Han Chinese

"Han people" redirects here. For the aboriginal North American people, see Hän. For other uses, see Han (disambiguation).
For any people or ethnic groups associated with China, see Chinese people.
Han Chinese
Total population
c. 1.300 billion[1]
 People's Republic of China 1.240 billion[2]
 Taiwan (Republic of China) 22,575,365
 Thailand 9,392,792[3]
 Malaysia 6,650,000[4]
 United States 3,794,673[5]
 Indonesia 2,832,510[6]
 Singapore 2,547,300[7]
 Myanmar 1,637,540[8]
 Canada 1,487,580[9]
 Philippines 1,350,000[10]
 Peru 1,300,000[11]
 Cambodia 1,180,000[12]
 South Korea 898,113[13]
 Australia 866,200[14]
 Vietnam 823,070[15]
 Japan 655,377[16]
 United Kingdom 433,150[17]
 Venezuela 400,000[18]
 South Africa 350,000[19]
 Italy 333,986[20]
 Russia 998,000[11]
 France 230,515[11]
 Germany 204,828[21][22]
 Spain 197,214
 India 189,470[11]
 Laos 185,765[11]
 Brazil 151,649[11]
 New Zealand 147,510[23]
 Netherlands 144,928[11]
 Panama 135,000[24][25]
 Cuba ~150[26]
 Costa Rica 9,170[27]
 Finland 15,722
 Ireland 11,218[28]
 Trinidad and Tobago 6,003
 Jamaica 30,000[29]
 Christmas Island ~940[30]
Non-religious, Chinese folk religion (including Taoism, ancestral worship, Confucianism, and others), Mahayana Buddhism, Christianity and other faiths.[31]
Related ethnic groups
Other Sino-Tibetan peoples, such as Hui

Some sources refer to Han Chinese directly as "Chinese" or group them with other Chinese peoples.

Han Chinese
Simplified Chinese 汉族
Traditional Chinese 漢族
1983 Map of ethnolinguistic groups in mainland China and Taiwan (Han is in olive green)[Note 1]

The Han Chinese, Han people[32][33][34] or simply Han[33][34][35] (漢族; pinyin: Hànzú, literally "Han ethnicity"[36] or "Han ethnic group";[37] or 漢人; pinyin: Hànrén, literally "Han people"[38]) are an ethnic group native to East Asia. They constitute approximately 92% of the population of China,[2] 95% of the population of Taiwan (Han Taiwanese),[39] 76% of the citizen population of Singapore, 23% of the population of Malaysia[4] and about 18% of the entire global human population. Han Chinese are the world's largest ethnic group with over 1.3 billion people.

Terms and etymology

The name Han was originally derived from the Han dynasty,[40] which succeeded the short-lived Qin dynasty, and historically considered to be the first golden age of China's Imperial era due to its power and influence projected over much of East Asia, Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia and Central Asia. As a result of the dynasty's prominence, in inter-ethnic and (pre-modern) international matters, many Chinese began identifying themselves as the "people of Han" (Chinese: 漢人; pinyin: Hàn Rén), a name that has been carried down. Similarly, the Chinese language also came to be named as the "Han language" (simplified Chinese: 汉语; traditional Chinese: 漢語) ever since. In the Oxford Dictionary, the Han are defined as "The dominant ethnic group in China".[41] In the Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania, the Han are "the dominant population" in "China, as well as in Taiwan and Singapore."[42] According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the Han are "the Chinese peoples especially as distinguished from non-Chinese (as Mongolian) elements in the population".[43]

The Han dynasty's founding emperor, Liu Bang, was originally hailed as the king of the Hanzhong region after overthrowing the Qin dynasty, a title that was later shortened to "the King of Han" (漢王) during the Chu-Han contention. The name "Hanzhong", in turn, was derived from the Han River,[35] which flows through the region's plains. The Han River, in turn, derived its name from expressions such as Tianhan (Chinese: 天漢, "the heavenly river"), Yinhan (Chinese: 銀漢, "the silver river"), Xinghan (Chinese: 星漢, "the star river") or Yunhan (Chinese: 雲漢, "the cloud river"), all ancient Chinese poetic nicknames for the Milky Way first mentioned in the Classic of Poetry.

