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Zhonghua minzu

Expressions of Zhonghua Minzu
Chinese national flag during the early Republican period, with five colors representing  the union of five races
Chinese national flag during the early Republican period, with five colors representing the union of five races
A wall painting in Beijing depicting 56 ethnic groups in China
Zhonghua minzu
Traditional Chinese 中華民族
Simplified Chinese 中华民族

Zhonghua minzu (simplified Chinese: 中华民族; traditional Chinese: 中華民族; pinyin: Zhōnghuá Mínzú), translated as "Chinese nation"[1][2] or "Chinese race",[3] is a key political term that is entwined with modern Chinese history of nation-building and race.[4][5]

Since the late 1980s, the most fundamental change of the People's Republic of China's nationalities and minorities policies is the renaming from "the Chinese People" (Chinese: 中国人民 or zhongguo renmin) to "the Chinese Nation/Nationality" (Chinese: 中华民族 zhonghua minzu),[5] signalling a shift from the communist statehood with people of various nationalities to a national statehood based on a single minzu (nation/nationality).[5]

During the early Republican (1912–27) and Nationalist (1928–49) periods, the term Zhonghua minzu consists of Han Chinese people and other four major non-Han ethnic groups: the Man (Manchus), the Meng (Mongolians), the Hui (ethnic groups of Islamic faith in northwestern China), and the Zang (Tibetans),[3][6] a notion of a republic of five races (Chinese: 五族共和) that is advocated by Sun Yat Sen and the Nationalist Guomindang Party. During the Communist period after Mao's death, the term zhonghua minzu was resurrected to include the mainstream Han Chinese and other 55 ethnic groups as a huge Chinese family.[1][4]


  • History 1
  • Implications 2
  • Ambiguity 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The immediate roots of the Zhonghua minzu lie in the Qing dynasty founded by the Manchu clan Aisin Gioro in what is today northeast China. The Qing Emperors sought to portray themselves as ideal Confucian rulers for the Han Chinese, Grand khans for the Mongols, and Chakravartin kings for Tibetan Buddhists.

Dulimbai Gurun is the Manchu name for China (中國, Zhongguo; "Middle Kingdom").[7][8][9] The Qing identified their state as "China" (Zhongguo), and referred to it as "Dulimbai Gurun" in Manchu. The Qing equated the lands of the Qing state (including present day Manchuria, Xinjiang, Mongolia, Tibet and other areas as "China" in both the Chinese and Manchu languages, defining China as a multi ethnic state, rejecting the idea that China only meant Han areas, proclaiming that both Han and non-Han peoples were part of "China", using "China" to refer to the Qing in official documents, international treaties, and foreign affairs, and the "Chinese language" (Dulimbai gurun i bithe) referred to Chinese, Manchu, and Mongol languages, and the term "Chinese people" (中國人 Zhongguo ren ; Manchu: Dulimbai gurun i niyalma) referred to all Han, Manchus, and Mongol subjects of the Qing.[10]

When the Qing [19]

Before the rise of nationalism people were generally loyal to the city-state, the feudal fief and its lord or, in the case of China, to the dynastic state.[20] The French Revolution and subsequent developments in Europe paved the way for the modern nation-state and nationalism has become one of the most significant political and social forces in history. Nationalism spread in the early 19th century to central Europe and from there to eastern and southeastern Europe and in the early 20th century nationalism began to appear in China.

While Qing rulers adopted the Han Chinese imperial model and considered their state as Zhongguo ("中國", the term for "China" in modern Chinese), and the name "China" was commonly used in international communications and treaties (such as the Treaty of Nanking),[21] domestically however, some Chinese nationalists such as Sun Yat-sen initially described the Manchus as "foreign invaders" to be expelled,[22] and planned to establish a Chinese nation-state modelled closely after Germany and Japan. Fearing, however, that this restrictive view of the ethnic nation-state would result in the loss of large parts of imperial territory, Chinese nationalists discarded this concept. The abdication of the Qing emperor inevitably led to controversy about the status of territories in Tibet and Mongolia. While the emperor formally bequeathed all the Qing territories to the new republic, it was the position of Mongols and Tibetans that their allegiance had been to the Qing monarch; with the abdication of the Qing, they owed no allegiance to the new Chinese state. This was rejected by the Republic of China and subsequently the People's Republic of China.

