciation must be approved. According to Mr Gui’s daughter, he went through the process of relinquishing his citizenship. Yet the Chinese authorities considered that his foreign passport was superseded by birth and ethnicity: both Mr Gui and Mr Lee are Han, the ethnic group that makes up 92% of mainland China’s population.

Naomi Thurston of the University of Alabama said: “Reality or not, the Chinese themselves tried to redefine Chinese identity as cultural rather then ethnic in attempts to unify the empire.” Magnus Fiskesjö of Cornell University said : “On identities generally, I think it is important to see that no identity is real, other than as part of the imagination of people embracing that identity, typically because they've been taught and told to do so. There is no underlying reality of ethnicity or culture or nation, that can somehow be uncovered as the "true" one. If anyone argues that there is, then, to me at least, they are engaging in another game of imagination or fantasy. Playing these games isn't necessarily evil in itself, but the more guns, the more potential for trouble.” [Source: MCLC List, August 2017]

“I think the key distinction in the world today isn't between immigrant nations and non-immigrant nations, but between nations that allow people to join their identity and citizenship, thus in effect acknowledging the fundamental impossibility of the original nationalist idea of one true people-one true nation; and, on the other hand, nations that don't allow it because of xenophobia and nationalism.

“Everything is relative, of course: If you are Estonia, a small country living under the acute threat from a huge and increasingly militaristic neighbor, it will be difficult to accept too many people from that neighbor as citizens; but if you are China, immigrants like the Filipinas who have lived and worked most of their life in HK but are still denied residency or citizenship, can't credibly be said to represent any kind of threat to your nation's purity or survival.

“Instead, the case of the Filipinas is just one expression of what should be recognized as a xenophobic nationalism based in racism; its flipside is the grotesque refusal to respect the new non-Chinese citizenship of those "Chinese" who decided to cancel their one-time Chinese citizenship (such as, among many others, the citizenship of my fellow Swedish citizen the bookseller Gui Minhai, who was abducted by Chinese agents from Thailand in 2015, and, horribly, remains in arbitrary detention in China).

Northern Chinese Versus Southern Chinese

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Dongxiang child
People from northern and southern China are physically and genetically different from one another. Head shape, body size and susceptibility to disease vary greatly between the north and south.

People from Beijing and northern China are often heavier and taller and have broader shoulders, lighter skin, smaller eyes and more pointed noses than Southerners. They favor noodles over rice, have the blood of horsemen from Manchuria and Mongolia, and are regarded as "imperious, quarrelsome, rather aloof, political, proud, and less ostentatious and flashy with their money than Southerners.” Beijingers often saw goodbye to one another with an expression that is translated as "Take it slow."

People from Shanghai, Canton and southern China are generally smaller, thinner, browner, and have rounder eyes and more rounded noses than Northerners. They favor rice over noodles, looks more like Vietnamese, Filipinos and Southeast Asians and are regarded as "talkative, friendly, complacent, sloppy, commercial-minded and materialistic."

The dividing line between Northerners and Southerners is the Yangtze River. In the 19th century one man from northern China wrote: "The Cantonese...are a course set of people...Before the times of Han and Tang, this country was quite wild and wasted, and these people have sprung forth unconnected, unsettled vagabonds that wandered here from the north."

Variety, Animosity and Unity in 19th Century China

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: “As one goes north, physical stature increases,.. The men of the central provinces are very unlike the men of the south, unlike in physical appearance, in speech, in temper. Both are very unlike the men of the north, and once discriminated, they are never again mistaken for each other. The Chinese habit, hereditary for ages, of reverting to one's native province and native village, considering that alone to be " home" where one's ancestors are buried, has crystallised different types of Chinese character into lines rigid as adamant. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894. Smith (1845 — 1932) was an American missionary who spent 54 years in China. In the 1920s, “Chinese Characteristics” was still the most widely read book on China among foreign residents there. He spent much of his time in Pangzhuang, a village in Shandong]

“There is a character in one of Richter's novels, who assumes the first meridian to lie through his own skull. Every Chinese unconsciously does the same. His own village, his own district, his own prefecture, province and country are his, all others are " outside." (What possible objection by the way can there be to the Chinese terming foreigners " outside countrymen," when this is the idiom by which they speak of their own countrymen in relation to every territorial division less than a country, and by which they themselves are spoken of by other Chinese?) But the Chinese do not simply regard other provincials as outsiders, they treat them with undisguised contempt. The shrewd trader and skillful artificer -who -lives in Canton, thinks of (those who come from the northern part of the Empire as northern barbarians, but his contempt is retained in overflowing measure by the men of the north, who always think and speak of the Fuzhou and Canton men, as southern barbarians. Both of them unite in ridiculing their long-headed, but often ill-favored neighbours who hail from Shanxi, whose hands are against every man, and every man’s hands are against them, but who always seem to prosper, "caring not for life, but for gain."