Prior to the Han dynasty, Chinese scholars used the term Huaxia (simplified Chinese: 华夏; traditional Chinese: 華夏; pinyin: Huá Xià, "the magnificent Xia") in ancient texts to describe China proper as an area of illustrious prosperity and culture, while the Chinese populus were referred to as either the "various Hua" (諸華) or the "various Xia" (諸夏). This gave rise to a term commonly used nowadays by overseas Chinese for ethnic identity — Huaren (simplified Chinese: 华人; traditional Chinese: 華人; pinyin: Huá Rén, "the Hua people"), as well as a literary name for ChinaZhonghua (simplified Chinese: 中华; traditional Chinese: 中華; pinyin: zhōnghuá, "the central Hua").[35]

Among some southern Han Chinese varieties such as Cantonese, Hakka, Minnan and Teochew, a different term exists — Tang Chinese (Chinese: 唐人; pinyin: Táng Rén, literally "the people of Tang"), derived from a later dynasty, the Tang dynasty, regarded as another zenith of Chinese civilization. The term is used in everyday conversation and is also an element in the Cantonese word for Chinatown: "street of the Tang people" (唐人街, Jyutping: tong4 jan4 gaai1, pinyin: Táng Rén Jiē. The phrase Huá Bù 華埠 is also used to describe the same area).


People's Republic of China

The vast majority of Han Chinese – over 1.2 billion – live in areas under the jurisdiction of the People's Republic of China (PRC), where they constitute about 92% of its population. Within the People's Republic of China, Han Chinese are the majority in every province, municipality, and autonomous region except for the autonomous regions of Xinjiang (45% in 2010) and Tibet (8% in 2014), where Uighurs and Tibetans are the majority respectively. Han Chinese also constitute the majority in both of the special administrative regions of the PRC, about 95% of the population of Hong Kong[44] and about 96% of the population of Macau.[45]


Over 22 million Han Chinese are in Taiwan. The Han Chinese began migrating from southeastern coastal provinces of mainland China to Taiwan in the 17th century. At first, these immigrants chose to settle in locations that bore a resemblance to the areas they had left behind in mainland China, regardless of whether they arrived in the north or south of Taiwan. Hoklo immigrants from Quanzhou settled in coastal regions, and those from Zhangzhou tended to gather on inland plains, while Hakka immigrants inhabited hilly areas. Clashes between these groups over land, water, and cultural differences led to the relocation of some communities, and, as time passed, varying degrees of intermarriage and assimilation took place.

Southeast Asia

Of about 40 million "overseas Chinese"[Note 2] worldwide, nearly 30 million live in Southeast Asia. They are collectively called Nanyang Chinese. According to a population genetic study, Singapore is "the country with the biggest proportion of Hans" in Southeast Asia.[46] Up until the past few decades, overseas Han communities originated predominantly from areas in southern China (especially the Guangdong, Fujian, and Zhejiang areas).[46] Christmas Island also has a Chinese majority at 70%. Large Chinese populations also live in Malaysia (25%), Thailand (14%).

Malaysia and Singapore used to have the largest overseas Chinese population (in terms of absolute numbers) in the world before the country split up in 1965. This rank has been replaced by Thailand.


Main article: Chinese diaspora

Elsewhere in the world, 3 million people of Chinese descent live in the United States where they constitute about 1% of the population, over 1 million in Canada (3.7%), over 1.3 million in Peru (4.3%), over 600,000 in Australia (3.5%), nearly 150,000 in New Zealand (3.7%), and as many as 750,000 in Africa.[47]


Main article: History of China

Because of the overwhelming numerical and cultural dominance of the Han people in China, most of the written history of China can be read as "a history of the Han Chinese", with only passing references to the ethnic minorities in China.[48]


Main articles: Yanhuang and Huaxia

The prehistory of the Han ethnic group is closely intertwined with both textual records and mythology. Han Chinese trace their ancestry from a confederation of late neolithic/early bronze-age agricultural tribes that lived along the Guanzhong and Yellow River basins in northern China.[49][50] Writers during the Western Zhou and Han dynasties derived ancestral lineages based on Shang dynasty-era legendary materials,[51][52] while the famous Chinese historian Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian places the reign of the Yellow Emperor (Chinese: 黃帝; pinyin: Huáng Dì), the legendary leader of Youxiong tribes (有熊氏), at the beginning of Chinese history. The Yellow Emperor is traditionally credited to have united with the neighbouring Shennong tribes (神農氏) after defeating their leader Flame Emperor (Chinese: 炎帝; pinyin: Yán Dì) at the Battle of Banquan. The newly merged Yanhuang (Chinese: 炎黃) tribes then combined force to defeat their common enemy from the east, Chiyou (Chinese: 蚩尤; pinyin: Chì Yóu) of the Jiuli (九黎) tribes, at the Battle of Zhuolu, and established their cultural dominance in the Central Plain region. To this day, Chinese people refer themselves as "Descendants of Yan and Huang" (simplified Chinese: 炎黄子孙; traditional Chinese: 炎黃子孫; pinyin: Yánhuáng Zǐsūn).

