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Have A Visit to 9 Populous Chinese Ethnic Groups

China is a unified country with multiple ethics. From the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties, the ancestors of the Chinese people interacted with different tribes and fuse different culture to grow stronger and form a multi-ethic country. The Chinese history, seen from the perspective of national development, is a history for many ethics to develop together. There are 56 ethnic groups in total in China. The Han ethnic group is China's main ethnic group, accounting for 91.51% of the total population, and the other 55 ethnic groups, accounting for 8.49%. Still, the 55 ethic groups are inseparable and they have made great contributions in the development of China.

Dominating Han Nationality

The Han nationality is the dominating ethnic group in China, and because it's a group descending from the Huangdi and Yandi tribes in the ancient times, Han people also regard themselves as the descendants of Yan and Huang. The Han people have made brilliant achievements in politics, military, philosophy, literature, history, art and many other fields. For thousands of years, they have advocated the idea of "benevolence" and valued the ethnic morality that Confucius and Mencius had put forward, and have always been inclusive about other groups and beliefs.

As the economy of the ancient Han people was dominated by the agricultural style of men farm and women weave, with a small portion of family-run subsidiary business, the agricultural production of the Han nationality has always been advanced in history. The Han people are especially good at water irrigation and intensive cultivation. Besides, they also developed a rather high-level of handicraft over the time.

The Han nationality is also a nation with a long history that has never been interrupted, and it is also the most populous nation in the world. By 2009, the Han population is about 1.3 billion, accounting for about 19% of the world's total population, and is distributed around the world. In mainland China, the Han people account for 92% of the total population; in Taiwan, the Han people account for 98% of the total population; in Hong Kong and Macau, the Han people account for 95% and 97% of the total population, respectively. Meanwhile, the Han people can be found a lot in Southeast Asia, North America and Western Europe.

Ethnic Minority Groups

1. Zhuang Nationality

The Zhuang  nationality is the most populous ethnic group in China. Its ethnic language is Zhuang, which belongs to the Zhuang-Dai branch of the Zhuang-Dong group of the Sino-Tibetan language family.

According to available history records, the Zhuang nationality originated from the Xiqiao and Luoyue people that lived in Lingnan area in Qin and Han Dynasties. Today,  Zhuang people are distributed in 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in China. Most of them live in southern China, starting from Lianshan Zhuang and Yao Autonomous County of Guangdong Province to the east, Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan Province to the west, Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture of Guizhou Province to the north, and Beibu Gulf to the south. Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is the main living area for the Zhuang people. As the most populous ethnic group among Chinese ethnic minorities, the Zhuang people has created unique culture in language, medicine, kung fu, music, and the scenery of the areas where Zhuang people live are just magnificent.

Where to visit?

As a province gathering most of Zhuang people, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region can provide you the best travel experience with both natural landscape enjoy and local Zhuang nationality culture. Visiting Guangxi, Guilin and Yangshuo are two most popular destinations. You may take a Li River Cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo to enjoy the best river landscape in China. Getting off the cruise, take a walk or ride a bike in the countryside of Yangshuo and have a family visit to a local farmer’s house. If you have enough time, you may plan a trip to Longji Terraces Fields. No matter when you visit, the LongJi Terraces Fields can always surprise you. If you like, you may enjoy a ethnic dance and singing performed by the local Zhuang people in the Ping’an Village. To finish your Zhuang nationality tour strong, the show Impression Liusanjie is unmissable.

2. Hui Nationality

The Hui nationality, one of the most populous ethnic groups in China, mainly lives in northern China, especially in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Gansu, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Heibe, and Shandong. Its ancestors were mainly the relocated "huihui" people who were impacted by the Westward Expeditions launched by the Mongols in the 13th century and the Muslim Fan guests settled in southeastern coast of China in Tang and Song Dynasties. In later generations, those huihuis and Muslim Fan guests absorbed the life style and social customs of Han, Mongolian and Uygur nationalities and intermarried people from those ethics, forming the current Hui nationality. The Hui people have learned to speak Chinese and made it common among themselves, but in daily communication and religious activities, they still retain some Arabic and Persian vocabulary. In the frontier ethnic regions, they even used the language of the local minorities.

