Chinese Ethnic Groups

As a multi-nationality country, China has 56 national groups in all. The splendid cultures shown by different nationalities throughout China, makes it more attractive together with its beautiful landscape.


Han Chinese is an ethnic group native to China and the largest single ethnic group in the world. There is considerable genetic, linguistic, cultural, and social diversity among the subgroups of the Han, mainly due to immigration and assimilation of various regional ethnicity and tribes within China through the history. The Han Chinese is a subset of the Chinese nation. Sometimes Han and other Chinese refer to themselves as Yanhuang Zisun, namely the "Descendants of the Yan and Huang Emperors”.


Ethnic minorities in China are the non-Han Chinese population in the People's Republic of China. Chinese government officially recognizes 55 ethnic minority groups within China in addition to the Han majority. By definition, these ethnic minority groups, together with the Han majority, make up the greater Chinese nationality known as Zhonghua Minzu. Chinese minorities alone are referred to as "Shaoshu Minzu".


Miao is a Chinese term and does not reflect the self-designations of the component nations of people, which include (with some variant spellings) Hmong, Hmu, A Hmao, and Kho (Qho) Xiong. Miao people live primarily in southern China, in the provinces of Guizhou, Hunan, Yunnan, Sichuan, Guangxi, Hainan, Guangdong, and Hubei.

It is said that the Miao originated from the egg of a butterfly that emerged from a maple tree. The butterfly married a bubble and laid twelve eggs. A mythical bird called the Jiyu watched over the eggs for twelve years and finally they hatched into a Miao man known as Jiangyang, a Thunder God known as Leigong, a water buffalo, snake, dragon, tiger, centipede, elephant and four other omens. All of these symbols are found in the exquisite embroidery and colorful decoration of these artistically talented people. The Miao believe that silver, representing light, dispels evil spirits. Silver is also a symbol of wealth and beauty, and some young women wear several kilograms of it at one time. Dazzling embroidered skirts, blouses, aprons and jackets are decorated with many different tooled silver ornaments. Pretty necks are encircled with bands of silver and linking silver chains that support large shining lockets, glittering beads and hanging tassels. Elaborate silver headpieces crown the heads of the girls as they proudly display their self-made costumes.

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Blang, also spelled Bulong, is a Chinese ethnic group which lived in the Lancang river valley during ancient times. It is believed that these people were one branch of a number of peoples that were collectively known to the ancient Chinese as the “Baipu”, literally the "Hundred Pu".

Traditionally, Blang people considered teeth blackened by chewing betel nuts a beauty characteristic. The people of this minority are mostly animists, in addition to ancestor worship. They also combine their native beliefs with Theravada Buddhism.


Tibetan is an ethnic group that is native to Tibet who numbers 5.4 million in population. It is the 10th largest ethnic group in China, while the Khampas of Tibet are originally from Mongolia. Tibetans speak the Tibetan language, which belongs to the Sino-Tibetan languages and has many mutually unintelligible dialects. The traditional, or mythological, explanation of the Tibetan people's origin is that they are the descendants of the monkey Pha Trelgen Changchup Sempa and rock ogress Ma Drag Sinmo.

Most Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, though some observe the indigenous Bon and others are Muslims. Tibetan Buddhism influences Tibetan art, drama, and architecture, while the harsh geography of Tibet has produced an adaptive culture of Tibetan medicine and cuisine. Tibetan lamas, both Buddhist and Bon, play a major role in the lives of the Tibetan people, conducting religious ceremonies and taking care of the monasteries. Pilgrims plant prayer flags over sacred grounds as a symbol of good luck. The prayer wheel is a means of simulating chant of a mantra by physically revolving the object several times in a clockwise direction. These two holy things are widely seen among Tibetan people.

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Yao nationality is a government classification for various minorities in China where they reside in the mountainous terrain of the southwest and south.

The typical houses of the Yao are rectangular and they have structures made of wood and bamboo. Normally it has three rooms: a room and two dormitories in the lateral side. Each one of these rooms has a small oven to cook.

Marriage is traditionally arranged by go-betweens who represent the boy's family to the girl's parents. If the union is acceptable, a "Bride" price is negotiated, typically ranging from three to ten silver bars, worth about 100 dollars each, a partial artifact from the opium trade. The wedding takes place in two installments, first at the bride's house, followed by a procession to the groom's house where a second ceremony occurs.

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Zhuang is an ethnic group of people who mostly live in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China. Some also live in the Yunnan, Guangdong, Guizhou and Hunan provinces. With the Buyi and other northern Tai speakers, they are sometimes known as the Rau or Rao. Their population, estimated at 18 million people, puts it second only to the Han Chinese and makes Zhuang ethnic group the largest minority in China.

Most Zhuang people follow traditional animist practices known as Mo or Shigong which include elements of ancestor worship. The Mo has their own sutra and professional priests known as Bu Mo who traditionally use chicken bones for divination. In Mo, the creator is known as Bu Luotuo and the universe is tripartite, with all things composed from the three elements heaven, earth, and water.

Zhuang cuisine includes many salty and sour dishes such as pickled cabbage, pickled vegetables and pork, and dried fish. A common Zhuang drink is "oil tea" which is tea leaves fried in oil with rice grains brewed and drunk with peanuts or a rice cake.

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Nakhi, or Naxi, is an ethnic group inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas in the northwestern part of Yunnan Province, as well as the southwestern part of Sichuan Province in China.