Although study of this period of history is complicated by the absence of contemporary records, the discovery of archaeological sites has enabled a succession of neolithic cultures to be identified along the Yellow River. Along the central reaches of the Yellow River were the Jiahu culture (ca. 7000 to 6600 BCE), Yangshao culture (ca. 5000 to 3000 BCE) and Longshan culture (ca. 3000 to 2000 BCE). Along the lower reaches of the river were the Qingliangang culture (ca. 5400 to 4000 BCE), the Dawenkou culture (ca. 4300 to 2500 BCE), the Longshan culture (ca. 2500 to 2000 BCE), and the Yueshi culture.

Early history

Early ancient Chinese history are largely legendary, with mythical tales intertwined within sporadic historical records written centuries to millennia later. Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian recorded a period following the Battle of Zhuolu, ruled by successive generations of confederation overlords (Chinese: 共主) known as the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors (c. 2852 - c. 2070 BC) who allegedly were elected into power among the tribes. This is a legendary period for which scant reliable archaeological evidence exists, and the sovereigns are largely regarded as cultural heroes.

Main article: Xia dynasty

The first dynasty to be described in Chinese historical records is the Xia dynasty (c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC), established by Yu the Great after Emperor Shun abdict the leadership in reward to Yu's works taming the Great Flood. Yu's son, Qi, managed to not only install himself as the next ruler but also dictate his sons as heirs by default, making Xia dynasty the first in recorded history where genealogical succession was the norm. The civilizational prosperity of the Xia dynasty at its time is thought to give rise to the name "Huaxia" (simplified Chinese: 华夏; traditional Chinese: 華夏; pinyin: Huá Xià, "the magnificent Xia"), a term that was used ubiquitously throughout history to define the Chinese nation.

However, conclusive archaeological evidence is rarely available before the 16th century BC. Recent efforts from the Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project drew connection between the Erlitou culture and the Xia dynasty, but did not reach academic consensus regarding the reliability of such history.

Main article: Shang Dynasty

The Xia dynasty were overthrown after the Battle of Mingtiao around 1600 BC by Cheng Tang, who established the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE). The earliest archaeological examples of Chinese writing date back to this period, from characters inscribed on oracle bone divination, but the well-developed oracle characters hint at a much earlier origin of writing in China.

During the Shang dynasty, people of the Wu area, in the Yangtze River Delta, were considered a different tribe, and were described as being scantily dressed, tattooed and speaking a distinct language.[53][54] Later Taibo, elder uncle of Ji Chang, realising that his younger brother, Jili, was wiser than him and deserved to inherit the throne, fled to Wu[55] and settled there. Three generations later, King Wu of the Zhou dynasty defeated King Zhou (the last Shang king), and enfeoffed the descendants of Taibo in Wu,[55] this mirrors the later history of Nanyue, where a Chinese king and his soldiers ruled a local non-Han population, and mixed with the local inhabitants who were sinicized over time. By the Tang dynasty, however, this area had become part of the Han Chinese heartland .

Main article: Zhou Dynasty

The Shang dynasty were eventually overthrown after the Battle of Muye by the people of Zhou led by Ji Fa, which had emerged as a western state along the Wei River in the 2nd millennium BCE.[54] The Zhou dynasty shared the language and culture of the Shang people, they extended their reach to encompass much of the area north of the Yangtze River.[56][57] Through conquest and colonization, much of this area came under the influence of sinicization and this culture extended south.[54][57] However, the power of the Zhou kings fragmented not long afterwards, and many autonomous vassals states emerged dominant. This dynasty is traditionally divided into two parts, the Western Zhou (1046–771 BC) and the Eastern Zhou (770-256 BC), with the latter further divided into the Spring and Autumn (770-476 BC) and the Warring States (476-221 BC) periods. This period was an era of major cultural and philosophical diversification known as the Hundred Schools of Thought. Among the most important surviving philosophies from this era are the teachings of Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism.

Imperial history

Main article: Qin dynasty

The chaotic Warring States period of the Eastern Zhou dynasty came to an end with the unification of China by the western state of Qin after its conquest of all other rival states under King Ying Zheng. King Zheng then declared himself a newly created title "First Emperor of Qin" (Chinese: 秦始皇帝; pinyin: Qín Shǐ Huángdì), thus setting the precedent for the next two millennia. To consolidate the administrative control over the newly conquered parts of the country, the First Emperor decreed a nationwide standardization of writing scripts, currency and measurement units to unified the country economically and culturally. He also ordered large-scale infrastructure projects such as the Great Wall, the Lingqu Canal and the Qin road system to militarily fortify the frontiers. In effect, he established a new centralized bureaucratic state to replace the old feudal confederation system of previous dynasties, thus establishing the Qin dynasty, the first imperial dynasty in Chinese history.