Like any other minorities, Hui people like to live together, but the history and society made them live in small groups. Some Hui people even migrated far from where they used to live. Therefore, it's quite common to see small Muslim quarters here and there in China. As they like to live along with the arterial traffics, the Hui people developed rather a developed economy and culture. They are also very good at doing business, especially in the catering business. This is why you can find a lot of Muslim restaurant owned by Hui people all over the country.

Where to visit?

To know about Hui people, you have to visit Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. To know about the Ningxia province, you must visit Yinchuan, the provincial capital. Located east to the Helan Mountain and west to the Yellow River, Yinchuan has been reputed as the "Jiangnan Beyond the Great Wall" and the "Land of Fish and Rice" since anicent times. Its majestic natural landscapes, precious cultural relics from Xixia Dynasty, tempting water town views, grotesque scenery of unique northwestern China, and the diversified Hui folk customs make the Yinchuan city one of the most charming cities in western China.

Visiting Yinchuan, you will see the Mausoleums of Western Xia Dynasty, the largest royal cemetery with the ground sites best preserved, where 9 emperors and over 200 ministers and imperials were buried, the Cliff Paintings of Helan Mountain where you will enjoy over a thousand paintings demonstrating the history, culture, economy and religion of ancient nomads, the Suyukou National Forest Park where you will enjoy the ever-changing scenery of trees, Sanguankou Ming Dynasty Great Wall, Drum Tower, Haibao Tower, Guan Mosque, Cuiming Lake, and Shuidonggou Ruins of late Old Stone Age.

3. Manchu Nationality

The Manchus mainly live in northeastern China, and some live in Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Shandong, Xinjiang and other provinces. Manchu nationality has a long history dating back to Sushen people in two thousands years ago. In 1644, the Manchu army led by Huangtaiji broke into Beijing and established the Qing Dynasty. Since then, the Manchu people began to live in other parts outside northeastern China.

The Manchu nationality has its own language and characters created at the end of the 16th century by using the Mongolian alphabet, and it belongs to the Manchu-Tungus branch of the Altai language family. In the 1740s, after breaking into the central China, the Manchu people began to learn Chinese.

The Manchu people are good at singing and dancing, which are mostly derived from hunting and fighting activities. The Manchu men liked to wear blue robes and jacket, round cap, with their hair braided on the back of their heads. While the Manchu women like to wear cheongsam, earrings and handkerchief, and comb their hair into bun. After the founding of Qing Dynasty, Manchu people tend to wear like the Han people, but the cheongsam has gained favor in later generations and became the traditional clothes for Chinese women.

Where to visit?

As Manchu people are mainly living in Liaoning province, you must visit Shenyang if you want to learn more about Manchu people. As the capital city of Liaoning province, Shenyang city is the economic, cultural, traffic, financial, and commercial center of northeastern China. It’s also an important industrial base and historical city.

In Shenyang, you can visit a lot of historical sights, like Shenyang Imperial Palace, Fu Tomb, Zhao Tomb, Memorial Sites and many others. Shenyang Imperial Palace is the only existing palace complex besides the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was the palace where Nurhachi (the person who laid foundation for Qing Dynasty) and Huangtaiji (the person who founded the Qing Dynasty) had built and lived before the founding of Qing Dynasty. Belonging to the “three tombs outside the Shanhai pass”, the Fu Tomb and Zhao Tomb are two unique traditional Chinese architectures with strong Manchu ethic features. The Fu Tomb is the burial site for Nurhachi and his wife, while the Zhao Tomb is the burial site for Huangtaiji and his wife.

A lot of historical events happened in Shenyang, making it a place with a lot of memories. There are a lot of memorial sites in Shenyang, like the Zhang’s Mansion House (a mansion for warlord Zhang Zuolin and his son Zhang Xueliang), the “September Eighteenth” History Museum (in memory of the date when the Japanese invaders first attack China), Steam Locomotive Museum, and many more.

4. Uyghur Nationality

In the northwestern border of Xinjiang, at the foot of the snow-capped Tianshan Mountain, there lives the Uyghur people who can sing and dance well. The Uyghur people mainly live in southern areas of the Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, such as Kashgar, Hotan, Aksu, and Korla. Some are scattered in Yili, north of the Tianshan Mountains, and Taoyuan, Changde and other places in Hunan province.

The Uyghurs have their own languages. The Uyghur language belongs to the Turkic family of the Altaic family; its characters are Pinyin characters evolved from Arabic alphabet. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the new characters based on the Latin alphabet was promoted, making Uyghur people use both characters.

