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People and Social Customs

China Ethnic Groups


The Han Chinese are China's largest ethnic group, constituting more than 90 percent of the population. The traditional history of China is largely the story of the Han, who emerged in what is now northern China more than 4,000 years ago. The term Han comes from the name of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD)—a dynasty notable for its military prowess and prosperous life. The Han people distinguished themselves from other peoples of the region whom they considered barbarians, especially the nomads and herding peoples.

The rest of China's population is comprised of 55 minority peoples. They are scattered over about half of China, notably in border regions. Some, like the Zhuang have been totally absorbed into Chinese society. Others, however, like the Tibetans and Mongols preserve their identities in their ancestral homelands. Their diversity is underscored by the geography and history of the regions they inhabit.

The following is a brief view of the major ethnic groups of China:


The Zhuang are the largest ethnic minority in China. Most are farmers who live in Guanxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.


The Mongols in China live mainly in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Many Mongols are nomadic herders. They travel from place to place with their animals and live in round, felt-covered yurts.


The Hui are one of China's largest ethnic minorities. Many live in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, but Hui communities are scattered throughout the country. Most Hui are Muslims.


Ethnic Tibetans live on the high Tibetan Plateau of southwestern China. Most Tibetans are followers of the Gelugpa, or Yellow Hat, sect of Buddhism.


Most Miao people live in Guizhou Hunan and Yunnan provinces. The Miao are well known for their intricate and colorful embroidery, which they sew into their clothing, and the intricate silver jewelry they make.


The Yi live mainly in the mountainous areas of southwestern China. Traditional Yi society was a caste system consisting of landowning nobles, commoners, and slaves, but this system ended in the mid-20th century. Today the majority of Yi are farmers.

Zhuang PeopleMongol PeopleHui People

Tibetan PeopleMiao PeopleYi People

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