This dynasty, sometimes phonetically spelt as the "Ch'in dynasty", has been proposed in the 17th century by Martin Martini and supported by later scholars such as Paul Pelliot and Berthold Laufer to be the etymological origin of the modern English word "China".

Main article: Han dynasty
A female servant and male advisor dressed in silk robes, ceramic figurines from the Western Han era

However, the reign of the first imperial dynasty was to be short-lived. Due to the First Emperor's autocratic rule and his massive labor projects which fomented rebellion among the populace, the Qin dynasty came into chaos soon after his death. Under the corrupt rule of his son and successor Huhai, the Qin dynasty collapsed merely three years later. The Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 CE) then emerged from the subsequent civil wars and succeeded in establishing a much longer-lasting dynasty. It continued many of the institutions created by the Qin dynasty, but adopted a more moderate rule. Under the Han dynasty, arts and culture flourished, while the dynasty expanded militarily in all directions. Many Chinese scholars such as Ho Ping-ti believe that the concept (ethnogenesis) of a Han ethnicity, though an ancient one, was formally entrenched in the Han dynasty.[58] This period is considered one of the greatest periods of the Chinese history, and the Chinese people had since taken their ethnic name from this dynasty.

The fall of the Han dynasty was followed by an age of fragmentation and several centuries of disunity amid warfare by rival kingdoms. During this time, areas of northern China were overrun by various non-Han nomadic peoples which came to establish kingdoms of their own, the most successful of which was Northern Wei established by the Xianbei. Starting from this period, the native population of China proper began to be referred to as Hanren, or the "People of Han", to distinguish from the nomads from the steppe; "Han" refers to the old dynasty. Warfare and invasion led to one of the first great migrations in Han population history, as the population fled south to the Yangtze and beyond, shifting the Chinese demographic center south and speeding up Sinicization of the far south. At the same time, in the north, most of the nomads in northern China came to be Sinicized as they ruled over large Chinese populations and adopted elements of Chinese culture and Chinese administration. Of note, the Xianbei rulers of the Northern Wei ordered a policy of systematic Sinicization, adopting Han surnames, institutions, and culture.

The Sui (581–618) and Tang (618–907) dynasties saw the continuation of the complete Sinicization of the south coast of what is now China proper, including what are now the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. The later part of the Tang dynasty, as well as the Five Dynasties period that followed, saw continual warfare in north and central China; the relative stability of the south coast made it an attractive destination for refugees.

Han Chinese man wears a queue in compliance with Manchu custom during the Qing dynasty

The next few centuries saw successive invasions of non-Han peoples from the north, such as the Khitans and Jurchens. In 1279, the Mongols conquered all of China, becoming the first non-Han ethnic group to do so, and established the Yuan dynasty. The Mongols divided society into four classes, with themselves occupying the top class and Han Chinese into the bottom two classes. Emigration, seen as disloyal to ancestors and ancestral land, was banned by the Song and Yuan dynasties.[59]

In 1368, Han Chinese rebels drove out the Mongols and, after some infighting, established the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Settlement of Han Chinese into peripheral regions continued during this period, with Yunnan in the southwest receiving a large number of migrants.

In 1644, the Ming capital, Beijing, was captured by Li Zicheng's peasant rebels and the Chongzhen Emperor committed suicide. The Manchus of the Qing dynasty then allied with former Ming general Wu Sangui and seized control of Beijing. Remnant Ming forces led by Koxinga fled to Taiwan and established the Kingdom of Tungning, which eventually capitulated to Qing forces in 1683. Taiwan, previously inhabited mostly by non-Han aborigines, was Sinicized via large-scale migration accompanied with assimilation during this period, despite efforts by the Manchus to prevent this, as they found it difficult to maintain control over the island. In 1681, the Kangxi Emperor ordered construction of the Willow Palisade to prevent Han Chinese migration to the three northeastern provinces, which nevertheless harbored a significant Chinese population for centuries, especially in the southern Liaodong area. The Manchus designated Jilin and Heilongjiang as the Manchu homeland, to which the Manchus could hypothetically escape and regroup if the Qing dynasty fell.[60] But because of increasing Russian territorial encroachment and annexation of neighboring territory, the Qing later reversed its policy and allowed the consolidation of a demographic Han majority in northeast China.

In the 19th century, Chinese migrants went in large numbers to other parts of the world, including South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, and North America.


Main article: Chinese culture

China is one of the world's oldest and most complex civilizations. Chinese culture dates back thousands of years. Han Chinese maintain cultural affinities to Chinese lands outside of their locale by ancestor worship and Chinese clan associations, which often identify famous figures from Chinese history or myth as ancestors of current members.[61] Such patriarchs include the Yellow Emperor and Yan Emperor, who according to legend lived thousands of years ago and gave Han people the sobriquet "Descendants of Yan and Huang Emperor" (炎黃子孫; 炎黄子孙), a phrase which has reverberative connotations in a divisive political climate, as in that between mainland China and Taiwan.