This development in Chinese thinking was mirrored in the expansion of the meaning of the term Zhonghua minzu. Originally coined by the late Qing philologist Liang Qichao, Zhonghua minzu initially referred only to the Han Chinese. It was then expanded to include the Five Races Under One Union, based on the ethnic categories of the Qing. Sun Yatsen further expanded this concept when he wrote,

有人說,清室推翻以後,民族主義可以不要。這話實在錯了。……現在說五族共和,我們國內何止五族呢?我的意思,應該把我們中國所有各民族融化成一個中華民族。……並且要把中華民族造成很文明的民族,然後民族主義乃為完了。 Some people say, after the overthrow of the Qing, we will have no further need of nationalism. Those words are certainly wrong... At the present we speak of unifying the 'five nationalities' (Han, Manchu, Mongol, Hui, and Tibetan), yet surely our country has far more than five nationalities? My stand is that we should unite all the peoples of China into one Chinese nation (Zhonghua minzu)...and, furthermore, develop that nation into an advanced, civilized nation; only then will nationalism be finished.

The concept of Zhonghua minzu was first publicly espoused by President Yuan Shikai in 1912, shortly after the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the founding of the Republic of China. Facing the imminent independence of Outer Mongolia from China, Yuan Shikai stated, "Outer Mongolia is part of Zhonghua minzu [the Chinese nation] and has been of one family for centuries" (外蒙同為中華民族,數百年來儼如一家).

After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the concept of Zhonghua minzu became influenced by Soviet nationalities policy. Officially, the PRC is a unitary state composed of 56 ethnic groups, of which the Han ethnic group is by far the largest. The concept of Zhonghua minzu is seen as an all-encompassing category consisting of people within the borders of the PRC.

This term has continued to be invoked and remains a powerful concept in China into the 21st century. In mainland China, it continues to hold use as the leaders of China need to unify into one political entity a highly diverse set of ethnic and social groups as well as to mobilize the support of overseas Chinese in developing China.

In Taiwan it has been invoked by President Ma as a unifying concept that includes the people of both Taiwan and mainland China without a possible interpretation that Taiwan is part the People's Republic of China, whereas terms such as "Chinese people" can be, given that the PRC is commonly known as "China".[23]


The adoption of the Zhonghua minzu concept may give rise to the reinterpretation of Chinese history. For example, the Manchu-founded Qing Dynasty was originally sometimes characterized as a "conquering regime" or a "non-Han" regime. Following the adoption of the Zhonghua minzu ideology, which regards the Manchus as a member of the Zhonghua minzu, dynasties founded by ethnic minorities are no longer stigmatized.

The concept of Zhonghua minzu nevertheless also leads to the reassessment of the role of many traditional hero figures. Heroes such as Yue Fei and Koxinga, who were originally often considered to have fought for China against barbarian incursions, have been recharacterized by some as minzu yingxiong (ethnic heroes) who fought not against barbarians but against other members of the Zhonghua minzu (the Jurchens and Manchus respectively).[24] At the same time, China exemplified heroes such as Genghis Khan, who became a "national hero" as a member of the Zhonghua minzu.[25]

The Zhonghua Minzu concept in practice gives Chinese nationals who are not of the ethnic Han majority preferential university entry status, favorable tax laws, non-compliance with the one-child policy, among other preferential conditions under Chinese law for ethnic minorities.[26] This has in fact led to a tremendous surge in the population of ethnic minorities in China, which number about 5% of the total Chinese population in the 1950s, to about 10% in 2006 of the total in the year 2007; a birth rate about three times that of the ethnic Han majority group in the last half-century.


The theory behind the ideology of Zhonghua minzu is that it includes not only the Han but also other minority ethnic groups within China, such as the Mongols, Manchus, Hmong, Tibetans, Tuvans, etc. An ethnic Korean from China living and working in Korea or an ethnic Mongol from China living and working in the Mongolia would both be considered members of the Zhonghua Minzu, which can give rise to potential issues (including contemporary loyalty to contemporary states, the proper boundary lines between states/subnational entities, and the modern categorization of historical states) of identity.

Whether ethnic Han Chinese living overseas and not having Chinese citizenship are considered part of this Chinese nationality depends on the speaker and the context. More often than not, overseas Chinese in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore make a clear distinction between being Chinese in a political sense and being Chinese in an ethnic sense, making it unclear whether or not they belong to such a group that contains both political and ethnic connotations.

The conceptual boundaries of the Zhonghua minzu may be complicated by the politics of neighboring countries such as Mongolia and Korea, who exclusively claim regional historical peoples and states. For instance, the idea of Chinggis Khan as a "national hero" is contested by Mongolia, which since the fall of socialism has explicitly positioned Chinggis Khan as the father of the Mongolian state. In opposition to this, it is common to point out that there are more ethnic Mongolians in China than in the state of Mongolia.

