Han Chinese (Simplified Chinese: 汉族; Traditional Chinese: 漢族; pinyin: hànzú) is a term which refers to the majority ethnic group within China and the largest single human ethnic group in the world. Han Chinese constitute over 92 percent of the population of mainland China and about 19 percent of the global human population. The name was occasionally translated as the "Chinese proper" in older texts (pre-1980s) and is commonly rendered in Western media as the "ethnic Chinese."
The term is used to distinguish the majority from the various minorities in and around China. The name comes from the Han Dynasty which ruled the parts of China where Han Chinese originate. Even today many Chinese people call themselves "Han persons" (Hànrén). The term Han Chinese is sometimes used synonomously with "Chinese" without regard to the other 55 minority Chinese ethnic groups; this usage tends to be frowned upon by Chinese.
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Ethnic Han unity
Despite the existence many varied and diverse Chinese spoken languages, one factor in Han ethnic unity is the Chinese written language. For thousands of years, Literary Chinese was used as the standard written format, which used vocabulary and grammar significantly different from the various forms of spoken Chinese. Since the 20th Century written Chinese has been usually based on Standard Mandarin and not the local dialect of the writer (with the exception of the use of Standard Cantonese in writing). Thus, although the residents of different regions would not necessarily understand each other's speech, they would be able to understand each other's writing. It has also led to dialectal literature being slow to develop in the few dialects where it has developed at all. One of the few dialects to successfully diverge in the written form is Cantonese, particularly in Hong Kong. But with the predominance of Han-based writing and literature, local languages have not become a focus for regional self-consciousness or nationalism. Since in the past few could read or write, many find this idea of a common written language problematic.
Within some variants of Chinese nationalist theory, including the official version espoused by the People's Republic of China, China is composed of many ethnic groups, and promoting the interest and culture of Han Chinese at the expense of the other ethnic groups is known as Han chauvinism, which has a pejorative meaning. However, another interpretation of Chinese nationalist theory takes the very opposite view and considers only the Han Chinese to be true Chinese and thus equates Chinese nationalism with Han nationalism.
Among Han Chinese, there is a wide diversity of distinct cultural and linguistic groups. The differences among regional and linguistic subgroups of Han Chinese are at least as great as those among many European nationalities. Han Chinese speak many varieties of Chinese spoken language which are generally labelled as different Chinese dialects although the difference between them is greater than many European languages. Cultural differences (cuisine, costume, and custom) are equally great. Modern Chinese history provides many examples of conflict, up to the level of small-scale regional wars, between linguistic and regional groups. Thus, the idea of a unified Han Chinese is quite complicated.
Such diversities, however, have not generated exclusive ethnic identities, and distinctions in religion or political affiliation have not reinforced regional differences. Rather, there has been a consistent tendency in Chinese thought and practice to downplay intra-Han distinctions, which are regarded as minor and superficial.
Due to its internal diversity, any study of the Han is thus of great interest to researchers in many fields, particularly anthropology and human biology. Recent genetic studies have shown genetic differences, especially between Han Chinese in the southernmost coastal areas (Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Hainan, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan) and Han Chinese in the rest of China. The dividing line is much further south than either the Huai River or the Yangtze River, both of which are used as conventionally as regional borders.
Historical evidence indicates that the Han were descended from the ancient Huaxia tribes of northern China. During the past two millennia, the Han culture (that is, the language and its associated culture) extended into southern China, a region originally inhabited by the southern natives, including those speaking Daic, Austro-Asiatic and Hmong-Mien languages.
|Chinese ethnic groups (classification by PRC government)|
Achang – Bai – Blang – Bonan – Buyei – Chosen – Dai – Daur – De'ang – Derung – Dong – Dongxiang – Ewenki – Gaoshan – Gelao – Gin – Han – Hani – Hezhen – Hui – Jingpo – Jino – Kazak – Kirgiz – Lahu – Lhoba – Li – Lisu – Man – Maonan – Miao – Monba – Mongol – Mulao – Naxi – Nu – Oroqen – Pumi – Qiang – Russ – Salar – She – Sui – Tajik – Tatar – Tu – Tujia – Uygur – Uzbek – Va – Xibe – Yao – Yi – Yugur – Zang – Zhuang