China is a multinational country, with a population composed of
a large number of ethnic and linguistic groups. Almost all its inhabitants are
Mongoloid stock: thus, the basic classification of the population is not so
much Han ethnic as linguistic. The Han (Chinese), the largest group,
(Chinese) outnumber the minority groups or minority nationalities in every
province or autonomous region except Tibet and Sinkiang. The Han. therefore,
form the great homogeneous mass of the Chinese people, sharing the same
culture, the same traditions, and the same written language. Some
55 minority groups are spread over approximately 60 percent of the total area
of the country. Where these minority groups are found in large numbers, they
have been given some semblance of autonomy and self- government; autonomous
regions of several types have been established on the basis of the geographical
distribution of nationalities.
The government takes great credit for its treatment of these
minorities, including care for their economic well-being, the raising of their
living standards, the provision of educational facilities, the promotion of
their national languages and cultures, and the raising of their levels of
literacy, as well as for the introduction of a written language where none
existed previously. In this connection it may be noted that, of the 50-odd
minority languages, only 20 had written forms before the coming of the
Communists; and only relatively few written languages, for example, Mongolian.
Tibetan. Uighur, Kazakh, Tai, and Korean, were in everyday use. Other written
languages were used chiefly for religious purposes and by a limited number of
persons. Educational institutions for national minorities are a feature of many
large cities, notably Peking,
Wuhan, Ch'eng-tu. and Lan-chou.
Four major language families are represented in China: the Sino-
Tibetan. Altaic. Indo-European, and Austro-Asiatic. The Sino-Tibetan family,
both numerically and in the extent of its distribution, is the most important;
within this family, Han Chinese is the most widely spoken language. Although
unified by their tradition, the written characters of their language, and many
cultural traits, the Han speak several mutually unintelligible dialects and
display marked regional differences. By far the most important Chinese tongue
is the Mandarin, or p'u-l'ung hua, meaning
"ordinary language" or "common language". There are three
Mandarin. The first of these is the northern variant, of which the Peking
dialect, or Peking hua, is typical and which is spoken to the north of the
Tsinling Mountains-Huai River line: as the most widespread Chinese tongue, it
has officially been adopted as the basis for a national language. The second is
the western variant, also known as the Ch'eng-tu or Upper Yangtze variant; this
is spoken in the Szechwan Basin and in adjoining parts of south-west China. The
third is the southern variant, also known as the
Nanking or Lower Yangtze variant, which is spoken in northern Kiangsu and in
southern and central Anhwei Related to Mandarin are the Hunan, or
Hsiang, dialect, spoken by people in central and southern Hunan, and the
Kan dialect. The Hui-chou dialect, spoken in southern Anhwei, forms an enclave
within the southern Mandarin area.
Less intelligible to Mandarin speakers are the dialects of the
south- east coastal region, stretching from Shanghai to Canton. The. most
important of these is the Wu dialect, spoken in southern Kiangsu and in
Chekiang. This is followed, to the south, by the Fu-chou, or Min. dialect of
northern and central Fukien and by the Amoy-Swatow dialect of southern
Fukien and easternmost Kwangtung. The Hakka dialect of southernmost Kiangsi and
north-eastern Kwangtung has a rather scattered pattern of distribution.
Probably the best known of these southern dialects is Cantonese, which is
spoken in central and western Kwangtung and in southern Kwangsi a dialect area
in which a large proportion of overseas Chinese originated.
In addition to the Han, the Manchu and the Hui (Chinese Muslims)
also speak Mandarin and use Chinese characters. Manchu The Hui are descendants
of Chinese who adopted Islam and Hui when it penetrated into China in the
7th century. They are intermingled with the Han throughout much of the country
and are distinguished as Hui only in the area of their heaviest concentration,
the Hui Autonomous Region of Ningsia. Other Hui communities are organised as
autonomous prefectures (tzu-chih-cfiou) in Sinkiang and as autonomous counties
(tzu-chih-hsien) in Tsinghai. Hopeh. Kweichow, and
Yunnan. There has been a growing tendency for the Hui to move from their
scattered settlements into the area of major concentration, possibly, as firm
adherents of Islam, in order to facilitate intermarriage with other
The Manchu declare themselves to be descendants of the Manchu
warriors who invaded China in the 17th century and founded the Ch'ing dynasty
1911/12). Ancient Manchu is virtually a dead language, and the Manchu have been
completely assimilated into Han Chinese culture. They are found mainly in North
China and the Northeast, but they form no separate autonomous areas above the
commune level. Some say the Koreans of the Northeast, who form an autonomous
prefecture in eastern Kirin, cannot be assigned with certainty to any of the
standard language classifications.
