China is essentially a vast culture area inhabited by the Hans that make up for nearly 92 percent of its population.
Only a fraction of its population—roughly 8 percent—is composed of other ethnic and linguistic groups such as the Chuangs, Manchus, Mongols, Tibetans, Uighurs, and Koreans. Officially the government recognizes 55 such minority groups or minority nationalities.
Some of which these between 5-15 million people and are distributed over 60 percent of the land, although they are primarily concentrated in specific regions. The Han, the largest group, outnumbers the minority nationalities in every province except Xi- zang (Tibet) and Xinjiang. Though minorities represent only a fraction of the total population, they number over 100 million people.
They enjoy limited political autonomy and self-government, and most of them live in regions set aside in empty pasturelands of the western provinces. The government takes great credit for its treatment of the minorities, particularly in the promotion of their culture, and the introduction of a written language for them, where none existed before, and in raising their level of literacy.
Almost all the inhabitants of China are of Mongoloid stock, and the basic classification of the population is not so much ethnic as linguistic. Overall, four major language families are distributed in China: Sino-Tibetan, Altaic, Indo-European, and Austro-Asiatic. Numerically, and in the extent of its distribution is the Han Chinese of the Sino-Tibetan family which is spoken in hundreds of dialects in various ranges of mutual intelligibility such as the Cantonese, Wu, Min, and Mandarin.
Mandarin or Putunghua (meaning “ordinary language”) is the northern dialect, and the official language of the government bureaucracy. Prominent among the dialects of the southeast coastal region from Shanghai to Canton are Wu, and Min.
In addition to the ethnic Han people, the Manchu, and the Hui people also speak Mandarin. The Hui are the descendants of those Chinese who adopted Islam when it penetrated into China in the 7th century. They have adopted the Han ways and are concentrated in the Hui Autonomous Region of Ningsia, into which they are also moving from their other scattered communities in Xinjiang, Qinghai, Hoben, Yungui in order to preserve and solidify their religious and cultural traditions.
The 9 million Manchus profess to be the descendants of the Manchu invaders of the 17th century. They inhabit mainly the northern and northeastern parts of the country, and have been accorded an autonomous district. The old Manchu language is now almost extinct now. The Chuangs form the largest minority group, and inhabit mostly the Chuang Autonomous Region of Kwangsi, but are also scattered in Yungui and other areas.
They are animists and are primarily rice cultivators by profession. The Tais are settled in southern Yungui, and are related to the Shan people of Myanmar. Tibetans are distributed over the entire Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. Outside Tibet the Chinese have created five Tibetan autonomous provinces in Sichuan, Yunghai and adjacent to the Tibetan Plateau where Tibetan-speaking groups predominate.
Since the formation of Communist regime, many Tibetans have taken to farming and stock rising although most of them retain their tribal ways. Inhabiting some parts of the southwest are several ethnic groups that are spatially intermixed, but maintain their own cultural traits and live in relative isolation from one another.
In many of these areas the Hans are active in the towns and in the fertile river valleys, while the minority groups eke out living on the primitive farms of agriculture or on grazing their livestock on hillsides or mountains. In general, most of Sino-Tibetan language family is concentrated in the south and southwest regions of the country.
The Altai family is represented by its three major branches—Turkic, Mongol, and Manchu-Tungus in northwest, and northern China. The Turkic branch is the most numerous of the family within which the Uighurs, who are Muslims, form the largest minority and are distributed over oases in the Tarim Basin and in the Junggar Basin of Xinjiang. They mainly depend on irrigation agriculture for their livelihood.
Other Turkic minorities include the Kazakhs, and the Kyrgyz, who are pastoral nomads. The Kazakhs live in northwestern and northeastern Xinjiang, and the Kyrgyz are high-mountain pastoralists concentrated in the western part of Xinjiang. The Mongols, by tradition, are nomads, and inhabit Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region.
Most Mongolian tribes retain tribal customs, and are pastoralists. The Mongolian language consists of several dialects; but religion is a unifying force, for most Mongolians profess Tibetan Buddhism. A few linguistic minorities in China belong to neither the Sino-Tibetan nor the Altai language families. The Tajiks of westernmost Xinjiang are related to the people of Tajikistan, and belong to the Indo-European family. Along the China-Myanmar border are the Kawa people that belong to the Austro-Asiatic family.