China's Ethnic Minorities
From the hinterlands of the north, to the lush jungles in the south, from the mountains of Taiwan in the east, to the top of the world in the west, China serves as home to 56 official ethnic groups.
The largest group, the Han, make up 93% of China's vast population, and it is the elements of Han civilization that world considers "Chinese culture." Yet, the 55 ethnic minorities, nestled away on China's vast frontiers, maintain their own rich traditions and customs, and all are part of Chinese culture.
What determines an ethnic group?
- Distinct language
While hundreds of Chinese dialects are spoken across China, a minority language is not simply a dialect. Rather, it is a language with distinct grammatical and phonological differences from Chinese. Language families include Sino-Tibetan, Altaic, Indo-European, Austro-Asiatic, and Austronesian. Twenty-one ethnic minority groups have unique writing systems.
- A Recognized Indigenous Homeland
A territory within the national boundaries of China, from which the group originated. Native history and mythologies are interwoven into this native land.
- Distinctive Customs
Ranging from dress, marriage rituals, cuisine, religion, and so forth.
- A Strong Sense of Identity
Feeling of relation with other members of the group, along with historically perceived friends and enemies among other groups.
About Minority Names
Many of the original Chinese names for minorities come from a long history of contempt. In 1951, the use of derogatory names was abolished, but the new, currently used names were set by Han Chinese. As the Communist Party has relaxed its iron grip in recent years, minorities have been given flexibility in choosing their own official names.
The 55 Ethnic Minority Groups
Population 5 million
Location Inner Mongolia and northern China.
Religion Tibetan Buddhism, Moslemism
Mongolian led by Genghis Khan governed China and established Yuan Dynasty from 1846-1890. They have their own languages and three dialects.
Inner Mongolia is now an Autonomous Region in China.They are mostly practitioners of Tibetian Buddhism and Muslims.
Location: Northwestern China
The Hui have a long history of intermarriage with other nationalities such as Arabs, Han Chinese, etc. They follow many Muslim rules and taboos, such as not eating any pork. The men wear white or black skullcaps. Women cover themselves with white, black or green veils.
Population 4.6 million
Religion Tibetan Buddhism
Tibetans and Han Chinese have been living together for thousand of years. Tibet is now an Autonomous Region in China.
Population 0.7 million
Xinjiang is a Uygur Autonomous Region. It is the largest region in China, covering one sixth of China's total. A great deal of it is desert and mountain. Weiwuer love dancing, singing and playing their own unique musical instruments. They are hospitable people. Visitors will be invited to taste sweet grapes, melons and plums, drink tea, and join the lively dancing.
Population 7.4 million
Location Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan
Chinese historical records show that the Miao ethnic group used to live along the Yellow river, much earlier than any other ethnic group in China. Because of wars, and changes in the living environment, the Miao gradually established many tribes when they moved further south.
These tribes have different lifestyles and different types of costume developed during cultural exchanges with other nationalities, while maintaining their own. There are 23 varieties of costume, falling into five types more prevalent in western Hunan Province, southeastern Guizhou, in the region where Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces meet, and the Hainan Province. Among the five types, the popular styles in western Hunan Province, and eastern and southeastern Guizhou Province are typical and more distinguishable.
Population: 6.6 million
Location: Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Gunangxi
Yi settles down in the valley surrounded by mountains and streams. Yi has a beautiful language, which is still being used today. There are many history records, literature, medication study all written in Yi language. Yi lives on farming and animal husbandry. Their traditional painting, sculpture and silversmith are beautiful. Fire Festival in June is a big day for Yi. Just like other minority groups, they are good in folk dancing and singing.
Population: 15 million
Location: Mainly in Guangxi, some in Guangdong, Guizhou, Yunnan and Hunan.
Zhuang is the largest ethnic minority group in China. They settle in the Guangxi Autonomous Region and live on farming. Their tropical fruit and farming product are very famous. They have own language. Based on Han Chinese, They also created a written language, which is still being used widely today. Every March, they have a big festival to celebrate with folk dancing and singing.