The Chuang-chia, or Chuang, are China's largest minority group.
Most of them live in the Chuang Autonomous Region of Kwangsi. They are also
represented in national autonomous areas in neighbouring Yunnan and
Kwangtung. They depend mainly on the cultivation of rice for their livelihood
In religion they are animists, worshiping particularly the spirits of their
ancestors, The Puyi (Chung-chia) group are concentrated in southern Kweichow,
where they share an autonomous prefecture with the Miao group. The T'ung group
are settled in small communities in Kwangsi and
Kweichow; they share with the Miao group an autonomous prefecture set up in
south-east Kweichow in 1956. The Tai group are concentrated in southern
Yunnan and were established in two autonomous prefectures—one whose population
is related most closely to the Tai of northern Thailand and another whose Tai
are related to the Shan people of Burma. The Li of Hai- nan Island form a
separate group of the Chinese-Tai language branch. They share with the Miao
people a district in southern Hai-nan.
Tibetans are distributed over the entire Tsinghai-Tibetan
Outside Tibet, Tibetan minorities constitute autonomous prefectures and
autonomous counties. There are five Tibetan autonomous prefectures in
Tsinghai, two in Szechwan, and one each in Yunnan and Kansu. The Tibetans still
keep their tribal characteristics, but few of them are nomadic.
Though essentially farmers, they also raise livestock and, as with other tribal
peoples in the Chinese far west, also hunt to supplement their food supply. The
major religion of Tibet has been Tibetan Buddhism since about the 17th century;
before 1959 the social and political institutions of this region were still
based largely on this faith. Many of the Yi (Lolo) were concentrated in two
autonomous prefectures—one in southern Szechwan and another in northern Yunnan.
They raise crops and sometimes keep flocks and herds.
The Miao-Yao branch, with their major concentration in Kweichow,
are distributed throughout the central south and south-western provinces and
are found also in some small areas in east China. They are subdivided into many
rather distinct groupings. Most of them have now lost their traditional tribal
traits through the influence of the Han, and it is only their language that
serves to distinguish them as tribal peoples. Two- thirds of the Miao are
settled in Kweichow, where they share two autonomous prefectures with the T'ung
and Puyi groups. The Yao people are concentrated in the Kwangsi-Kwangtung-Hunan
In some areas of China, especially in the south-west, there are
many different ethnic groups that are geographically intermixed. Because of
language barriers and different economic structures, these peoples all maintain
their own cultural traits and live in relative isolation from one another. In
some places the Han are active in the towns and in the fertile river valleys,
while the minority peoples depend for their livelihood on more primitive forms
of agriculture or on grazing their livestock on hillsides and mountains. The
vertical distribution of these peoples is in zones usually the higher they
live, the less complex their way of life. In former times they did not mix well
with one another, but now, with highways penetrating deep into their
settlements, they have better opportunities to communicate with other groups
and are also enjoying better living conditions.