“This appears to to be a general principle throughout the Empire — a Chinese is never regarded as a "brother," because he hails from some point within the "four seas," but is an alien and a stranger, because his province is an "outside" one. And if this is true of those of pure Chinese .race, much more is it true as between them and "the strange people who have at some distant time poured into China in vast floods, and are now settled in little communities or in large ones through many of the richest parts of the Empire. At first sight, a Muslim is simply a Chinese, and nothing more. "His dress, his occupation, his habits, language and general environment suggest nothing of alienage. His weddings, his 'funerals, and his diet may differ, but these are not vital -points. But on a closer examination the Muslims are seen to be in a condition of mechanical, as distinguished from chemical, union with the Chinese. They are not Chinese, never were, and never will be, and no one expects it or supposes it possible that they should be.

“These are the aspects in which a resident as distinguished from a traveler sees China. Many peoples, not one. Many "languages," many customs, a brood of a hundred (but not assimilated) peoples, united by a common literature, history and government, still essentially different. Yet this view of China and the Chinese may rightly be criticised as misleading and inadequate. Notwithstanding the wide variations in provincial types, and despite differences due to local causes, the more China is contemplated in the relations of all its parts to each other, the more China is felt to be a unit...The sense of China as an essential unity is not stronger than the sense of her disunity. A wise instructor of youth cautioned his pupils when they became travellers,' to observe what things were " taken for granted." In some provinces of China two story-houses are the rule, and in others only thatch. In. some, the final consonants are sounded and in others there are none; in some, trade leads and in others, agriculture; in some there are bleak winters, and in others mild, but we must believe that what we already know of China, and what is every day more and more coming to light, tends to show, that what the Chinese people, as a whole, take for granted; is the same.

Chinese Solidarity

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: ““Among the Anglo-Saxon: race the idea extensively prevails, that each man is a individual' by himself and is to be dealt with as such. In China all is quite different. Ancestry is reckoned a long way back with definite terms for each generation. Relationships are complicated and precise, with a complexity, and precision which to a stranger are bewildering and confounding. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]

The social fact of capital importance, that each Chinese family is practically rooted to the spot where it exists; and that it always has been so rooted, is of itself well nigh incomprehensible to the roving Occidental, who has visited half the countries on the globe, not improbably with a view to a settlement. Chinese social life runs in grooves, or rather in ruts, and in very ancient ruts. A man in China is a part of a gigantic social machine, a mere cog in one of many wheels, and from ancient times, until now, it has always been customary for the, wheels to move the cogs, never for the cogs to control the wheels! In fact the mere mass to be moved makes it impossible for any particular part to move any family as a whole, except in lines and on planes to which the social machinery is already adjusted.

A Chinese family is like a hill of potatoes — one cannot get at any of them, without a process by which all are brought to view. The shrewdly practical ancients, who laid out the plan on which the Chinese race was to be governed, understood perfectly this characteristic of their people and have used it to the utmost. The Empire, is (theoretically) a vast whole with a head who governs by the decree of heaven. Each gradation from the Empire as a whole, down to the individual and collective family, is likewise a unit, of which the parts are mutually inter-dependent and mutually responsible for each other.

To what an extent this theory and practice of responsibility for others is pushed, we are continually reminded not less by the occurrences in daily Chinese life, thaw by the acts recorded in the singularly self-revealing documents published in the Peking Gazette. Let the reader run through a. year of this unique publication, and mentally compare — or rather contrast — the principles which evidently rule in the adjustment of cases, whether arising from the destructive outburst of the Yellow River, or from a flagrant case of parricide, with Western ideas. He will have an instructive series of pictures of the practical workings of the Chinese theory of 'solidarity,’ but it is not only alone in the natural relationship, or in the artificial political ones, that Chinese solidarity is manifested. There seems to be in the Chinese nature an inherent capacity for combination, united with a powerful tendency to combine, which it 'might be difficult to equal in any other race.

Guilds are inventions by no means peculiar to China, but where are there any trade guilds with stronger cohesive powers, than those in China. There seems, in fact, to 'be not cohesion simply, 'but a 'kind 'of chemical union...which 'operates like the pressure of the atmosphere, equally small 'directions' and which it seems equally hopeless to resist. There are occasionally collisions of. guilds with guilds, and in dealing with them.

