The Han ethnic group is not only the largest of all ethic groups in China, but it is also the world’s largest ethnic group, making up about 18% of the global population. The most of 1.3 billion Han Chinese people live in China, but many of them live overseas. While Han people of different regions in China would not necessarily understand each other’s local speech, they generally share a common written language, so Mandarin is widely understood by all speakers.
The Zhuang people mostly live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China. They are the largest minority in China with the population of 18 million people. They speak a variety of dialects, and they often use Mandarin to communicate between themselves. Most of Zhuang people follow a traditional animist faith known as Moism, but there are also a number of Buddhists, Taoists, and Christians.
The Hui people is composed of ethnically Chinese followers of Islam who live throughout China, but mainly in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and other northwestern provinces of China. There are about 10 million Hui people, and the majority are Chinese-speaking practitioners of Islam.
Manchu people are an ethnic minority in China and the people from whom Manchuria derives its name. They are distributed throughout China, but the most of them live in Liaoning and Hebei. They speak Manchu language, and while originally were mostly Shamanists, they mostly practice Chinese folk religion with some Shamanic customs, and many of them practice Buddhism and Christianity.
The Uyghurs are a minority ethnic group, mostly living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, that are culturally affiliated with the region of Central and East Asia. They speak Uyghur language, and they are mostly Muslim, the second-largest predominantly Muslim ethnicity in China (after the Hui) with total population of about 10 million.
The Miao people live primarily in southern China’s mountains, in the provinces of Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, Guangxi, Guangdong and Hainan. Their languages and dialects belongs to Miao-Yao language family. Many of them practice Miao folk religion, but also Taoism, Christianity, and Buddhism.
The Yi is an ethnic group that live not only in China, but also in Vietnam and Thailand. Nine million Yi people live in China, mostly in rural areas of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi, and they speak various languages, closely related to Burmese language.
The Tujia is an ethnic group with a total population of over 8 million, living mostly in the Wuling Mountains, on the common borders of Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou, and Chongqing. The most of the Tujia speak varieties of Chinese, but there are still about 70,000 native speakers of the Tujia language.
The Tibetan people is an ethnic group native to Tibet, with population close to 7 million. They speak Tibetan languages, many varieties of which are mutually unintelligible, and the most of them practice Tibetan Buddhism.
Chinese Mongols form an ethnic group of almost 6 million people mostly living in Inner Mongolia, Northeast China, and Xinjiang. They mostly speak Mongolian language, and practice Mongolian shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism.
Dong people live mostly in eastern Guizhou, western Hunan, and northern Guangxi in China. They mostly speak Kam and Mandarin language, and they practice a polytheistic religion with many elements of animism.
The Bouyei ethnic group has a population of about 2.5 million people, who live mostly in southern China, in semi-tropical, high-altitude forests of Guizhou province, but also in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. They speak a Tai language, and practice mostly Shigongism (Moism) and Buddhism.
The Yao people, with a population of about 2.5 million, mostly live in the mountains of the southwest and south China. They speak several different languages, and practice a version of Taoism.
The Bai ethnic group, with a population of about 2 million, live mostly in the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou and Hunan provinces. They mostly speak Bai language, and some practice religions such as Buddhism, a native religion of Benzhuism, Taoism and Christianity.
Korean ethnic group in China has total population of about 2 million people, living mostly in north-east China. They mostly speak Korean, and common religions are Mahayana Buddhism and Christianity.
The Hani people mostly live in the province of Yunnan in southern China. The population of close to 2 million people mostly speak Hani language, and practicing Animism, Buddhism, and Christianity.
The Li ethnic group has population of about 1.2 million people, who lives in Hainan. They speak the Hlai languages, and the most common religion are Animism and Theravada Buddhism.
Kazakh is ethnic group of about 1.5 million people, who mainly live in Xinjiang. They speak Kazakh, Russian, and Mandarin, and they mostly practice Islam.
The Dai people live mainly in southern Yunnan. The population of more than a million speaks several Tai languages, and the most common religions are Theravada Buddhism and Dai folk religion.