Population: 2.5 million
Location: Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan and Guangxi
Buyi is the native ethnic group living in the highland, traced back to the Stone Age. They are mainly in farming and forest product. Has own language but not widely used. Their ancient architecture becomes hot spot for tourist. Their stone house is very unique and built based on the "Ying Yang" theory.
朝鲜族 Chaoxian (Korean)
Population: 2 million
Location: Jilin, Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia
Korean moved into China 300 years ago. They mainly live on farming. They brought with them their own language and traditions. Just like other Chinese, they respect elders and love their children. They have very good education system and achieve high level of education. They excel in the area of science and art.
满族 Man (Manchu)
Population: 9.8 million
Location: Northern China
Manchu has a history more than 2,000 years. They mainly live in Liaoning and East Northern China. Their ancestors mixed with Han Chinese, Mongolian and Koreans in their early settlement. They governed China for more than 300 years during Qing Dynasty.
Unfortunately Qing brought great disaster to China. The imperial court failed to stop the Western power invading China with their newest arms and opium. It took Chinese 80 years to clean up the mess and only until December 20, 1999, the last colony, Macao, reverted back to China from 500 years occupation by Portuguese. The only Chinese land still under foreign occupation is Diaoyutai Island, which was given to Japan by American at the end of the World War II.
Population: 2.5 million
Location: Guizhou, Guangxi, Hunan
Dong lives on farming and fishing. They have own languages and know Han Chinese well. They have rich heritages in arts and music. Their poetry is very famous. The most amazing architecture is the drum tower, which was built thousand years ago, without using any nails or slots.
Population: 2.1 million
Location: Guangxi,Hunan, Yunnan, Guangdong, Guizhou
Yao originated in Yangtz River and later moved south into the mountain area in the Southern West of China. They have own language but most of them know a few other languages. In the remote area, some of them still keep own religion and traditions, and very primitive living condition by hunting and farming. They are good in dancing and music.
Population: 1.6 million
Location: Mostly in Yunnan, Guizhou, Hunan, Sichuan
Bai is a very old ethnic group in China. Dali of Yunnan is their capital. They are very good in science, architecture, medication and literature. They live mainly on farming and fishing. They have own language but also know Han Chinese very well. Dali is now a hot tourist area for its famous architecture, temples, sculpture, visual arts, etc.
Population: 5.7 million
Location: Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan
Tujia's history can be traced back 2,000 years ago. They have been living in Hunan and the neighboring provinces for years. They have own languages. They have mixed with other minorities and Han since early days. Most of them know a few languages, including Han Chinese. They have no specific religion and worship "White Tiger" as their ancestor.
Population: 1.25 million
Hani lives on farming, usually 800 to 2500 above sea, high into the mountain area. They are very good in creating farming field on the slop of hills with unique watering system. They have own language but have no specific religion. They do worship nature and ancestors. Their New Year starts on October.
哈萨克族 Hasake (Kazakh)
Population: 1.1 million
Kazakh settles in the north of Xinjiang. They live on animal husbandry and farming. They have own language and believe in Islam. Their beautiful song and dancing are famous in China.
Population: 1 million
Dai is one of the largest minority groups in Yunnan. Their own language is very closed to India. All the history and literature were recorded in Dai. They live on farming and have many tropical plants. Their new year starts in June.
Population: 1.11 million
Li is the native in Hainan and can be traced back to "Stone Age". They live in farming and have the earliest weaving technology in Chinese history. The technology was then transferred to mainland China in Tang/Song Dynasties. Li has no written language and use Han Chinese.
Lisu migrated into this area since 8th Century. They live on hunting, forest product and mineral. They have own language and wear traditional cloth. Lisu is a very open and friendly.
Wa has settled in this area for a few thousand years. They live on farming and hunting. There are many forest products and animals such as tiger, bear, deer and elephant. Their language is closed to the languages used in Burma and other neighboring countries.