Zhang Zeduan's painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival captures the daily life of people from the Song period at the capital, Bianjing, today's Kaifeng.

Throughout the history of China, Chinese culture has been heavily influenced by Confucianism. Credited with shaping much of Chinese thought, Confucianism was the official philosophy throughout most of Imperial China's history, institutionalizing values like filial piety which implied the performance of certain shared rituals. Thus, villagers lavished on funeral and wedding ceremonies that imitated the Confucian standards of the Emperors.[61] Mastery of Confucian texts provided the primary criterion for entry into the imperial bureaucracy, but even those degree-holders who did not enter the bureaucracy or who left it held increased social influence in their home areas, contributing to the homogenizing of Han Chinese culture. Other factors contributing to the development of a shared Han culture included urbanization and geographically vast but integrated commodity markets.[61]


Main article: Chinese language

Han Chinese speak various forms of the Chinese language that are descended from a common early language;[61] one of the names of the language group is Hanyu (simplified Chinese: 汉语; traditional Chinese: 漢語), literally the "Han language". Similarly, Chinese characters, used to write the language, are called Hanzi (simplified Chinese: 汉字; traditional Chinese: 漢字), or "Han characters".

In the late imperial period, more than two thirds of the Han Chinese population used a variant of Mandarin Chinese as their native tongue.[61] However, there was a larger variety of languages in certain areas of southeast China, like Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Guangxi.[61] Since the Qin dynasty, which standardized the various forms of writing that existed in China, a standard literary Chinese had emerged with vocabulary and grammar that was significantly different from the various forms of spoken Chinese. A simplified and elaborated version of this written standard was used in business contracts, notes for Chinese opera, ritual texts for Chinese folk religion, and other daily documents for educated people.[61]

During the early 20th century, written vernacular Chinese based on Mandarin dialects, which had been developing for several centuries, was standardized and adopted to replace Literary Chinese. While written vernacular forms of other varieties of China exist, such as written Cantonese, written Chinese based on Mandarin is widely understood by speakers of all Chinese varieties and has taken up the dominant position among written Chinese forms, formerly occupied by Literary Chinese. Thus, although the residents of different regions would not necessarily understand each other's speech, they generally share a common written language.

Beginning in the 1950s, Simplified Chinese characters were adopted in mainland China and later in Singapore and Malaysia, while Chinese communities in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and overseas countries continue to use Traditional Chinese characters. While significant differences exist between the two character sets, they are largely mutually intelligible.


Chinese names are typically two or three syllables in length, with the surname preceding the given name. Surnames are typically one syllable in length, though a few uncommon surnames are two or more syllables long, while given names are one or two syllables long. There are 4,000 to 6,000 surnames in China, of which about 1,000 surnames are most common.

In historical China, hundred surnames (百家姓) was a crucial identity of Han people. Besides the common culture and writings, common origin rooted in the surnames was another major factor that contributed towards Han Chinese identity.[62]


Main article: Hanfu
A Song Dynasty Chinese painting Night Revels of Han Xizai showing scholars in scholar's robes and musicians dressed in a Hanfu variant, 12th-century remake of a 10th-century original by Gu Hongzhong.

Today, Han Chinese usually wear Western-style clothing. Few wear traditional Hanfu on a regular basis. It is, however, preserved in religious and ceremonial costumes. For example, Taoist priests dress in fashion typical of scholars of the Han Dynasty. Both the Kimono from Japan and the Hanbok in Korea were heavily influenced by traditional Chinese Hanfu. The Vietnamese Ao dai bears similarities with the Chinese Cheongsam but ultimately descends from the áo tứ thân, which was influenced by the fashion of China's imperial court. In Vietnam, the court attire or royal clothing worn by the Nguyen dynasty descended from Ming clothing with some influence from the newly established Qing dynasty. Now, the most popular traditional Chinese clothing worn by many women on important occasions such as wedding banquets and New Year is called the qipao. However, this attire comes not from the Han Chinese but from a modified dress-code of the Manchus, the ethnic group that ruled China between the 17th (1644) and the early 20th century (1911). In recent years, however, a Hanfu movement has taken place in China, leading to increasing interest in the reemergence of Hanfu.[63][64]


Han Chinese families throughout China have traditionally had a certain set of prescribed roles, such as the family head (家長, jiāzhǎng), who represents the family to the outside world; and the family manager (當家, dāngjiā), who is in charge of the earnings. Because farmland was commonly bought, sold, or mortgaged, families were run like enterprises, with set rules for family division (分家, fēnjiā) of pooled earnings and assets.[61]

