We live in a world of diverse peoples. About 3,000 ethnic groups live in over 200 countries and regions in today's world. The overwhelming majority of countries are inhabited by multi-ethnic groups.
China is a unified multi-ethnic country jointly created by the people of all its ethnic groups. In the long course of historical evolution people of all ethnic groups in China have maintained close contacts, developed interdependently, communicated and fused with one another, and stood together through weal and woe, forming today's unified multi-ethnic Chinese nation, and promoting the development of the nation and social progress.
Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, following the guideline of unity among all ethnic groups for common prosperity and drawing on China's historical experience and the useful practices of other countries, always with a view to China's actual situation, the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese Government have carved out a path for the successful solution to ethnic issues with Chinese characteristics, exercised the ethnic policy featuring equality, unity, regional ethnic autonomy, and common prosperity for all ethnic groups, thus forming a relatively complete ethnic policy system.
This correct ethnic policy in line with China's actual situation has fostered the unity and harmonious coexistence of all ethnic groups who are striving with one mind for economic development, political stability, cultural prosperity and social harmony. The ethnic minorities, minority areas, and relationships among ethnic groups have all experienced tremendous historic changes.
I. A Unified Multi-Ethnic Country and a Nation With Diverse Cultures
Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, some 56 ethnic groups have been identified and confirmed by the Central Government, namely, the Han, Mongolian, Hui, Tibetan, Uyghur, Miao, Yi, Zhuang, Buyei, Korean, Manchu, Dong, Yao, Bai, Tujia, Hani, Kazak, Dai, Li, Lisu, Va, She, Gaoshan, Lahu, Shui, Dongxiang, Naxi, Jingpo, Kirgiz, Tu, Daur, Mulao, Qiang, Blang, Salar, Maonan, Gelao, Xibe, Achang, Pumi, Tajik, Nu, Uzbek, Russian, Ewenki, Deang, Bonan (also Bao'an), Yugur, Jing, Tatar, Derung, Oroqen, Hezhe, Monpa, Lhoba and Jino. The Han ethnic group has the largest population, while the populations of the other 55 ethnic groups are relatively small, and so the latter are customarily referred to as "ethnic minorities."
Over the past 60 years, the total population of the ethnic minorities has been on a constant increase, comprising a rising proportion in China's total population. The five national censuses that have been conducted show that the total population of ethnic minorities was 35.32 million in 1953, 6.06 percent of the total population; 40.02 million in 1964, 5.76 percent of the total; 67.30 million in 1982, 6.68 percent of the total; 91.20 million in 1990, 8.04 percent of the total; and 106.43 million in 2000, 8.41 percent of the total. The populations of the ethnic groups vary greatly from one to another. For example, the Zhuang has a population of 17 million, far more than that of the Hezhe, numbering only some 4,000.
Some of China's ethnic groups inhabit vast areas, while others live in individual compact communities in small areas or live in mixture. In some cases, minority peoples can be found living in compact communities in areas inhabited mainly by Han people, while in other cases the situation is the other way round. Many minority peoples have part of their population living in one or more compact communities and the rest are scattered across the country. China's northwest and southwest are the two regions where minority peoples are most concentrated. Western China, consisting of nine provinces, three autonomous regions and one municipality directly under the Central Government, is home to 70 percent of China's minority population. The nine border provinces and autonomous regions are home to 60 percent of China's minority population. As China's economy and society continue to develop, the scope of minority population distribution is growing. So far, the scattered minority population across the country has topped 30 million.
In places where ethnic minorities live in compact communities, the minority populations are usually small, whereas the areas they live in are often large and rich in resources. The areas of grassland and forest, and water and natural gas reserves in areas inhabited by minority peoples account for nearly or over half of the national totals. Of China's over-22,000-km terrestrial boundary, 19,000 km traverses minority areas. In addition, the minority areas boast 85 percent of the country's state-level natural reserves, making them an important guardian of China's ecology.
The origins and development of ethnic groups in China are diverse, and have been shaped by local conditions. Some 4,000-5,000 years ago, five major ethnic groups—the Huaxia, Dongyi, Nanman, Xirong and Beidi—emerged on what is now the Chinese territory. Through continuous migration, living together, intermarriage and communication, the five ethnic groups became assimilated to each other in the course of their development, and gradually became integrated into one, from which new ethnic groups continually sprang up. Some of the latter remain distinct to this day, while others, including the once-renowned Xiongnu (Hun), Yuezhi (or Rouzhi), Xianbei, Rouran, Tuyuhun, Tujue, Dangxiang, Khitan and Saka peoples, have disappeared in the course of history due to wars, deterioration of the eco-environment or loss of identity.
Although the origins and histories of ethnic groups in China are different, the overall trend of their development was to form a unified, stable country with multiple ethnic groups. The boundaries and territory of today's China were developed by all ethnic groups in the big family of the Chinese nation during the long course of historical development. The ancestors of the Han people were the first to develop the Yellow River basin and the Central Plains; those of the Tibetan and Qiang peoples, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau; those of the Yi and Bai peoples, southwestern China; those of the Manchu, Xibe, Ewenki and Oroqen peoples, northeastern China; those of the Xiongnu, Tujue and Mongolian peoples, the Mongolian grasslands; those of the Li people, Hainan Island; and the ancestors of the ethnic-minority peoples of Taiwan, Taiwan Island.
As early as in the pre-Qin Dynasty times before 221 BC the concepts of "country" and "unification" had taken shape in the minds of the Chinese people. In 221 BC the Qin Dynasty unified the country for the first time. It set up an administrative system of prefectures and counties, and put the regions, including today's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province, where minority peoples were concentrated, under its jurisdiction. The subsequent Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) further consolidated the country's unification. It set up the Protectorate of the Western Regions in today's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and added 17 prefectures to govern the people of all ethnic groups there. In this way, a state with a vast territory, including today's Xinjiang where the ancestors of the various peoples lived, emerged. The Qin and Han dynasties created the fundamental framework of China as a unified multi-ethnic country.
The central governments of all dynasties following the Han developed and consolidated the unified multi-ethnic country. The Tang Dynasty (618-907) established the Anxi Protector-general's Office and Beiting Protector-general's Office to manage administrative affairs in the Western Regions, including today's Xinjiang, and set up Dao, Fu and Zhou (equivalent to today's province, prefecture and county) to administer the minority peoples in central-southern and southwestern China. The Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), established by the Mongols, appointed aboriginal officials or tuguan (hereditary posts of local administrators filled by chiefs of ethnic minorities) in the Fu and Zhou of the southern regions where minority peoples lived in compact communities. The Central Government set up the Commission for Buddhist and Tibetan Affairs under it and three Pacification Commissioner's Commanderies in Tibet, whereby Tibet was thenceforth brought under the effective administration of the Central Government of China. The Yuan also founded the Penghu Military Inspectorate for the administration of the Penghu Islands and Taiwan. Most of modern China's ethnic groups were subjects of the Yuan Dynasty. The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), founded by the Manchus, set up the Ili Generalship and Xinjiang Province in the Western Regions, appointed Grand Minister Resident in Tibet and established the system of conferring honorific titles on two Living Buddhas — the Dalai and Panchen — by the Central Government. In addition, the Qing court carried out a series of political reforms in southwestern China, including the policy of gaituguiliu, i.e., appropriating the governing power of local hereditary aboriginal chieftains and setting up the system of appointment of local administrators by the Central Government in the minority areas. China's territory in the Qing Dynasty was basically the same as that of today.