The She are the largest ethnic minority in Fujian province, with about 800,000 population. They mostly speak Shehua, and the common religions are their indigenous religion – She Wuism, and Buddhism
The Lisu ethnic group has a population of more than 700,000 people, who mostly live in Yunnan and Sichuan. They speak several languages, and the most common religions are Animism, Buddhism, and Christianity.
The Dongxiang people mostly live in Gansu province in Northwestern China. The population is more than 600,000. They speak Santa language, and practice Islam.
The Gelao ethnic group, with a population of more than 400,000, mostly live in Guizhou, Guangxi, Yunnan, and Sichuan. They speak Gelao language, and the main religions practiced are Taoism and Buddhism.
Lahu people live mostly in Yunnan province with population of about 700,000. They speak several Lahu dialects, and practice Animism, Buddhism, and Christianity.
Wa people live mostly in Yunnan province. They speak Wa and Burmese, and practice Animism, Buddhism, and Christianity.
The Sui ethnic group has a population of more than 400,000, who lives mostly in Guizhou. They speak Sui and Mandarin, and the common religions are Animism, Buddhism, and Taoism.
The Nakhi mostly live on the foothills of the Himalayas with the population of about 300,000. They speak Nakhi language, and they practice their own native Dongba religion, along with Tibetan Buddhism and Taoism.
The Qiang people (about 300,000 population) live mainly in a mountains in the northwestern part of Sichuan. They speak numerous Qiang dialects, and they mostly practice a pantheistic religion, but many also follow Tibetan Buddhism.
Tu people, with a population close to 300,000, live mostly in the Qinghai and the Gansu provinces. They speak the Monguor language, which belongs to the family of Mongolic languages but has been heavily influenced by both the local Chinese and Tibetan dialects. Their culture have been influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, the Confucianism, Taoism and the local beliefs.
Mulao ethnic group of about 200,000 people live mostly in Guangxi. They speak Mulam language, and they have been traditionally animists.
Xibe minority of less than 200,000 people live mostly in north-east China. Historical religions of this ethnic group include shamanism and Buddhism, and they mostly speak Mandarin, while some still speak the Xibe language.
Kyrgyz is an ethnic group of about 200,000 people, who live mostly in the north-west China, and they mostly practice Islam.
The Jingpo people are an ethnic group who mostly live in Yunnan Province. The population is about 150,000.
The Daur people are a Mongolic-speaking ethnic group in Northeastern China with about 130,000 total population.
The Salar is an ethnic minority of China with population of about 130,000, who mostly speak the Salar language. They live mostly in the Qinghai-Gansu border region, on both sides of the Yellow River. They are an agricultural society and are predominantly Muslim.
Blang is an ethnic group of about 90,000 people, who live mostly in Yunnan, and they speak various Palaungic languages, including Blang. They are traditionally associated with animism and Theravada Buddhism.
The Maonan ethnic group has population of about 100,000 people, who mostly live in Guangxi province in southern China. They speak Maonan language, and their traditional religion is both animistic and polytheistic, with strong Taoist influences.
The Tajik ethnic group with a population about 40,000 people, live mostly in Xinjiang region.
The Pumi ethnic group (30,000 population), ethnically related to the Tibetans, lives mainly in Yunnan, typically at elevations above 2,500 m. They speak Pumi language, and they were historically influenced by Tibetan Buddhism.
The Achang ethnic group of less than 30,000 population live mostly in Yunnan province. They speak a Burmese-related language called Achang.
The Nu people live mainly in Yunnan province. There are less than 30,000 Nu people, who speak various languages in the Tibeto-Burman family, as they do not have a written language of their own. Their religions are Tibetan Buddhism and a tribal Animism.
Evenki (about 30,000) live mostly in the north of the Inner Mongolia, and they are culturally connected to Siberia in Russia, many practicing Orthodox Christianity.
Gin people (population about 30,000) mostly live in Chinese autonomous region of in Guangxi. They mostly speak Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Cantonese.
The Jino ethnic group of about 20,000 people live mostly in Yunnan province. They speak Jino language, and practicing Animism and Buddhism.
Deang people live mostly in Yunnan province, and they practice Theravada Buddhism.
The Bonan people (population about 17,000) mostly live south of the Yellow River, near Gansu’s border with Qinghai. Both the Muslim Bonans in Gansu and their Buddhist cousins in Qinghai have historically spoken the Bonan language.