Location: Fujian, Zhejiang
Since the years, 'She' has spread into several provinces along the east coast. They live on farming. They have own language but use Han Chinese. They are very artistic and use bamboo to make furniture, decoration and many other products.
Location: Fujian, Taiwan
Gaoshan settles in Taiwan mountain areas for centuries. Some of them migrated to the east coast of mainland China. They have 15 languages, some of them are closed to the languages used in Indonesia. They live on farming. Gaoshan people are organized into commune and every one in the commune has clear responsibility.
Lahu settles in the tropical mountain area. They live on farming and forest industry. They have own language but most of them use Han Chinese and Dai language. Their written language was greatly influenced by the missionary from the West in late 19th Century. They like dancing and music. Girls favor dark color cloth as traditional fashion.
Shui is a native in Guizhou. They live mainly on farming. They have an old language with 400 words and only used for religion activities. They also have own calendar. September is the starting of a new year. They are very good in painting and have a 700 years old history of diet technology.
Location: Gangsu, Qinghai, Ningxia
Dongxiang has same language as Mongolia. They are Islam in religion and maintain all the Islam traditions. They are a very open nation and like dancing, singing and other activities. They live on farming. Most of them use Han Chinese.
Naxi migrated from Qing Hai to Yunnan long time ago. They live on farming and forest industry. The forest there is unspoiled and can be a good place for adventure. There are few thousand of different types of flowers, flora and plants. They have own language but often use Han Chinese
Jingpo settles in high mountains. They live on farming and forest. Their products include red wood, rubber, coffee, tea and many other tropical products. They have five dialects and they mixed in using these dialects in different situations.
柯尔克孜族 Haergehe (Khalkh)
Khalkh migrated from Mongol. They mixed with Uighur and Kazakh. They have own language but also know Uighur , Kazakh and Han Chinese. They are Islam and live on farming and animal husbandry. Their literature is very famous and like dancing and music.
Tu settles in the Qing Hai. They lived on animal husbandry and now mainly on farming. They have a few dialects and use Han Chines or Tibetan language. They believe in Lama. They have the longest festival season and like dancing and music.
Location: Inner Mongolia
Tahur mainly settles in Inner Mongolia. They live on animal husbandry. They have own language but they also know other languages such as Han Chinese, Mongolia and Uighur.
Mulao settles in the mountain area. They live on farming and mining. In their area, there are rich minerals and coal mining is one of the major industries. They have own language but most of them know Han Chinese very well. They believe in Taoism and Buddhism.
Qiang has settle in the Qinhai and Tibet for more than 3,000 years. They live on farming and hunting. They have very old written language but lost. They are many remains that show the superior structure of the building constructed by Qiang.
Bulang settles in the high mountain area. They live on farming and tea is one of the major products for them. There are many other tropical products also. They have own language and some of them also use Han Chinese, Dai and Wat languages.
Location: Qinghai, Gansu and Xinjiang
Sala migrated to this area from Middle Asian countries. They settle along the Yellow River and live on farming. They have own language and no written language. They believe in Islam and maintain Islam's tradition.
Maonan is the native in Guangxi. They live on farming and animal husbandry. Cattle farming are a big industry for them. They have own language and no written language. Most of them know Zhang and Han Chinese.
Location: Guizhou, Guangxi and Yunnan
Gelao is an very old nation in Guizhou. They live on farming and have own language. Most of Gelao now use Han Chinese. They worship old tree and have very unique "tree culture"
Location: Xinjiang, Liaoning and Jilin
Some of the Xibo moved from the Northern East to the Northern West in the early 18th Century. They were part of the Qing army to station in the West of China. They now still maintain their own written language and live on farming. Some of them believe in Lama and other religions. Xibo is always good at horse riding. The date of the migration is still a big memory day for them.
Location: Mostly in Yunnan
Achan is the earliest native in Yunnan. They settle in the valley and live on farming. They have own language but most of them can speak Han Chinese, Dai and other languages. They have very unique native dress and the girls wear beautiful silver necklace and rings.