While the minorities of the Sino-Tibetan language family are
thus concentrated in the south and south-west, the second major language family
the Altaic is represented entirely by minorities in north-western and northern
China. The Altaic family falls into three branches: Turkic,
Mongolian, and Manchu-Tungus. The Turkic language branch is by far the most
numerous of the three Altaic branches. The Uighur, who are Muslims, form the
largest Turkic minority. They are distributed over chains of oases in the Tarim
Basin and in the Dzungarian Basin of Sinkiang. They mainly depend on irrigation
agriculture for a livelihood. Other Turkic minorities in
Sinkiang are splinter groups of nationalities living in neighbouring nations of
Central Asia, including the Kazakh and Kyrgyz. All these groups are adherents
of Islam. The Kazakh and Kyrgyz are pastoral nomadic peoples, still showing
traces of tribal organisation. The Kazakh live mainly in north-western and
north-eastern Sinkiang as herders, retiring to their camps in the valleys when
winter comes; they are established in the 1-li-ha- sa-k'o (Hi Kazakh) Autonomous
Prefecture. The Kyrgyz are high-mountain pastoralists and are concentrated
mainly in the westernmost part of
The Mongolians, who are by nature a nomadic people are the most
widely dispersed of the minority nationalities of China. Most of them are
inhabitants of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Small Mongolian and
Mongolian-related groups of people are scattered throughout the vast area from
Sinkiang through Tsinghai and Kansu and into the provinces of the
Northeast (Kirin, Heilungkiang, and Liaoning). In addition to the Inner
Mongolia Autonomous Region, the Mongolians are established in two autonomous
prefectures in Sinkiang, a joint autonomous prefecture with
Tibetans and Kazakh in Tsinghai, and several autonomous counties in the western
area of the Northeast. Some of them retain their tribal divisions and are
pastoralists, but large numbers of Mongolians engage in sedentary agriculture,
and some of them combine the growing of crops with herding.
The tribes, who are dependent upon animal husbandry, travel each year around
the pastureland—grazing sheep, goats, horses, cattle, and camels—and then
return to their point of departure. A few take up hunting and fur trapping in
order to supplement their income. The Mongolian language consists of several
dialects, but in religion it is a unifying force; most
Mongolians are believers in Tibetan Buddhism. A few linguistic minorities in
China belong to neither the Sino-Tibetan nor the Altaic language family.
The Tajik of westernmost Sinkiang are related to the population of
Tajikistan and belong to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European family.
The Kawa people of the China-Burma border area belong to the Mon-Khmer branch
of the Austro-Asiatic family.
Historical records show that, as long ago as 800 вс, in the
early years of the Chou dynasty, China was already inhabited by about
13,700,000 people. Until the last years The census of the Hsi (Western) Han
dynasty, about ad 2, comparatively accurate and complete registers of
population were kept, and the total population in that year was given as
This first Chinese census was intended mainly as a preparatory step toward the
levy of a poll tax. Many members of the population, aware that a census might
work to their disadvantage, managed to avoid reporting; this explains why all
subsequent population figures were unreliable until 1712. In that year the
Emperor declared that an increased population would not be subject to tax;
population figures thereafter gradually became more accurate.
During the later years of the Pei (Northern) Sung dynasty, in
12th century, when China was already in the heyday of its economic and cultural
development, the total population began to exceed 100,000,000.
Later, uninterrupted and large-scale invasions from the north reduced the
country's population. When national unification returned with the advent of the
Ming dynasty, the census was at first strictly conducted. The population of
China, according to a registration compiled in 1381, was quite close to the one
registered in ad 2.
From the 15th century onward, the population increased steadily;
this increase was interrupted by wars and natural disasters in the mid-17th
century and slowed by the internal strife and foreign invasions in the century
that preceded the Communist takeover in 1949. During the 18th century China
enjoyed a lengthy period of peace and prosperity, characterized by continual
territorial expansion and an accelerating population increase. In 1762 China
had a population of more than
200,000.000. and by 1834 the population had doubled. It should be noted that
during this period there was no concomitant increase in the amount of
cultivable land; from this time on. land hunger became a growing problem.
After 1949 sanitation and medical care greatly improved, epidemics were brought
under control, and the younger generation became much healthier.
Public hygiene also improved, resulting in a death rate that declined faster
than the birth rate and a rate of population growth that speeded up again.
Population reached 1,000.000.000 in the early 1980s.
Now China has a population of 1,295.33 million. Compared with
the population of 1,133.68 million from the 1990 population census (with zero
hour of July 1, 1990 as the reference time), the total population of the 31
provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities and the servicemen of the
mainland of China increased by 132.15 million persons, or 11.66 percent over
the past 10 years and 4 months. The average annual growth was 12.79 million persons,
or a growth rate of 1.07 percent.
The continually growing population poses major problems for the
government. Faced with difficulties in obtaining an adequate food supply and in
combating the generally low standard of living, the authorities sponsored Drive
a drive for birth control in 1955-58.