A cook, a "bay," a coolie, comes to-some (invisible) crisis of his 'career, and deserts us. Of the many reasons which he may not improbably assign for this step, eight will have no relevancy whatever, and the ninth will not be the real clue. It is impossible, in fact, to ascertain exactly why he does as he does. Perhaps he does not know himself. But one thing he knows, which is that he must go. And he goes. The truth issocial machinery of which he is a part, he has been in the course of many revolutions, pressed upon by another cog and is thrown "out of gear," A Chinese is always a part of the machine — not the machine itself. Or if he be a very important wheel and turn the rest, then solidarity impressively asserts itself in a new form. We have heard of Chinese joint-stock companies in which solidarity had a great deal too much to do. In fact, solidarity in a Chinese sense, and individual equality in an Occidental sense are scarcely compatible. This essential and significant quality of Chinese society is of great consequence in estimating the future of Chinese reformations. As long as China remains in the condition in which she has been for so many ages, solidarity is the incarnation of inertia. But if she is beginning to exhibit signs of an "awakening," there is hope that if once awake she will be wide awake.

Minorities of China

The Chinese government counts 55 minorities (ethnic groups, people). The population of ethnic minorities was 125.5 million, or 8.89 percent according to the 2020 Chinese census. Compared with the 2010 census, the ethnic minorities population increased by 10.26 percent compared 4.93 percent for Han Chinese population, who numbered about 1.29 billion in 2020.

The major minorities are (according to the 2000 census): Zhuang (16.1 million), Manchu (10.6 million), Hui (9.8 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]

Ethnic distinctions are largely linguistic and religious rather than racial. Although non-Han peoples are relatively few in number, they are politically significant because they occupy about two-thirds of China's land area. Most live in strategic frontier territories in the southwest, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia and have religious or ethnic ties with groups in adjoining nations. Since the take over of China, by the Communists in 1949, the dominance of non-Han groups in their traditional homelands — such as Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia — has been weakned as Han Chinese have entered these regions in increasing numbers since 1950.[Source: U.S. State Department report, December 1996]

Although China’s ethnic minorities make up only 9 percent of the population that still adds up to more than 125 million people, which is a larger population than all but 11 countries in the world. 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 though more are probably assimilated and don’t look so different from Han Chinese. Some of them have very distinct customs.

Stevan Harrell wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: Among the main non-Chinese minorities are the Zhuang, a Thai-speaking group, found principally in Guangxi; the Hui (Muslims), found chiefly in Ningxia; the Uigurs, who live mainly in Xinjiang; the Yi (Lolo), who live on the borders of Sichuan and Yunnan; the Tibetans, concentrated in Tibet and Qinghai; the Miao, widely distributed throughout the mountainous areas of S China; the Mongols, found chiefly in the Mongolian steppes; and the Koreans, who are concentrated in Manchuria. [Source: Stevan Harrell, “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures”, Gale Group, Inc., 1999]

History Relations Between of Han Chinese and Other Groups

Stevan Harrell wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Both preimperial and imperial China developed in interaction with surrounding cultures. In addition to the advanced civilization in northern China, by the end of the first millennium B.C. there were other centers of advanced technology in southwestern China; these were linked with more distant centers in what is now Southeast Asia. The earliest historical accounts, probably written around 800 B.C., already refer to non-Chinese peoples inhabiting the four directions surrounding the Chinese center. Since that period, proto-Chinese and then Han culture has expanded, mainly southward and southwestward, to its present extent, through intermarriage, conquest, assimilation, and cultural interchange. It is certain that the Han people of central and southern China are partially descended from the non-Han peoples displaced and assimilated by the Han expansion. The cultural interchange, however, has not been entirely one-way, and southern and particularly southwestern Chinese languages, customs, religion, and other cultural elements show strong signs of influence from the non-Han inhabitants either completely displaced, as in most of the Yangzi valley, or still living in contact with the Han, as in most of the southwest. [Source: Stevan Harrell, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia - Eurasia / China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]