The Uyghur economy is mainly agriculture and they grow crops such as cotton, wheat, corn, and rice. In addition, the Uyghur people are also good at garden art and they have the largest grape production base in China.

The Uyghurs have their own unique culture and art. The story collection "Afanti's Story", the music and dance epic "Twelve Mukam", and the Uygur dance are all very popular both domestically and overseas. Uyghur medicine is an important part of the traditional Chinese medicine.

Where to visit?

Most Uygur people live in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, to understand the history and culture of the Uygur ethics, you have to travel to Xinjiang. There are three travel cities in Xinjiang that can best represent the Xinjiang culture, Kashgar, Turpan and Urumqi respectively.

People who haven't been to Kashgar can not say that they have really been to Xinjiang. As a city located in the far west fringes of Xinjiang province, Kashgar city is the epitome of the Xinjiang province with the rich Uyghur flavors. With the strategical position of the Silk Road, Kashgar city has fused cultures and customs from both eastern China and central Asia, and formed its own unique history and culture.

Visiting Kashgar, you must not miss the Tomb of Apakhoga, Id Kah Mosque, Banchao Memorial Park, Tomb of Mohamed Kashgar, Gaotai Folk Houses, Stone City, and many other historical sights. It will be a great place to explore the history and culture changes in western China. You will also enjoy the magnificent natural landscapes. There are the second tallest mountain Qiaogli Mountain, the Muztagh Peak known as the "Father of Icebergs" and many primitive landscapes of desert, oasis, ice river, snow mountain and forest.

Turpan is a small city in Xinjiang, but it's very famous all over China for its extremely hot summer, ample fruits, rich historical sights, and unsophisticated folk customs. Visiting Turpan, you will see the Emin Minaret, Grape Valley, Flaming Mountain, Tuyu Valley, Gaochang Ancient City and Jiaohe Ancient Town. As most of these sights are located outside the Turpan city, it's recommended to hire a car. Besides the historical sights, there are also many ancient trails o the Tianshan mountain, which are ideal place for hiking adventures.

Urumqi is the capital city of Xinjiang province. Due to the longitude difference, Urumqi time is two hours later than Beijing time. When you travel to Urumqi, remember this time difference so you can avoid some misunderstandings.Visiting Urumqi, one thing you can't miss is the International Bazzar. It's considered the place where all the Uyghur cultural traits are best demonstrated. You can buy a variety of productions coming from all over Xinjiang and surrounding countries. You can also taste the most delicious local food while appreciating the unique architectures. All in all, Urumqi International Bazzar is a great place to experience the featured Uyghur culture. You may also travel to Heavenly Lake of Tianshan Mountain to enjoy the extremely beautiful natural views. There is a saying that Xinjiang people wear cotton-padded clothes in the morning and change into gauze clothes at noon, while in the evening, they eat watermelons around the stove, vividly showing how fast the temperature in Xinjiang varies in a day. The surface heats up quickly with the sunlight in daytime and cools down even more quickly at night. If you travel to Heavenly Lake, you will experience the four difference seasons in one day. Of course, the enticing scenery of Heavenly Lake is another reason to attract you. If you travel to Urumqi in winter, you can have a exhilarating ski experience.

5. Miao Nationality

The Miao people mainly live in the southeastern part of Guizhou Province, Damiao Mountain of Guangxi, Hainan Island, and other areas. The Miao nationality has a long history dating back to 5000 years ago, and according to the Chinese history records, its ancestors were "Nanman" tribes and clans that used to inhabit in the areas starting from the Yellow River to the southern part of Middle Yangtze River. Miao people have no writing system, but the vocal languages, which are mainly divided into three branches, namely, the Xiangxi (western Hunan province) Miao dialect, Qiandong (eastern Guizhou province) Miao dialect, and the Miao dialect used in orders of Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces. As Miao people have interacted with Han people for a long time, over half of them use mandarin.

Like many other minorities live in mountains, Miao people mainly engage themselves in agriculture and hunting at the slack seasons. They also developed a series of handicraft arts like cross-stitch, embroidery, brocade, batik, paper-cutting, jewelry making, in which the batik art has a history of thousand years. Those diversified handicrafts made Miao people have one of the most beautiful and various ethic costumes. Meanwhile, Miao people are also good at singing and dancing. They have the world famous love songs and wine songs.

Where to visit?