A second attempt at for birth population control began
in 1962, when advocacy of late control marriages and the use of contraceptives
became prominent parts of the program. The outbreak of the Cultural Revolution
interrupted this second family-planning drive, but in 1970 a third and much
stricter program was initiated. This program attempted to make late marriage
and family limitation obligatory, and it culminated in 1979 in efforts to
implement a policy of one child per family.
Other developments affected the rate of population growth more
than the first two official family-planning campaigns. For example, although
family planning had been rejected by Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao
(Mao Tse-tung) in 1958, the Great Leap Forward that he initiated in that year
(see below The economy) caused a massive famine that resulted in more deaths
than births and a reduction of population in 1960. By 1963 recovery from the
famine produced the highest rate of population increase since
1949, at more than 3 percent, although the second birth-control campaign had
Since the initiation of the third family-planning program in
1970, however, state efforts have been much more effective. China's population growth
rate is now unusually low for a developing country, although the huge size of
its population still results in a large annual net population growth.
Below I described the distribution of China’s population by
I. Sex Composition.
Of the people enumerated in the 31 provinces, autonomous regions and
municipalities and servicemen of the mainland of China, 653.55 million persons
or 51.63 percent were males, while 612.28 million persons or 48.37 percent were
females. The sex ratio (female=100) was 106.74.
II. Age Composition.
Of the people enumerated in the 31 provinces, autonomous regions and
municipalities and servicemen of the mainland of China, 289.79 million persons
were in the age group of 0-14, accounting for 22.89 percent of the total
population; 887.93 million persons in the age group of 15-64, accounting for
70.15 percent and 88.11 million persons in the age group of
65 and over, accounting for 6.96 percent. As compared with the results of the
1990 population census, the share of people in the age group of 0-14 was down
by 4.80 percentage points, and that for people aged 65 and over was up by 1.39
III. Composition of Nationalities.
Of the people enumerated in the 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities
and servicemen of the mainland of China, 1,159.40 million persons or 91.59
percent were of Han nationality, and 106.43 million persons or 8.41 percent
were of various national minorities. Compared with the 1990 population census,
the population of Han people increased by
116.92 million persons, or 11.22 percent; while the population of various
national minorities increased by 15.23 million persons, or 16.70 percent.
IV. Composition of Educational Attainment.
Of the 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities and servicemen of
the mainland of China, 45.71 million persons had finished university education
(referring to junior college and above); 141.09 million persons had received
senior secondary education (including secondary technical school education);
429.89 million persons had received junior secondary education and 451.91
million persons had had primary education (the educated persons included
graduates and students in schools).
Compared with the 1990 population census, the following changes had taken place
in the number of people with various educational attainments of every
100,000 people: number of people with university education increased to
3,611 from 1,422; number of people with senior secondary education increased to
11,146 from 8,039; number of people with junior secondary education increased
from 23,344 to 33,961; and number of people with primary education decreased
from 37,057 to 35,701.
Of the people enumerated in the 31 provinces, autonomous regions and
municipalities and servicemen of the mainland of China, 85.07 million persons
were illiterate (i.e. people over 15 years of age who can not read or can read
very little). Compared with the 15.88 percent of illiterate people in the 1990
population census, the proportion had dropped to 6.72 percent, or down by 9.16
V. Urban and Rural Population.
In the 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities of the mainland of
China, there were 455.94 million urban residents, accounting for 36.09 percent
of the total population; and that of rural residents stood at
807.39 million, accounting for 63.91 percent. Compared with the 1990 population
census, the proportion of urban residents rose by 9.86 percentage points.
