The People's Republic of China officially describes itself as a multinational unitary state and as such officially recognizes 56 nationalities or Mínzú (民族), within China: the Han being the majority (>92%), and the remaining 55 nationalities being the national minorities. In addition to the 56 official nationalities, there are some Chinese who classify themselves as members of unrecognized nationalities. Also, foreign nationals who have become Chinese citizens form yet another separate group.
The official point of view is that all of these nationalities are part of a broader nationality known as zhonghua minzu.
Although most of the nationalities can be seen as ethnic groups, the correspondence is not one to one. For example, many Hui Chinese are indistinguishable from Han Chinese except for the fact that they practice Islam. Conversely, Hakka are often thought of as an ethnic group, but they generally considered a member of the Han nationality.
While Han Chinese make up the vast majority of China's total population, the population distribution is highly uneven with large parts of western China having Han Chinese as a minority. In addition the lumping of most Chinese into the majority Han, obscures some of the large linguistic, cultural, and racial differences between persons within that group.
The multinational nature of China results in part by territories incorporated by the Qing dynasty, whose emperors were themselves Manchu and not members of the majority Han. Chinese nationalities theory is heavily influenced by that of the Soviet Union. Official policy claims to be against assimilation and maintains that each nationality should have the right to develop its own culture and language.
The degree of integration of minority nationality with the national community varies widely from group to group. With some groups, such as the Tibetans and the Uyghurs there is a great deal of resentment against the majority. Other groups such as the Zhuang, Hui Chinese, and ethnic Koreans are well integrated into the national community.
See List of China administrative regions by ethnic group for the ethnic composition of each province-level division of China.
In order of population, the nationalities of China are:
Note that some of these ethnic groups hold belief systems that cannot be distinctly classified based upon the following system (in alphabetical order).
- Buddhism: the Dai, Mongolian, Naxi (including Mosuo), Tibetan and Yugun.
- Islam: the Bonan, Dongxiang, Hui, Kazak, Kirgiz, Salar, Tajik, Tatar, Uygur and Uzbek.
- Orthodoxy: the Russians
- Shamanism: the Daurs, Ewenkis, and Oroqens.
- Ethnic minority (http://www.china-un.org/eng/c2982.html): by PRC government in the UN in New York
- Photos (http://www.paulnoll.com/China/Minorities/index.html)
- The Ethnic Publishing House (http://www.e56.com.cn): on customs and autonomous places (in Simplified Chinese)