As a large united multi-national state, China is composed of 56 ethnic groups. Among them Han Chinese account for 91.59% of the overall Chinese population and the other 55 make up the remaining 8.41% according to the Fifth National Population Census of 2000. As the combined population of these other minorities is far fewer than that of the Han, they form the 55 minorities of China.
These numerous ethnic groups share China's vast lands but at the same time many live in their individual communities. The relationships between them have been formed over many years.
With a population of 1159.4 million, the Han Chinese can be found in almost every part of China. However, they mainly live in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, Yangtze River and the Pearl River, and also in the Northeast Plain Region (Songliao Plain). They form the largest ethnic group within China and also the largest in the world. The Han people have their own distinctive way of life.
As the largest ethnic group in both China and world wide, It has a population of about 1.16 billion accounting for 19% of the world's total population. Over 99% of them live in China while others live abroad in other countries like Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, North America and many countries in Europe such as the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Han Chinese has become one of the main ethnic groups in those countries.
For years, they together with other ethnic minorities lived mainly on agriculture, and made outstanding achievements in the spheres of politics, philosophy, art, literature and natural science.
Chinese belongs to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages and is their language. The language is divided into seven dialects namely Mandarin, Wu Dialect, Xiang Dialect, Gan Dialect, Min Dialect, Cantonese and Hakka. In different regions, the standard of Chinese varies. The Mandarin is the standard designated language on the Chinese mainland and Taiwan; while Cantonese is the prime dialect of Hong Kong.
Chinese is written in two forms by the Han people – the traditional and simplified Chinese characters. The latter is derived from the former and is now widely and frequently used.
Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, are the main religions. Many people also belong to various Christian denominations due to the influence of western culture.
The staple food is rice and wheat. Rice is versatile and can be served in a variety of ways including porridge, rice cake, glutinous rice dumpling and rice noodles. Wheat is used in the production of steamed bread, noodles, steamed stuffed buns and wonton. Han people living in different regions of China have formed unique styles of cooking. The eight cuisines are the representative.
Tea and alcohol are the traditional drinks. They like to entertain their honored guests with tea and alcoholic drinks.
House styles and materials of the Han people vary in different regions of China. Those built in North China are mostly made of bricks in the courtyard style. The courtyard (Sihe Yuan) in Beijing is a representative. For houses in Northeast China, the style is almost the same as that in North China except for the walls. As Northeastern China is extremely cold, walls are built thicker and more solid than those of other places to retain warmth. However, in southern China, the Han people build their houses mainly of timber. The unique style of their buildings can be admired in the earthen buildings (tulou) in Fujian and pavilions in Suzhou.
All the houses of Han are suggested to be positioned in the north facing south to catch the maximum sunlight.
Festivals are rich and colorful. The most important of these are the Spring Festival, Lantern Festival, Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-autumn Festival. Please refer to the Traditional Chinese Festivals to see detailed information.
Although they make up only a small proportion of the overall Chinese population, the 55 minority ethnic groups are distributed extensively throughout different regions of China. The regions where they are most concentrated are Southwest China, Northwest China and Northeast China. No matter whether it is Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Ningxia, Guangxi, Tibet, Yunnan, Guizhou, Qinghai or Sichuan, Gansu, Hubei, Hunan or another province, one can find Chinese minorities. From the areas listed above, the greatest number of minorities can be found in Yunnan Province (25 ethnic groups). Zhuang has the largest population (more than 16 million) of minority ethnic groups.
In order to ensure that the 56 Chinese ethnic groups live together in harmony, the government introduced a series of policies including ones to secure the equality and unity of ethnic groups, give regional autonomy to ethnic minorities and promote respect for the faith and customs of ethnic groups.
Among these the policy of regional autonomy for minorities is the most fundamental. Under this policy, five autonomous regions; Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Guangxi, Ningxia and Tibet, as well as numerous autonomous prefectures, counties, nationality townships and towns have been set up. With guidance from the Chinese government, the minorities in areas that have been given regional autonomy are entitled to deal with their own affairs. Together with the Han people, the Chinese minorities are making great efforts to build a prosperous China.