Han Chinese houses are different from place to place. Chinese Han people in Beijing traditionally commonly lived with the whole family in large houses that were rectangular in shape. This house is called a siheyuan. These houses had four rooms in the front: the guest room, kitchen, lavatory, and servants' quarters. Across the large double doors was a wing for the elderly in the family. This wing consisted of three rooms, a central room where the four tablets, heaven, earth, ancestor, and teacher, were worshipped. There the two rooms attached to the left and right were bedrooms for the grandparents. The east wing of the house was inhabited by the eldest son and his family, while the west wing sheltered the second son and his family. Each wing had a veranda, some had a "sunroom" made from a surrounding fabric supported by a wooden or bamboo frame. Every wing is also built around a central courtyard used for study, exercise, or nature viewing.[65]


Main article: Chinese cuisine

The cuisine of Han people varies from Sichuan's famously spicy food to Guangdong's Dim Sum and fresh seafood. Analyses revealed their main staple to be rice. During China's neolithic period, southernwestern rice growers transitioned to millet in the northwest when they could not find a suitable northwestern ecology, where it was typically dry and cold, to sustain the generous yields for their staple as well as it could in other areas such as along the eastern Chinese coast.[66]


Main article: Chinese literature

Han people have a rich history of classical literature dating back to three thousand years. Important early works include classics texts such as Classic of Poetry, Analects of Confucius, I Ching, Tao Te Ching, and the Art of War. Some of the most important Han Chinese poets in the pre-modern era include Li Bai, Du Fu, and Su Dongpo. The most important novels in Chinese literature, or the Four Great Classical Novels, are: Dream of the Red Chamber, Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Journey to the West.

Contributions to humanity

Han Chinese have played a major role in the development of the arts, sciences, philosophy, and mathematics throughout history. In ancient times, the scientific accomplishments of China included seismological detectors, multistage rocket, rocket for recreational and military purposes, gunpowder, firearms, fire lance, cannon, landmine, naval mines, continuous flame thrower, fire arrow, trebuchet, crossbow, fireworks, pontoon bridge, matches, paper, printing, paper-printed money, insurance, civil service examination system, the raised-relief map, biological pest control, the multi-tube seed drill, rotary winnowing fan, blast furnace, cast iron, petroleum and natural gas as fuel, deep drilling for natural gas, oil drilling, porcelain, lacquer, lacquerware, silk fabric, dry docks, the pound lock, Grand Canal, the magnetic compass, south-pointing chariot, odometer, fishing reel, Su Song water-driven astronomical clock tower, chain pump, escapement, sliding calipers, trip hammer, kites, sunglasses, toothbrush, inoculation etc. Paper, printing, the compass, and gunpowder are celebrated in Chinese culture as the Four Great Inventions. Chinese astronomers were also among the first to record observations of a supernova.

Chinese art, Chinese cuisine, Chinese philosophy, and Chinese literature all have thousands of years of development, while numerous Chinese sites, such as the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army, are World Heritage Sites. Since the start of the program in 2001, aspects of Chinese culture have been listed by UNESCO as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Throughout much of history, successive Chinese Dynasties have exerted influence on their neighbors in the areas of art, music, religion, food, dress, philosophy, language, government, and culture. In modern times, Han Chinese form the largest ethnic group in China, while an overseas Chinese diaspora numbering in the tens of millions has settled in and contributed to countries throughout the world.