“Cultural interaction on China's northern frontiers, by contrast, has involved the ecological boundary between agriculture and herding—pastoral peoples of Central Asia have not been easily displaced or assimilated into Han society and culture. Several times in Chinese history, tribal confederations to the north or northeast of China have adopted some of the bureaucratic features of the Chinese state and used these along with their considerable military skills to conquer all or part of China and establish their own imperial dynasties. The most prominent of these have been the Toba, who established the Wei dynasty (386-534 CE) ; the Khitan, who established the Liao (907-1125); the Jurchen, who established the Jin (1115-1260), the Mongols, who established the Yuan (1234-1368); and the Manchu, descendants of the Jurchen, who ruled the Qing, the last imperial dynasty, which lasted from 1644-1911. In all of these regimes, Han people played a prominent part, but in many cases the tension between an imperial ideology, which was universalistic, and a more particular ethnic ideology of Han difference contributed to the ultimate breakup of the regime. |~|

“In both the Republic and People's Republic governments, Han leaders and officials have been overwhelmingly predominant. Leaders of the Republic, although recognizing the existence of non-Han peoples within China's political borders, based much of their legitimacy on the continuing superiority of Han civilization along with the adoption of modern technology and limited modern social forms from the West. In the People's Republic, by contrast, the multiethnic nature of China is celebrated in state ritual and protected in law. Han culture is not seen as intrinsically superior, but Han people in general are considered more advanced, because they were already moving from feudalism to capitalism at the beginning of the People's Republic, whereas many non-Han minorities were still in early feudalism or even earlier stages of the historical progression of modes of production. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), this meant the imposition of modern, Socialist (in reality, Han) cultural forms on non-Han peoples; since the Reforms, Han cultural hegemony has been less emphasized, but certain aspects of assimilation continue through the education system and through various schemes for economic and social development and modernization. |~|

“In Overseas Chinese communities this process is somewhat reversed; Han people who migrate undergo various degrees of cultural assimilation to the host country. In Thailand, for example, many people of Chinese origin simply become Thai after a few generations; they remember their Chinese heritage but cease to identify with Chinese as an ethnic group. In North America, where ethnic distinctions are often based on racial distinctiveness and Chinese are easily distinguishable from Euro-Americans by sight, people usually lose most of their Chinese language and culture after a few generations but retain the emotional and cognitive group ties of ethnic identity.”

Han Chinese and the Minorities of China

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Hani girl
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.

Eleanor Stanford wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: “China is for the most part an extremely homogeneous society composed of a people who share one language, culture, and history. The government recognizes fifty-five minority groups that have their own distinct cultures and traditions. Most of those groups live in Outer China, because the Han have, over the centuries, forced them into those harsh, generally less desirable lands. [Source: Eleanor Stanford, “Countries and Their Cultures”, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

The Han often consider the minority groups inferior, if not subhuman; until recently, the characters for their names included the symbol for "dog." The minority groups harbor a good deal of resentment toward the Han. Tibet and Xinjiang in particular have repeatedly attempted to separate from the republic. The Tibetans and the Uighurs of Xinjiang have expressed animosity toward the Han Chinese who live in bordering regions, and as a result, China has sent troops to those areas to maintain the peace.

Bronze Drums

Bronze drums are something that ethnic groups of China share with the ethnic groups of Southeast Asia. Symbolizing wealth, traditional, cultural bonding and power, they have been prized by numerous ethnic groups in southern China and Southeast Asia for a long time. The oldest ones—belonging to the ancient Baipu people of the mid-Yunnan area—date to 2700 B.C. in the Spring and Autumn Period. The Kingdom of Dian, established near the present city of Kunming more than 2,000 years ago, was famous for its bronze drums. Today, they continue to be used by many ethnic minorities, including the Miao, Yao, Zhuang, Dong, Buyi, Shui, Gelao and Wa. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

At present, the Chinese cultural relics protection institutions have a collection of over 1,500 bronze drums. Guangxi alone has unearthed more than 560 such drums. One bronze drum unearthed in Beiliu is the largest of its kind, with a diameter of 165 centimeters. It has been hailed as the "king of bronze drum". In addition to all these, bronze drums continue to be collected and used among the people. ~

Ethnic groups in southern China appreciate these gong-like drums for their sound and their reputed ability to expel bad spirits. During important ceremonies have often been used as bowls for offerings and other religious practices. Every village considers its drums as their treasure. Therere are a number of myths about these bronze drums. The long poem sung by some peoples of Yunnan—"The Kings of the Bronze Drum"—describes a community that arrives from distant lands and through their long history have been protected by the bronze drums and alleviated their sufferings in hard times by providing a channel of communication to seek the help of the gods.