As Guizhou province has gathered most of the Miao people, to understand Miao culture, you have to visit Guizhou.

Guizhou Province is located in the southeast part of southwestern China, adjacent to Hunan, Guangxi, Yunnan, Sichuan, and Chongqing  and its capital is Guiyang. It is the only province in the country without any plain, but it is a place where the typical karst landform has been developed. There are many world famous sights in Guizhou such as the largest waterfall in Asia and China- Huangguoshu Waterfall, Kaili where you will visit the biggest Miao Village, Zhenyuan Ancient Town where you can taste the authentic Miao food and enjoy the picturesque night views, Zhaoxing Dong Village (the largest Dong ethic villages in Guizhou), Chishui Danxia Landform, Red Maple Lake Scenic Area, Fanjing Mountain, and many more.

6. Yi Nationality

Yi people mainly live in Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces and it’s the most populous nationality in Yunnan’s minority groups. There are Yi people in most areas of Yunnan, but most of them intensively live in Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Chuxiong, Shuailao mountain area of Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Wumeng mountain area and the Xiaoliang mountain in northwestern Yunnan. Yi nationality has a long history that can be traced back to before century. According to historical records, its ancestors were related to the Diqiang people thousands years ago.

Yi people have their own language that belongs to the Yi language branch of Tibetan-Burmese language school of Chinese-Tibetan language system. They also have their own characters, which is the earliest syllabic language in China, and over 1000 of them are in common use.

Yi nationality has a long-standing and well established culture and art. There are a lot of valuable records in the Yi language works of history, literature, medicine, and calendar. In the long history of Yi nationality, Yi people created a series of dance and arts of painting, embroidery, silver ornament, and engraving. They also have hundreds kinds of colorful ethnic costumes.

Where to visit?

As the Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Chuxiong in Yunnan province is the major area where Yi people live, you must visit Chuxiong if you wish to learn more about their culture and customs. If time permits, you may expand your travel to Kunming, Dali, Lijiang and Shangeri-la to learn about other minorities of Yunnan.

In Chuxiong city, we mainly recommend three sights, namely Yi Ancient Town, Clay Forest in Yuanmou, and Guanglu Ancient Town. In Yi Ancient Town, you can immerse yourselves thoroughly in the Yi culture. In Clay Forest in Yuanmou, you will see grotesque forms of earth-pillars and wonder at the natural power. In Guanglu Ancient Town, you will see a town of great importance in all dynasties due to its strategical post.

If you have more time, you may visit Lijiang for the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Lijiang Ancient Town, Dali for Erhai Lake and Dali Ancient Town, Kunming for Stone Forest and various flowers, and Shangeri-la for Tiger Leaping Gorge and the primitive Tibetan villages.

7. Tujia Nationality

The Tujia people mainly live in Longshan, Yongshun, Baojing, Guzhang and other counties of the Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture of western Hunan and Laifeng, Hefeng, Xuan'en, Lichuan, Enshi and other counties of Enshi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in Hubei province. Some other Tujia people live in counties of Chongqing and Guizhou.

Tujia people have their own language, but no characters. Most of them can speak Chinese, only several Tujia communities still speak Tujia language.

Tujia people are mainly engaged in agriculture and the art of weaving and embroidery is a traditional craft for Tujia women. The Tujia nationality also have other traditional crafts, including carving, painting, paper cutting, batik and so on. The Tujia brocade, also known as "Xilankapu", is one of the three famous brocades in China.

The Tujia people love to sing folk songs and they created a lot of love songs, crying marriage songs, waving hands songs, labor songs, and many others.

Where to visit?

We recommend you have a visit to the Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in Hunan province, which mainly involves Fenghuang Ancient and Zhangjiajie.

Located in the southwestern part of Hunan Province, the Fenghuang Ancient Town is mainly inhabited by Tujia and Miao people. The bluestone streets, stilted buildings along the Tuo River, long-standing city wall built by verrucano, the tower from Qing Dynasty, and the narrow wooden bridge with stone support combine together and make a charming town.You can just walk leisurely in the streets and feel the old stories these buildings have to tell.