In modern times, Han Chinese have continued to contribute to mathematics and sciences. Among them are Nobel Prize recipients Steven Chu, Samuel C. C. Ting, Chen Ning Yang, Tsung-Dao Lee, Yuan T. Lee, Daniel C. Tsui, Roger Y. Tsien, and Charles K. Kao (known as the "Godfather of Broadband" and "Father of Fiber Optics");[67] Fields Medal recipients Terence Tao and Shing-Tung Yau, and Turing Award recipient Andrew Yao. Tsien Hsue-shen was a prominent rocket scientist who helped to found NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.[68] Chien-Shiung Wu, nicknamed the "First Lady of Physics" contributed to the Manhattan Project and radically altered modern physical theory and changed the accepted view of the structure of the universe.[69] Ching W. Tang was the inventor of the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) and hetero-junction organic photovoltaic cell (OPV) and is widely considered the "Father of Organic electronics".[70] Others include David Ho, one of the first scientists to propose that AIDS was caused by a virus, thus subsequently developing combination antiretroviral therapy to combat it. Dr. Ho was named Time Magazine Person of the Year in 1996.[71] Min Chueh Chang was the co-inventor of the combined oral contraceptive pill and is known for his pioneer work and significant contributions to the development of in vitro fertilization at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology.[72][73] Tu Youyou is a prominent medical scientist and chemist who became the first native Chinese in history to receive the Nobel Prize in natural sciences when she received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering artemisinin (also known as qinghaosu) and dihydroartemisinin, used to treat malaria, which has saved millions of lives across the world.[74] Choh Hao Li discovered Growth hormone (and subsequently used it to treat a form of Dwarfism caused by Growth hormone deficiency), Beta-endorphin (the most powerful of the body's natural painkillers), Follicle-stimulating hormone and Luteinizing hormone (the key hormone used in Fertility testing, an example is the ovulation home test).[75][76][77] Joe Hin Tjio was a cytogeneticist renowned as the first person to recognize the normal number of human chromosomes, a breakthrough in karyotype genetics.[78][79] Yuan-Cheng Fung, is regarded as the "Father of modern biomechanics" for pioneering the application of quantitative and analytical engineering principles to the study of the human body and disease.[80][81] The geometer Shiing-Shen Chern was one of the leaders in differential geometry of the 20th century and was awarded the 1984 Wolf Prize in mathematics. China's system of Barefoot doctors was among the most important inspirations for the World Health Organisation conference in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan in 1978, and was hailed as a revolutionary breakthrough in international health ideology emphasizing primary health care and preventive medicine.[82][83]


Main article: Religion in China
A traditional representation of The Vinegar Tasters, an allegorical image representing Buddhists, Confucianists, and Taoists

Chinese culture has been long characterized by religious pluralism. The Chinese folk religion has always maintained a profound influence. Indigenous Confucianism and Taoism share aspects of being a philosophy or a religion, and neither demand exclusive adherence, resulting in a culture of tolerance and syncretism where multiple religions or belief systems are often practiced in concert, along with local customs and traditions. Han Chinese culture has also been long influenced by Buddhism, while in recent centuries Christianity has also gained a foothold in the population.

Confucianism, a governing philosophy and moral code with some religious elements like ancestor worship, is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture and was the official state philosophy in China from the Han Dynasty until the fall of imperial China in the 20th century.

The Chinese folk religion is the set of worship traditions of the ethnic deities of the Han people. It involves worship of various figures in Chinese mythology, folk heroes such as Guan Yu and Qu Yuan, mythological creatures such as the Chinese dragon, or family, clan and national ancestors. These practices vary from region to region, and do not characterize an organized religion, though many traditional Chinese holidays such as the Duanwu (or Dragon Boat) Festival, Qingming, and the Mid-Autumn Festival come from the most popular of these traditions.

Taoism, another indigenous religion, is also widely practiced in both its folk religion forms and as an organized religion, and has influenced Chinese art, poetry, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, alchemy and chemistry, cuisine, martial arts, and architecture. Taoism was the state religion of the early Han Dynasty, and also often enjoyed state patronage under subsequent emperors and dynasties.

In Han Dynasty, Confucian ideals were the dominant ideology. Near the end of the dynasty, Buddhism entered China and later gained popularity. Historically, Buddhism alternated between state tolerance and even patronage, and persecution. In its original form, Buddhism was at odds with the native Chinese religions, especially the elite, as certain Buddhist values often conflicted with Chinese sensibilities. However, through centuries of assimilation, adaptation, and syncretism, Chinese Buddhism gained an accepted place in the culture. Buddhism would come to be influenced by Confucianism and Taoism, and exerted influence in turn, such as in the form of Neo-Confucianism.

Though Christian influence in China existed as early as the 7th century, Christianity did not begin to gain a significant influence in China until contact with Europeans during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Chinese practices at odds with Christian beliefs resulted in the Chinese Rites controversy, and subsequent reduction in Christian influence. Christianity grew considerably following the First Opium War, after which foreign missionaries in China enjoyed the protection of the Western powers, and widespread proselytism took place.

