China’s fifty-six Recognized Ethnic Groups

February 19, 2020

By 1979, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had recognized 56 ethnic groups. The largest is the Han Chinese with 91.51-percent of the population. China’s population was 1.435 billion in November 2019. The largest, the Han numbered 1.313 billion. That left 122 million for the other 55 recognized ethnic groups.

The two minority groups in China the world hears about the most are the Tibetans (almost 6.3 million) and the Uyghurs with a bit more than 10 million. But what about the others 53? For instance, the largest minority group is the Zhuang people and most of them live in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Since most of the minorities do not have large populations, not all of the 55 minority groups have their own autonomous zone. There are five autonomous zones in China: in Guangxi (population 46 million), Inner Mongolia (24.7 million), Tibet (3 million), Xinjiang (almost 22 million), and Ningxia (almost 6.2 million).

The PRC also has programs to improve the quality of life in each autonomous zone. For instance, in 1950, the average lifespan of Tibetans was age 35.5. Today, life expectancy in Tibet is 68.2 years and still improving. That’s almost twice what it was when China’s long civil war finally came to an end.

China.org.cn reports, “In China regional autonomy for ethnic minorities is a basic policy adopted by the Chinese government in line with the actual conditions of China, and also an important part of the political system of China. Regional autonomy for ethnic minorities means that under the unified leadership of the state regional autonomy is practiced in areas where people of ethnic minorities live in concentrated communities; in these areas organs of self-government are established for the exercise of autonomy and for people of ethnic minorities to become masters of their own areas and manage the internal affairs of their own regions. …”

The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner reports, “The economy in five autonomous regions (Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Tibet, Ningxia and Xinjiang) and three multi-ethnic provinces (Guizhou, Yunnan and Qinghai) had made significant progress and people’s living standards continued to rise: the population living in poverty went down from 31 million in 2012 to 10 million, and the poverty rate dropped from 34 per cent to six per cent.” …

However, “NICOLÁS MARUGÁN, Committee Rapporteur for China, asked China to provide written information on the allegations of torture and on the intentions concerning the establishment of an independent mechanism for the investigation of allegations of torture and deaths in custody in Tibet and in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” …

Meanwhile, the 30,875 reindeer herders of China’s small Ewenki ethnic minority in Northern China is struggling to keep their centuries-old traditions alive.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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