Bronze drum are believed to have been developed from bronze kettles. Hollow and bottomless, they look like round stumps, with flat surfaces and curled middle parts. Bronze drums are forged from copper and bronze and differ in size and weight. The largest one exceeds one meter in diameter while the smallest is only over 10 centimeters across. The heaviest weighs over a hundred kilograms while lightest weighs about a dozen kilograms. ~

Most bronze drum tops are engraved with lines simulating the sun, smoke plumes, clouds, combs and flags. Some of them images of frogs, tortoises, cattle and horses forged on their sides. The bodies of bronze drums are also decorated with many lines, drum ears and other adornments. According to their shapes, line decorations and forging craftsmanship, bronze drums can be classified into eight kinds: 1) Wanjiaba type, 2 Shizhaishan type, 3) Lengshuichong type, 4) Zunyi type, 5) Majiang type, 6) Beiliu type, 7) Lingshan type and 8) Ximeng type. Among them, Beiliu, Lingshan and Lengshuichong bronze drums, display the highest levels of skill and achievement of craftsmanship, smelting and foundry. ~

Bronze drums are the artistic treasure and are also considered as vehicles of magical power. The use and function of the drums can be diverse. In ancient times, they were mainly used for religious rites and many were hidden in caves or buried underground and were not allowed to be banged casually. Later they gradually became symbols of power of the rulers: used to gather people for a meetings or even to encourage the soldiers on the battlefield. It was thought that rulers could keep their power as long as the bronze drums were in their possession. Without them, the rulers would no longer hold power. In addition, these drums were also regarded as property that could distinguish the rich from the poor and humble. It was not until the Ming and Qing dynasties that the bronze drums began to be used as instruments. ~

Identity and Assimilation Among Chinese and Minorities

Eleanor Stanford wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: The vast majority of Chinese people are of Han descent. They identify with the dominant national culture and have a sense of history and tradition that dates back over one thousand years and includes many artistic, cultural, and scientific accomplishments. When the communists took over in 1949, they worked to create a sense of national identity based on the ideals of equality and hard work. [Source: Eleanor Stanford, “Countries and Their Cultures”, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“Some minority groups, such as the Manchu, have assimilated almost entirely. While they maintain their own languages and religions, they identify with the nation as well as with their own groups. Other minority ethnic groups tend to identify more with their individual cultures than with the Han. For example, the Mongolians and Kazakhs of the north and northwest, the Tibetans and the Zhuangs in the southwest, and the inhabitants of Hainan Island to the southeast are all linguistically, culturally, and historically distinct from one another and from the dominant tradition. For some minority groups, the Tibetans and Uigurs of Xinjiang in particular, the issue of independence has been an acrimonious one and has led those groups to identify themselves deliberately in opposition to the central culture and its government.

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.

Melting Pot China?

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.

“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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Tibetan 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.

“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.

“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.

Tensions Between Ethnic Minorities in China

Sometimes there is animosity and even violence between ethnic minorities. In mid March 2008, a major Tibetan uprising erupted in Lhasa and spread to other Tibetan regions of China. Chinese authorities said 22 people were killed, most of them Chinese killed by "separatist followers of the Dalai Lama.” since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. The Tibet-in-exile government says 220 monks, nuns and other Tibetans died, More than 600 people were injured. The violence was more serious than the unrest in 1989, which was primarily confined to Lhasa, and was arguably the worst outbreak of violence in China since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

Tibetans who rioted directed their anger first at Chinese and then at Muslim Huis. An American who witnessed the events told the New York Times, “This wasn’t organized, but it was very clear that they wanted the Chinese out.”Rioters first attacked Chinese shops and businesses and then attacked businesses in the Muslim Hui quarter. There mobs attacked a mosque but were unable to get inside. Some groups moved on and punched holes through metal shop gates and poured gasoline in the shops and set them on fire. I wasn't until evening that Chinese authorities dared to set foot in central Lhasa. Muslim shopkeepers and their families were badly hurt and some were killed when fires set in their shops spread to upstairs apartments.

The riots seem to have been a spontaneous reaction to increased oppression in Tibet. One Tibetan exile in India told the Washington Post, “Our blood is very hot right now, We have waited so many years for China to change its mind. Six rounds of peaceful talks, and we have nothing to show, But now, we are in no mood to spare China.” ames Miles of the Economist, the only Western reporter on the scene with permission to be in Lhasa, wrote: “The rioting seemed primarily an eruption of ethnic hatred. Immigrants have been flocking into Lhasa in recent years from the rest of China and run many of its shops, small businesses and tourist facilities....There is a great deal of resentment over sharp increases in the prices of food and consumer goods from the rest of China. Many residents are suspicious of the new train service, which they felt might encourage immigration.”