Historical migration of Southern Han from Northern Han

The term "Huaxia" was used to describe the shared ethnicity of all Chinese during the Warring States era by Confucius's contemporaries.[84] Chinese people called themselves Hua Ren.[85] Southern Han people such as the Hoklo, Cantonese and Hakka all claim northern Chinese ancestral origins, from ancestors who migrated from Northern China's Yellow River Valley during the 4th-12th centuries, Hoklo clans living in southeastern coastal China, such as in Chaozhou and Quanzhou–Zhangzhou, originated from northern China's Henan province during the Tang dynasty.[86] The Han people migrated to southeastern and southern China multiple times throughout history.[87] The origin of the Cantonese is said to be northern Chinese who moved to Guangdong while the indigenous Yue (Baiyue) descendants were the minorities who practiced tattooing, as written in "The Real Yue People" 真越人 (Zhen Yueren) essay by Qu Dajun 屈大均, a Cantonese scholar who extolled the Cantonese people's Chineseness.[88] Vietnam, Guangdong, and Yunnan all experienced a major surge in Han Chinese migrants in Wang Mang's reign.[87]:126 Hangzhou's coastal regions and the Yangtze valley were settled in the 4th century by noble Northern Chinese families.[87]:181 Special "commanderies of immigrants" and "white registers" were created for the massive amount of northern origin Han Chinese who moved south during the Eastern Jin dynasty.[87]:182 The southern Chinese aristocracy was formed from the offspring these migrants.[89] Celestial Masters and the nobility of northern China subdued the nobility of southern China during the Eastern Jin and Western Jin in Jiangnan in particular.[90] The most populous region of China was southern China after the depopulation of the north and the migration of northern Chinese to southern China.[91][92] Different waves of migration of aristocratic Chinese from northern China to the south at different times resulted in distinct groups of lineages, with some lineages arriving in the 300s-400s and others in the 800s-900s.[93] During the 700's Han migrants from northern China flooded into the south during the Tang dynasty.[94] Hong Kong history textbooks recall migrations of the Song and Tang dynasties to the south which resulted in Hong Kongers who are descended from ethnic Han settlers who originated from northern China.[95] Since it was during the Tang dynasty that Guangdong was subjected to settlement by Han people, many Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew call themselves Tang.[96]

DNA analysis

Y-chromosome haplogroup O3 is a common DNA marker in Han Chinese, as it appeared in China in prehistoric times. It is found in more than 50% of Chinese males, and ranging up to over 80% in certain regional subgroups of the Han ethnicity.[97] However, the mitochondrial DNA of Han Chinese increases in diversity as one looks from northern to southern China, which suggests that male migrants from northern China married with women from local peoples after arriving in modern-day Guangdong, Fujian, and other regions of southern China.[98][99] Despite this, tests comparing the genetic profiles of northern Han, southern Han and southern natives determined that haplogroups O1b-M110, O2a1-M88 and O3d-M7, which are prevalent in southern natives, were only observed in some southern Hans (4% on average), but not in northern Hans. Therefore, this proves that the male contribution of southern natives in southern Hans is limited, assuming that the frequency distribution of Y lineages in southern natives represents that before the expansion of Han culture that started two-thousand years ago.[98][100] In contrast, there are consistent strong genetic similarities in the Y chromosome haplogroup distribution between the southern and northern Chinese population, and the result of principal component analysis indicates almost all Han populations form a tight cluster in their Y chromosome. However, other research has also shown that the paternal lineages Y-DNA O-M119,[101] O-P201,[102] O-P203[102] and O-M95[103] are found in both southern Han Chinese and South Chinese minorities, more common in the latter. In fact, these paternal markers are in turn less frequent in northern Han Chinese.[104][105][106] Another study puts Han Chinese into two groups: northern Han Chinese and southern Han Chinese, and it finds that the genetic characteristics of nowadays northern Han Chinese was already formed prior to three-thousand years ago in the Central Plain area.[107]

Additionally, the estimated contribution of northern Hans to southern Hans is substantial in both paternal and maternal lineages and a geographic cline exists for mtDNA. As a result, the northern Hans are the primary contributors to the gene pool of the southern Hans. However, it is noteworthy that the expansion process was dominated by males, as is shown by a greater contribution to the Y-chromosome than the mtDNA from northern Hans to southern Hans. These genetic observations are in line with historical records of continuous and large migratory waves of northern China inhabitants escaping warfare and famine, to southern China. Aside from these large migratory waves, other smaller southward migrations also occurred during almost all periods in the past two millennia.[98] Moreover, a study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences into the gene frequency data of Han subpopulations and ethnic minorities in China, showed that Han subpopulations in different regions are also genetically close to the local ethnic minorities, and it means that in many cases blood of ethnic minorities has mixed into Han, while at the same time, blood of Han also has mixed into the local ethnicities.[108] A study on Armenian admixture in varied populations found 3.9% Armenian-like DNA in some northern Chinese Han.[109] A recent, and to date the most extensive, genome-wide association study of the Han population shows that geographic-genetic stratification from north to south has occurred and centrally placed populations act as the conduit for outlying ones.[110] Ultimately, with the exception in some ethnolinguistic branches of the Han Chinese, such as Pinghua, there is "coherent genetic structure" in all Han Chinese populace.[111]


  1. Source: United States Central Intelligence Agency, 1983. The map shows the distribution of ethnolinguistic groups according to the historical majority ethnic groups by region. Note this does not represent the current distribution due to age-long internal migration and assimilation.
  2. Overseas Chinese include both Han and non-Han people (see overseas Chinese for related references).


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