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Chinese Ethnic Groups

China is a multi-ethnic nation. Besides Han Chinese, who make up over 90% of China's population, there are officially 55 minority ethnic groups living in China. Their costumes, festivals, and customs can be unique and colorful and are some of China's unique attractions.

China's Han (Mandarin) Dialect and Minority Language Areas

The map below shows China's minority ethnicities mainly live in border regions and mountainous areas of the north, south, and west. Han Chinese mainly inhabit the Mandarin and other Mandarin dialect areas (Jin, Hunanese, Jiangxinese, Shanghainese, Taiwanese/Fujianese, Hakka, Cantonese).

Chinese Dialects and Minority Languages Map


China's Provinces and Minority Regions

Refer to and click this map of China's provinces/regions for more about the areas where China's ethnic minorities live. The following five regions are designated minority areas: Tibet or Xizang (Tibetan), Xinjiang (Uyghur), Inner Mongolia (Mongol), Ningxia (Hui), Guangxi (Zhuang).

map of China Provinces

Zhuang — The Largest Ethnic Minority

ancient zhuang villageLongji Ancient Zhuang Village

The Zhuang ethnic group is the largest of the 55 minorities in China. About 18 million live in the south and southeast. Their main homeland is in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province. Others live in Hunan, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces.

Ethnic traits: Their native language is a Thai-related language, and their ancestral religion is animism, though they have adapted Buddhism and Taoism. They eat rice and are known for their large terraced rice fields, handicrafts and distinctive brocades. 

The main attractions are Longji villages like the Longji Old Zhuang Village (龙脊古壮寨) and the Impression Liu Sanjie performance in Yangshuo about a legendary Zhuang girl's songs and romance. You can enjoy time in during our 4-Day Guilin City Essence And Longji Terraced Fields Hiking Tour.

Mongolians — The Most Famous Ethnic Minority

menggu clothesMongolian people

The Mongolian ethnic group is best known for conquering most of Eurasia and establishing a large empire. The Mongolian Yuan Empire lasted about 100 years. After its fall in 1368, many Mongolians fled north to Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, and now about 6 million remain in China in Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Xinjiang, Hebei, and Qinghai Provinces.

Ethnic traits: Mongolians are still known for horseback riding, keeping herds of cattle, and their hearty cuisine of meat dishes. Their annual Naadam summer sporting events are popular.

Hui Minority — Chinese Muslims Outside Xinjiang

lanzhou noodlesLanzhou Hand Pulled Noodles Soup with beef is served in Hui restaurants all over China.

The Hui ethnic group is China's most widely distributed ethnic minority who are distinguished mainly by being ethnically Muslim. There is a sizeable population of 11 million in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northwestern China and in many cities and villages in the provinces of Gansu, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Hebei, Henan, Sichuan, Yunnan and Shandong.

Ethnic traits: Their main ethnic trait is that they are descended from Muslims or have converted to Islam, but they are culturally like the Han. They don't have their own language, and most keep almost no Muslim customs. They are unlike the western Muslims in China who retain their own language and culture. Hui are known across China for their Lanzhou noodle soup restaurants that are popular everywhere.

Miao — Distinctive Culture and Architecture

qiandongnan.A Miao girl dressed in their silver clothing and jewelry.

The Miao ethnic group consists of about 10 million people in China, and their traditional homeland is around the area of Guizhou. However, during the last several hundred years, persecution has driven them first south to Vietnam and other countries and then around the world. Now about 250,000 live in the US. Approximately four million Miao live in Guizhou.

Ethnic traits: The Miao are quite interesting to visit. They prefer silver, and the women clothe themselves in silver suits and jewelry, and these make good souvenirs. They were fiercely independent, and love music. They have a distinctive style of music and architectural style that tourists can appreciate at the Lusheng Festival in traditional areas such as the Kaili area of Guizhou province.

Dong — Famed for Lusheng Music and Architecture

Sanjiang Dong VillageChengyang Bridge

The Dong live mainly in the provinces of Guizhou, Hunan, and Guangxi. Their villages are often located near Miao villages in Guizhou, and there are about 3 million of them in China.

Ethnic traits: Like the Miao, the Dong are known for fine Lusheng music and their distinctive polyphonal musical concerts, and their style of architecture, as exemplified in Chengyang Bridge in the Sanjiang Village area, is distinctive and appreciated by tourists. Their language is related to Thai.

Uygur — The Largest Ethnic Group in Xinjiang

The Jiaohe RuinsThe Jiaohe Ruins

The Uygurs are a distinctive minority whose homeland is Xinjiang. About 11 million live there and in other parts of China, especially in Hunan and Henan.

Ethnic traits: They are language is related to Turkish because Uygur troops joined the Mongolians in the conquest of western Asia. Around China, they are known for their "Lanzhou noodle" restaurants and delicious Xinjiang food. They have a long and colorful history in Xinjiang. They prospered from the Silk Road trade and were affected by cultures and religions around Eurasia. Turpan is an excellent place to see their culture and architecture such as the Jaiohe Ruins.

Manchu — The Creators of the Qing Empire

Forbidden CityThe Forbidden City is where you can see how the Manchu dynastic clan lived together.

The Manchu ethnic group in China are the descendants of the Manchus and Mongolians who invaded the Ming Empire and created the Qing Empire (1664–1912). Now about 11 million live in China. They now live mainly in their ancestral territories in the provinces of Liaoning, Heilongjiang, and Jilin.

Ethnic traits: After the founding of the Qing Empire, because of the intermarriage and mingling between the Han and the Manchus, the difference between the two gradually reduced. Now, only a small percentage speak the traditional language. You can learn about their history and empire at the Palace Museum.

Tibetans — Descendants of a Powerful Empire

Tibetan girlTibetans mainly live in Tibet Autonomous Region in western China.

The Tibetans once ruled the mountains of southwest China, and they had a vast empire from the 7th to the 9th centuries. Now about 6 million live in China and 3 million of them live in Tibet, their former stronghold.

Ethnic traits: Physically, the Tibetans are unusual in that they are unusually well adapted to living at high altitude. Those living at high altitudes have 10 times more nitric oxide in their blood than people who live at sea level. Many are devout Buddhists centered on the worship of the Dalai Lama who lived in the massive Potala Palace. Lhasa, their former capital, is a good place to learn about their culture and history.

Yao — Famed for Their Rice Terraces

yao-minority-longshengLong haired Red Yao women of Longsheng, Guilin.

The Yao ethnic group has a population of over 2.6 million. They live mainly in Guangxi, Hunan, Yunnan, Guangdong, Guizhou and Jiangxi Provinces together with the Zhuang.

Ethnic traits: Most of the Yao people are farmers who live in small villages and towns that are distributed widely in mountainous areas. To see them at work and visit their villages, you can take a trip to Guilin to the Dazhai Village area to the see their beautiful Jinkeng Terraced Fields.

Some Other Ethnic Groups in China

baizushaonvA Bai girl in traditional Bai clothes

Here is information about other ethnic groups.

See China's Minorities during a Tailor-Made China Tour

China Highlights customers learning how to make bamboo tube rice in LongjiYour whole family can have a fascinating and memorable visit in an ethnic village.

If you want to explore China's ethnic villages. See our China's Festival Tours and our China Minority Tours of southwestern China and Tibet, or simply contact us for a tailor-made tour.

Further Reading

  • Silk Road History will help you learn about the history of the Uygurs, Mongolians and other peoples along the Silk Road route and Xinjiang.