Pumi moved to Yunan from the north in 13th Century. They live on farming. Their culture is influenced by many others such as Tibet, Burma, Bai and Han Chinese. Most of them use Han Chinese. They have own religion but some of them believe in Lama or Taoism.
塔吉克族 Tajige (Tajik)
Tajik is one of the oldest minority groups in China. They settle on the main route of "Silk Road" and benefit from the culture exchanges to the West since the early day. They have own language and believe in Islam. They live on farming, animal husbandry and hunting. They are good at horse riding. Eagle is their hero symbol.
Location: Yunnan and Tibet
Nu settles in very remote area and lived in very poor conditions. They have own language but use Lisu and Han Chinese also. Only in the last 50 years, they have catch up with other minority groups.
乌孜别克族 Wuzibieke (Uzbek)
Uzbek migrated from Mongol. They mixed with Uighur and Kazakh. They have own language but also know Uighur , Kazakh and Han Chinese. They are Islam and live on farming, trading and education
俄罗斯族 Eluosi (Russian)
Russian moved into China in 18th and 19th Century. They maintain their own language, religion and tradition. They have better than average education and live on farming, gardening, fishery, art and education. Most of them use Hen Chinese for communication.
鄂温克族 Owenke (Ewenki)
Location: Inner Mongolia
Ewenki settles in Inner Mongolia and along the Heilongjiang. They mixed with Mongolian, Hen Chinese and Olunchun. They use Mongolian or Hen Chinese language and believe in Tibetan Buddhism. They live on farming and hunting. Their tradition is closed to Mongolian.
Deang is the oldest native in Yunnan. They are very close to Dai. They have own language and use Dai, Jingpo and Han Chinese. Tea is their main product. They are very good in silversmith.
Location: Mostly in Gansu
Baoan settles in the border area of Gansu and Qinhai. They live on farming, good at making sharp knife since the early day. They believe in Islam and have the same tradition as other Islamic people. They have no written language and use Han Chinese mainly.
Yugu has an old history traced back to the 9th Century. They live on animal husbandry and farming. There is very rich reserve of precious stones in the area and their jade is very famous. Their language and tradition is closed to Tibetan.
京族 Jing (Vietnamese)
Vietnamese immigrated into China 400 years ago and settles down in this area. They live on fishing along the seaside. Though having their own language but knowing Han Chinese well. Catholic or Tao are the main religions in Vietnamese.
塔塔尔族 Tataer (Tatar)
Tatar migrated to China in the early 19th Century from Europe and Russia. They mixed with Uighur and Kazakh. They maintain their own language, tradition and Islam religion. Their house presents in European style, quite different from Uighur and Kazakh. Their living standard is higher at average since they are good at business and education.
Dulong settles in the high mountain area by the border of Tibet and Burma. Living in very primitive form by farming, hunting and maintain a very simple community with good social order and discipline, well known as a nation with good credibility and morality.
Location: Inner Mongolia
Olunchun settles in Inner Mongolia and along the Heilongjiang, living on farming and hunting. They use Mongolian or Han Chinese language and believe in religion.
Hezhe settles along Heilongjiang River and lives on fishing and hunting. They have their own language but most of the young generation now use Han Chinese as the common language. They create many innovative fishing tools and accumulate very rich experience in fishery industry.
Menba settles in the high Mountain and seldom contacts with outside world. They are closely related to Tibetan. The sixth Dala Lama of Tibet was a Menba. They use Tibetan as the language. The Menba became part of China since 13th Century.
Lubao is one of the smallest ethnic minority groups in China. They live in high mountain area and seldom contact with outside world. They still stay in very primitive society even today. Living on hunting and farming, with their own language but without written characters, only few of them know Tibetan or Chinese.
Jinuo settles in Jinuo Mountain and lives on farming. Their tea is very famous. The society was very backward and still stayed at very primitive stage until the 16th Century. Having their own religions and language but no written characters. All Jinuo's women are good at weaving and making cloths.