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.

“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. “The end 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.”

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.

See Tibet, Xinjiang

You’ll Never be Chinese: Why I'm Leaving the Country I Loved

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Uighur girl
Mark Kitto wrote in Prospect Magazine, “You’ll never become Chinese, no matter how hard you try, or want to, or think you ought to. I wanted to be Chinese, once. I don’t mean I wanted to wear a silk jacket and cotton slippers, or a Mao suit and cap and dye my hair black and proclaim that blowing your nose in a handkerchief is disgusting. I wanted China to be the place where I made a career and lived my life. For the past 16 years it has been precisely that. But now I will be leaving. [Source: Mark Kitto, Prospect Magazine, August 8, 2012]

I won’t be rushing back either. I have fallen out of love, woken from my China Dream. “But China is an economic miracle: record number of people lifted out of poverty in record time? year on year ten per cent growth? exports? imports? infrastructure? investment’saved the world during the 2008 financial crisis?” The superlatives roll on. We all know them, roughly.

Don’t you think, with all the growth and infrastructure, the material wealth, let alone saving the world like some kind of financial whizz James Bond, that China would be a happier and healthier country? At least better than the country emerging from decades of stultifying state control that I met and fell in love with in 1986 when I first came here as a student? I don’t think it is.

When I returned to China in 1996, to begin the life and career I had long dreamed about, I found the familiar air of optimism, but there was a subtle difference: a distinct whiff of commerce in place of community. The excitement was more like the eager anticipation I felt once I had signed a deal (I began my China career as a metals trader), sure that I was going to bank a profit, rather than the thrill that something truly big was about to happen. A deal had been struck. Deng had promised the Chinese people material wealth they hadn’t known for centuries on the condition that they never again asked for political change. The Party said: “Trust us and everything will be all right.”

Twenty years later, everything is not all right. I must stress that this indictment has nothing to do with the trajectory of my own China career, which went from metal trading to building a multi-million dollar magazine publishing business that was seized by the government in 2004, followed by retreat to this mountain hideaway of Moganshan where my Chinese wife and I have built a small business centred on a coffee shop and three guesthouses, which in turn has given me enough anecdotes and gossip to fill half a page of Prospect every month for several years. That our current business could suffer the same fate as my magazines if the local government decides not to renew our short-term leases (for which we have to beg every three years) does, however, contribute to my decision not to remain in China.

During the course of my magazine business, my state-owned competitor (enemy is more accurate) told me in private that they studied every issue I produced so they could learn from me. They appreciated my contribution to Chinese media. They proceeded to do everything in their power to destroy me. In Moganshan our local government masters send messages of private thanks for my contribution to the resurrection of the village as a tourist destination, but also clearly state that I am an exception to their unwritten rule that foreigners (who originally built the village in the early 1900s) are not welcome back to live in it, and are only allowed to stay for weekends. But this article is not personal. I want to give you my opinion of the state of China, based on my time living here, in the three biggest cities and one tiny rural community, and explain why I am leaving it.

Fear of violent revolution or domestic upheaval, with a significant proportion of that violence sure to be directed at foreigners, is not the main reason I am leaving China, though I shan’t deny it is one of them. Apart from what I hope is a justifiable human desire to be part of a community and no longer be treated as an outsider, to run my own business in a regulated environment and not live in fear of it being taken away from me, and not to concern myself unduly that the air my family breathes and the food we eat is doing us physical harm, there is one overriding reason I must leave China. I want to give my children a decent education.

I have also encountered hundreds of well-rounded, wise Chinese people with a modern world view, people who could, and would willingly, help their motherland face the issues that are growing into state-shaking problems. It is unlikely they will be given the chance. I fear for some of them who might ask for it, just as my classmates and I feared for our Chinese friends while we took our final exams at SOAS in 1989. I read about Ai Weiwei, Chen Guangchen and Liu Xiaobo on Weibo, the closely monitored Chinese equivalent of Twitter and Facebook, where a post only has to be up for a few minutes to go viral. My wife had never heard of them until she started using the site. The censors will never completely master it. (The day my wife began reading Weibo was also the day she told me she had overcome her concerns about leaving China for the UK.) There are tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of mainland Chinese who “follow” such people too, and there must be countless more like them in person, trying in their small way to make China a better place. One day they will prevail. That’ll be a good time to become Chinese. It might even be possible.

Image Sources: 1) Wiki Commons; 2) Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html ; 3) Bao Xishun blog

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.

Last updated September 2021


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