Following are the results from the advance tabulation on the
geographic distribution of population from the fifth national population census
|Region |Population (million) |
|Beijing Municipality |13.82 |
|Tianjin Municipality |10.01 |
|Hebei Province |67.44 |
|Shanxi Province |32.97 |
|Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region|23.76 |
|Liaoning Province |42.38 |
|Jilin Province |27.28 |
|Heilongjiang Province |36.89 |
|Shanghai Municipality |16.74 |
|Jiangsu Province |74.38 |
|Zhejiang Province |46.77 |
|Anhui Province |59.86 |
|Fujian Province |34.71 |
|(excluding the population in | |
|Jinmen and Mazu and a few other | |
|islands) | |
|Jiangxi Province |41.40 |
|Shandong Province |90.79 |
|Henan Province |92.56 |
|Hubei Province |60.28 |
|Hunan Province |64.40 |
|Guangdong Province |86.42 |
|Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region|44.89 |
|Hainan Province |7.87 |
|Chongqing Municipality |30.90 |
|Sichuan Province |83.29 |
|Guizhou Province |35.25 |
|Yunnan Province |42.88 |
|Tibet Autonomous Region |2.62 |
|Shaanxi Province |36.05 |
|Gansu Province |25.62 |
|Qinghai Province |5.18 |
|Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region |5.62 |
|Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region|19.25 |
|Hongkong Special Administrative |6.78 |
|Region | |
|Macao Special Administrative |0.44 |
|Region | |
|Taiwan Province and Jinmen, Mazu|22.28 |
|and a few other islands of | |
|Fujian Province | |
|Servicemen |2.50 |
Because of complex natural conditions, the population of China
is quite unevenly distributed. Population density varies strikingly, with the
greatest contrast occurring between the eastern half of China and the lands of
the west and the north-west. Exceptionally high population densities occur in
the Yangtze Delta, in the Pearl River Delta, and on the Ch'eng-tu
Plain of the western Szechwan Basin. Most of the high-density areas are
coterminous with the alluvial plains on which intensive agriculture is centred.
In contrast, the isolated, extensive western and frontier
regions, which are much larger than any European nation, are sparsely
Extensive uninhabited areas include the extremely high northern part of
Tibet, the sandy wastes of the central Tarim and eastern Dzungarian basins in
Sinkiang, and the barren desert and mountains east of Lop Nor.
In the 1950s the government became increasingly aware of the
importance of the frontier regions and initiated a drive for former members of
the military and young intellectuals to settle there. Consequently, the
population has increased, following the construction of new railways and
highways that traverse the wasteland; a number of small mining and industrial
towns have also sprung up.
Migrations have occurred often throughout the history of China.
Sometimes they took place because a famine or political disturbance would cause
the depopulation of an area already intensively cultivated, after which people
in adjacent crowded regions would move in to occupy the deserted land. Sometime
between 1640 and 1646 a
peasant rebellion broke out in Szechwan, and there was a great loss of life.
People from Hupeh and
Shensi then entered Szechwan to fill the vacuum, and the movement continued
until the 19th century. Again, during the middle of the 19th century, the
Taiping Rebellion caused another large-scale disruption of population. Many
people in the Lower Yangtze were massacred by the opposing armies, and the
survivors suffered from starvation. After the defeat of the rebellion, people
from Hupeh, Hunan, and Honan moved into the depopulated areas of
Kiangsu. Anhwei. and Chekiang, where farmland was lying uncultivated for want
of labour. Similar examples are provided by the Nien Rebellion in the
Huai River region in the 1850s and '60s, the Muslim rebellions in Shensi and
Kansu in the 1860s and '70s, and the great Shensi and Shansi famine of
In modern history the domestic movement of the Han to Manchuria
(now known as the Northeast) is the most Migration significant. Even before the
establishment of the Ch'ing to dynasty in 1644, Manchu soldiers launched raids
into Manchuria North China and captured Han labourers, who were then obliged to
settle in Manchuria. In 1668 the area was closed to further Han migration by an
Imperial decree, but this ban was never effectively enforced. By 1850. Han
settlers had secured a position of dominance in their colonisation of
Manchuria. The ban was later partially' lifted, partly because the Manchu
rulers were harassed by disturbances among the teeming population of China
proper and partly because the Russian
Empire time and again tried to invade sparsely populated and thus weakly
defended Manchuria. The ban was finally removed altogether in 1878, but
settlement was encouraged only after 1900. The influx of people into
Manchuria was especially pronounced after 1923, and incoming farmers rapidly
brought a vast area of virgin prairie under cultivation. About two- thirds of
the immigrants entered Manchuria by sea, and one-third came overland. Because
of the severity of the winter weather, migration in the early stage was highly
seasonal, usually starting in February and continuing through the spring. After
the autumn harvest a large proportion of the farmers returned south. As
Manchuria developed into the principal industrial region of China, however,
large urban centres arose, and the nature of the migration changed. No longer
was the movement primarily one of agricultural resettlement; instead it became
essentially a rural-to- urban movement of interregional magnitude. After 1949
the new government's efforts to foster planned migration into interior and
border regions produced noticeable results. Although the total number of people
involved in such migrations is not known, it has been estimated that by 1980
25 to 35 percent of the population of such regions and provinces as Inner
Mongolia, Sinkiang, Heilungkiang. and Tsinghai consisted of recent migrants,
and migration had raised the percentage of Han in Sinkiang from about 10 to 40
percent of the total. Efforts to control the growth of large cities led to the
resettlement of 20,000,000 urbanites in the countryside after the failure of
the Great Leap Forward and of 17,-000,000 urban- educated youths in the decade
after 1968. Within the next decade, however, the majority of these
"rusticated youths" were allowed to return to the cities, and new
migration from rural areas pushed urban population totals upward once again.