Nakhi culture is a mixture of Tibetan and Han Chinese influences, with some indigenous elements. Nakhi music is 500 years old, and with its mixture of literary lyrics, poetic topics, and musical styles from the Tang, Song, and Yuan Dynasties, as well as some Tibetan influences, it has developed its own unique style and traits. There are three main styles: Baisha, Dongjing, and Huangjing, all using traditional Chinese instruments.

As the heads of the family, Nakhi women give inheritance to the children either through the mother, or to her nephews through her brothers. This is called matrilineal decent, where one belongs to one's mother's lineage. In Nakhi society, women also acted as the main work-force. Women are respected at home and in the Nakhi society. Nakhi people’s attitude towards nature is clearly illustrated by the story of He Shun, a Dongba priest, who forbade his three sons to cut down more trees than they needed, as this would anger the gods and bring misfortune to his family.

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Dai is one of several ethnic groups living in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture and the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture.

Dai people are closely related to the Lao and Thai people who form a majority in Laos and Thailand.

Dai people follow their traditional religion as well as Theravadin Buddhism, and maintain similar customs and festivals (such as the Sankrant) to the other Tai-speaking peoples. They are among the few natives groups in China who nominally practice the Theravada school of Buddhism. Water-Sprinkling Festival is the New Year's celebrations of Tai Minority. As the most important festival for Tai people, it is called the “Water Festival” by westerners because people pour water at one another as part of the cleansing ritual to welcome the New Year. The act of pouring water is a show of blessings and good wishes in Tai people minds.

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Bai people literarily mean white people in Chinese. Its population ranks the 15th largest nationality of China.

Bai People hold the white color in high esteem and call themselves "Baizi", "Baihuo" or "Baini".

Bai people live mostly in the provinces of Yunnan (Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture area), and in neighboring Guizhou (Bijie area) and Hunan (Sangzhi area). Although majority of Bai people believe in Buddhism, they also respectively worship their village god (“Benzhu Wish”), Nature god, the Prince of the Nanzhao regime, or even a hero of folklore. Benzhu Wish is a village god that is considered to be the guardian of the village. Bai diet typically comprises sharp, cold and spicy flavors. Cured ham or fish with rice is a common dish; though for some groups based in mountain areas corn is a staple food.

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Uyghur is an ethnic group mainly living in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Prefecture of China. An estimated 80% of Xinjiang's Uyghur people live in the Tarim Basin which is the southwestern portion of this region. Perhaps the most acceptable English pronunciation is ooy-goor. The largest community of Uyghur outside Xinjiang in China is in Taoyuan County, in south-central Hunan province.

Most Uyghur are Muslim, and practice Sufism. The relics of the Uyghur culture constitute major collections in the museums of Berlin, London, Paris, Tokyo, St. Petersburg, and New Delhi. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, scientific and archaeological expeditions to the region of Xinjiang's Silk Road discovered numerous cave temples, monastery ruins, wall paintings, as well as valuable miniatures, books, and documents.

The 12 Muqams are the national oral epic of the Uyghur. Each of the 12 Muqams consists of a main section that begins with a long free rhythm introduction, followed by pieces with characteristic rhythmic patterns that gradually increase in speed. The Uyghur Muqam of Xinjiang has been designated by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Uyghur food is characterized by mutton, beef, camel, chicken, goose, carrots, tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, celery, various dairy foods, and fruits.

Uyghur-style breakfast is tea with home-baked bread, hardened yogurt, olives, honey, raisins, and almonds. Uyghur like to treat guests with tea, naan and fruit before the main dishes are ready.

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Hani people, whose over ninety percent population live in the southwestern Yunnan Province, scattered across the Ailao Mountains between the Mekong River and the Red River region.

The dwellings of Hani minority are usually two or three stories high, built with bamboo, mud, stone and wood. Part of thousand years of Hani ancient culture is terraced fields. That’s why today Yuanyang rice terrace fields become more and more popular together with its Hani ethnic folklore. The traditional clothing of Hani people is used made out of dark blue fabric. Men dress in short jackets and in long wide pants. They also wear turbans that are white or black. Hani women dress depends on which clan they belong to. There is no gender difference in the clothing of children under the age of seven.



Qiang people, with a population of approximately 200,000, live mainly in northwestern part of Sichuan province, predominantly in the five counties of Maoxian, Wenchuan, Lixian, Beichuan and Heishui of Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. At present, Qiang people have a self-identity, referring to themselves as Qiang and Erma. Qiang people are mountain dwellers. A fortress village, Zhai, composed of 30 to 100 households, in general, is the basic social unit beyond the household. Skilled in construction of roads and bamboo bridges, Qiang people can build them on the rockiest cliffs and swiftest rivers. Men and women of Qiang minority wear gowns that are made of gunny cloth, cotton and silk with sleeveless wool jackets. Following age-old traditions, their hair and legs are bound. Embroidery and drawn work is done extemporaneously without any designs. Traditional songs related to topics such as wine and the mountains are accompanied by dances and the music of traditional instruments such as leather drums.

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Dong minority, a branch of Kam–Sui people, live mostly in eastern Guizhou, western Hunan, and northern Guangxi in China.

Dong people are famed for their native-bred Kam Sweet Rice, carpentry skills, and unique architecture, in particular a form of covered bridge known as the "wind and rain bridge". The Dong or Kam People are internationally renowned for their polyphonic choir singing called Kgal Laox in their own language, which can be literally translated as Kam Grand Choir in English. The Kam Grand Choir has been enlisted by the UNESCO as a world-class intangible cultural heritage. Dong choral songs include nature songs, narratives, and children's songs.

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China Ethnic Minority Tours:

15-Day Splendid China