Another Tujia style sight you must see is the Zhangjiajie Tujia Folk Garden. Located in the urban area of Zhangjiajie city, the Zhangjiajie Tujia Folk Garden is based on the original site of the best-preserved Tujia village. It used to be a "holy place" for Tujia people to worship, offer sacrifice, pray and hold festive events and now it is a great place to show thousand-year-old Tujia customs and culture. You can learn about all the Tujia cultures of agriculture, warring, Tusi, architecture and customs in here. Most parts of the garden are wood and stone structures with carved and painted beams, golden ceilings and eaves with raised angles, vert elegance and exquisite. There are many exhibitions such as Tujia wedding objects, headwears, costumes, batik, brocade, silver jewelry, stone jewelry, and rare stone and root carvings. There are also characteristic Tujia shows available. If you have time, you can travel to Wulingyuan area and visit the Zhangjiajie National Park, Tianmen Mountain, Golden Whip Stream, Huanglong Cave, Baofeng Lake, and so much more.

8. Tibetan Nationality

The Tibetans are mainly concentrated in the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan autonomous prefectures in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. The Tibetans have their own language and characters. The Tibetan language belongs to the Tibetan branch of Tibetan-Burmese group of Han-Tibetan language system. There are Weizang, Kangfang, Anduo three dialects. The current Tibetan language is the Pinyin script created on the basis of ancient Sanskrit and Western script. Tibetan people also created unique Tibetan style dance, songs, paintings, sculptures, and medicine. The Potala Palace in Lhasa, the highest palace complex in the world, is a example of Tibetan architecture, displaying the culture, history, painting, carving and religion of Tibetan people.

Where to visit?

As the capital of Tibetan Autonomous Region, Lhasa is a place you can’t miss if you wish to understand Tibetan people.

Lhasa is a plateau city with a history of 1300 years and one of the highest cities in the world. For thousand years, Lhasa have always been the political, economical, cultural and religious center of Tibet. Many people fell in love with Lhasa city for reasons beyond expression. You just have to experience for yourselves. The current Lhasa is divided into old town and new town. We suggest you stay at a hotel in old town where there are more choices of hotels, restaurants and sights. The old town of Lhasa is centered with Barkhor Street, with many famous sights surrounded like Jokhang Monastery, Ramoche Monastery, and the Potala Palace. Most importantly, you can see a lot of lamas and Tibetans with colorful clothes in the old town. It will be such a great pleasure to enjoy the sunlight while having a cup of sweet tea, watch disciples of Jokhang Monastery kowtow, have a bowl of steaming hot Tibetan noodles, pray with the local people in the evening, appreciate the magnificence of the Potala Palace, and watch the Sun Buddha of Sho Dun Festival in the bustling Drepung Monastery. The opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway just made all these more convenient.

9. Mongol Nationality

The Mongol people mainly live in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and some Mongols live in provinces of northern China like Xinjiang, Liaoning, Jilin, Xinlongjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, Hebei and Beijing, while a small part of Mongol people live in Sichuan and Yunnan. “Mongol” in Mongolian language means “the everlasting fire”.

The biggest characteristic of Mongol people is that they love horses very much. The ancestors of Mongolian people used to ride horses to go everywhere and created great achievements, one of which is the establishment of Yuan Dynasty. Horses play a significant role in Mongolian lives. They can’t walk far, eat, live, or entertain without horses. One of the most popular Mongolian sports is horse racing. The songs the Mongols sing are about horses, the dances they perform are horse dance, even their most famous instrument is called Matouqin (Horse Head String Instrument).

Where to visit?

As most Mongolian people live in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, to experience the unique Mongolian history and culture, you have to visit the Inner Mongolia.

The special position of Inner Mongolia made the prairies and deserts the most featured landscapes that attract tons of visitors. The prairies in northern Inner Mongolia are the most popular grasslands, especially the Hulunbuir Grassland, Xilin Gol Prairie, and Xilamuren Grassland can offer the best grassland scenery. While the famous deserts are mainly located in western Inner Mongolia, to name a few Badain Jaran Desert, Tengger Desert, Kubuqi Desert and the Sounding Sand Bay. The Inner Mongolia is also the hometown of Genghis Khan. There are many historical sights like Mausoleum of Genghis Khan, Zhaojun’s Tomb, Wudang Lamasery, Xilitu Lamasery and many others.

There are 55 minority groups in China, each has its own unique history and culture. It’s hard to know them in one travel. You just focus a few minority cultures to understand at one time. We have many packages to satisfy your wish. If you have specific destinations that aren’t mentioned above, please tell us and we will customize a minority culture tour just for you!