Russian minority in China is mostly related to the provinces in north China such as Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Heilongjiang (in particular city of Harbin), but there are Russians in other areas in China. The total population of Russian ethnic group in China is about 15,000.
The Yugur people (population about 13,000) mostly live in Sunan Yugur Autonomous County in Gansu, mostly practising Tibetan Buddhism.
Uzbek minority, with 10,000 population, mostly live in north-west China.
Monba people lives in Tibet, about 9,000 of them, so their customs, traditions and life styles are very similar to Tibetan people.
The Oroqen ethnic group, with a population of about 8,000 people, lives mostly in Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang. They speak Oroqen language, and they practice Shamanism and Buddhism.
The Derung ethnic group, with a population of 6,000, mostly live in Yunnan. They speak Derung language, and while some of them have converted to Christianity, they practice their animist native religion.
Hezhen ethnic minority is one of the smallest of all ethnic groups in China with a population of less than 5,000. They live in Heilongjiang province, and practicing Shamanism.
Gaoshan ethnic minority is originally from Taiwan Island, but about 4,000 live in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces in China.
Tatar ethnic minority, with a population of about 4,000, is one of the smallest of all ethnic groups in China, which live mainly in Xinjiang. They speak Tatar and Mandarin, and practice Islam.
Lhoba, with a population of less than 3,000, living mostly in the Luoyu Region of southeast Tibet, is the smallest of all ethnic groups in China.
What is China’s policy on ethnic minorities?
Han ethnic group has the largest population of all ethnic groups in China (about 90% of total Chinese population), while the populations of the other 55 ethnic groups are relatively small, and they are thus commonly referred to as ethnic minorities. While the total population of ethnic minorities was 35.32 million in 1953, or 6.06 percent of the total population; the total population of ethnic minorities increased to 106.43 million in 2000, or 8.41 percent of the total population of China.
Managing rights of minorities in China is based on affirmative action policies for ethnic minorities, called Youhui zhengce, which means preferential policy. It is a mode of “positive discrimination”, which aims to promote ethnic minority groups’ economic and cultural development. Three basic principles for preferential policy are equality for national minorities, territorial autonomy, and equality for all languages and cultures.
For example, ethnic minorities were exempted from the population growth control of the One-Child Policy. The taxes in minority regions can be spent locally, as they are not required to be sent to the central government. Minorities receive proportional representation in local government. The government encourages business to hire minorities and offers no-interest loans to businesses operated by minorities. When applying to universities, students from ethnic minorities receive bonus points on the National Higher Education Entrance Examination. There are more than 20,000 ethnic-minority primary schools and about 4,000 ethnic-minority secondary schools.
Different ethnic autonomous areas have been established across the country. China has in total 155 ethnic autonomous areas: 5 autonomous regions, 30 autonomous prefectures and 120 autonomous counties, which accounts for 64 percent of the entire territory of China. The most of ethnic minorities live in these areas (70%), while the rest is scattered across China.
Moreover, China had established 1,100 ethnic townships, as a supplement to the system of regional ethnic autonomy. The institutions of these areas, prefectures, counties, and townships have the rights to independently manage the ethnic group’s internal affairs, economic construction and social undertakings. In addition, the Chinese government has provided preferential economic development and aid to these areas.
There are many efforts to preserve unique cultures of minority ethnic groups in China. The government established literature and art organisations, institutes and schools, in order to promote literary and artistic talent among the minority peoples. There are hundreds of art troupes, sites for art performances, cultural centers, over 600 libraries, and more than 150 museums in autonomous areas. In addition, there are 24 art colleges and secondary-level art schools in the five autonomous regions and Yunnan, Guizhou and Jilin provinces, designed to foster artistically talented people among China’s ethnic minorities.
All ethnic groups in China have the freedom and right to use and develop their own spoken and written languages. The government established special academic organisations for the spoken and written languages of ethnic minorities in order to help minority people create, improve or reform their written languages. There are more than 150 radio and television stations using the languages of the ethnic minorities, and the Central People’s Broadcasting Station broadcast in 21 minority languages daily. Every year, more than 5,000 book titles in minority languages are published in China.