China Sticks to Population Control Policy in New Century
China will continue its efforts to control the growth of the
population in the 21 century, said Zhang Weiqing, minister of the State Family
Planning Commission on November 2, 2000.
At the annual board meeting of the Partners in Population and
Development by South-South Cooperation, which opened Thursday in Beijing,
Zhang said that keeping a low birth rate is the key task of China' s family
planning program in the coming decade.
He said that China has made it a goal to keep the population
below 1.4 billion until 2010 on the basis of scientific feasibility study.
In order to realise the goal, China is persisting in
popularisation and education about family planning and contraception, and it
will make efforts to build a perfect population control system suitable for
China's situation, said Zhang.
According to Zhang, population will continue to be a pressing
China in the 21st century. The annual net population growth will be more than
10 million at the start of the new century. The population will not decline
until it reaches a peak of 1.6 billion in the middle of the 21st century, Zhang
At present, China has a large work-age population, which puts a
heavy burden on employment. The work-age population will peak at 900 million in
the coming decades.
In addition, Zhang predicts that the number of senior citizens
over the age of 60 in
China will reach 130 million at the end of this year, and will exceed 357
million in 2030, and 439 million in 2050, or a quarter of the total population.
Zhang said that China will stick to family planning policy for a
long time depending on future population situation.
President on Population Control, Resources and Environmental
Population control, resources and environmental protection will
be three crucial issues in China's march toward becoming a great power in the
new century, President Jiang Zemin told a seminar held by the Communist
Party of China Central Committee Sunday.
Jiang said that governmental decisions concerning the country's
population control, resources and environmental protection demand concerted
efforts and cooperation from all walks of life.
Jiang warned that although marked progress had been made during
1996-2000 period, China is still facing many problems and challenges concerning
population, resources and environmental protection in the coming years.
"These issues are directly related to the country's overall
development. Failure in handling them may postpone the achievement of
China's set goals in terms of social and economic development," said
Jiang said that the next few years will be a crucial stage for
China to stabilise its birth rate at the current low level and improve
When dealing with population issues, governments at all levels
should better serve the people's needs, and turn the country's birth control
efforts into a cause benefiting China's huge populace, Jiang remarked.
Jiang also said that resource-related works should better serve
the country's sustainable development. Protection and rational utilisation of
resources are to be granted equal importance by administration departments.
Meanwhile, the president called for the establishment of a strict
resources administration mechanism, and urged the transformation of the
traditional resource-utilising norms, to save natural resources from being
Jiang suggested the use of new technologies and a complete
monitoring system to curb the country's long-standing environmental pollution,
while guaranteeing healthy economic development.
Also in his speech, Jiang stressed the importance of improving
the regulation of China's scarce water resources and the further construction
of irrigation works.
1. NATIONAL BUREAU OF STATISTICS PEOPLE'S REPUPLIC OF CHINA.
2. GREAT BRITISH ENCYCLOPAEDIA
3. CHINEESE MAGAZINES (ENGLISH VARIANT)
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