A dispute of a similar nature has arisen over the status of the state of Goguryeo in ancient history, with China claiming it as Chinese on the grounds that much of it existed within the current borders of China as well as the ancient borders of China. On that basis Chinese nationalists maintain that these territories belong to the heterogeneous origin of the Chinese nation. This view is generally rejected by historians from South Korea and North Korea, as well as experts on Goguryeo history from various countries such as the United States, Russia, Mongolia, and Australia.[27][28][29] It has also received criticism from certain domestic scholars, such as a senior scholar from Peking University who likewise considered Goguryeo as a part of Korean history and denied Chinese connections.[30]

See also


  1. ^ a b Dan Landis; Rosita D. Albert (14 February 2012). Handbook of Ethnic Conflict: International Perspectives. Springer. pp. 182–.  
  2. ^ Zhao, Suisheng (2000). "Chinese Nationalism and Its International Orientations". Political Science Quarterly 115 (1): 1–33.  
  3. ^ a b Fitzgerald, John (January 1995). "The Nationaless State: The Search for a Nation in Modern Chinese Nationalism". The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs (33): 75.  
  4. ^ a b Alan Lawrance (2004). China Since 1919: Revolution and Reform : a Sourcebook. Psychology Press. pp. 252–.  
  5. ^ a b c Donald Bloxham; A. Dirk Moses (15 April 2010). The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies. Oxford University Press. pp. 150–.  
  6. ^ Susan Debra Blum; Lionel M. Jensen (2002). China Off Center: Mapping the Margins of the Middle Kingdom. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 170–.  
  7. ^ Hauer 2007, p. 117.
  8. ^ Dvořák 1895, p. 80.
  9. ^ Wu 1995, p. 102.
  10. ^ Zhao 2006, pp. 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14.
  11. ^ Dunnell 2004, p. 77.
  12. ^ Dunnell 2004, p. 83.
  13. ^ Elliott 2001, p. 503.
  14. ^ Dunnell 2004, pp. 76-77.
  15. ^ Cassel 2011, p. 205.
  16. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 205.
  17. ^ Cassel 2011, p. 44.
  18. ^ Cassel 2012, p. 44.
  19. ^ Perdue 2009, p. 218.
  20. ^ nationalism;Identification of state and people
  21. ^ Empire to nation: historical perspectives on the making of the modern world, by Joseph Esherick, Hasan Kayalı, Eric Van Young, pg 232
  22. ^ French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC). (cf. by Tongmenghui adherent)
  23. ^ See, e.g. Ma Ying-jeou, President of Republic of China inauguration speech, 20 May 2008: " (Section 2, Paragraph 8)。
  24. ^ What makes a national hero?
  25. ^ The Chinese Cult of Chinggis Khan: Genealogical Nationalism and Problems of National and Cultural Integrity, City University of New York.
  26. ^ Ethnic Mosaic of Modern China: An Analysis of Fertility and Mortality Data for the Twelve Largest Ethnic Minorities.
  27. ^ Bae, Young-dae; Min-a Lee (2004-09-16). "Korea finds some allies in Goguryeo history spat".  
  28. ^ Byington, Mark (2004-01-01). "Koguryo part of China?". Koreanstudies mailing list. Retrieved 2007-03-06. 
  29. ^ "Korean-Russian academia jointly respond to Northeast Project" (in Korean).  
  30. ^ "Chinese Scholar Slams Co-opting Korean History".  
  • Cassel, Par Kristoffer (2011). Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-Century China and Japan. Oxford University Press.  
  • Cassel, Par Kristoffer (2012). Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-Century China and Japan (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press.  
  • Dvořák, Rudolf (1895). Chinas religionen .... Volume 12; Volume 15 of Darstellungen aus dem Gebiete der nichtchristlichen Religionsgeschichte (illustrated ed.). Aschendorff (Druck und Verlag der Aschendorffschen Buchhandlung).  
  • Dunnell, Ruth W.; Elliott, Mark C.; Foret, Philippe; Millward, James A (2004). New Qing Imperial History: The Making of Inner Asian Empire at Qing Chengde. Routledge.  
  • Elliott, Mark C. (2001). The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China (illustrated, reprint ed.). Stanford University Press.  
  • Hauer, Erich (2007). Corff, Oliver, ed. Handwörterbuch der Mandschusprache. Volume 12; Volume 15 of Darstellungen aus dem Gebiete der nichtchristlichen Religionsgeschichte (illustrated ed.). Otto Harrassowitz Verlag.  
  • Perdue, Peter C (2009). China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia (reprint ed.). Harvard University Press.  
  • Wu, Shuhui (1995). Die Eroberung von Qinghai unter Berücksichtigung von Tibet und Khams 1717 - 1727: anhand der Throneingaben des Grossfeldherrn Nian Gengyao. Volume 2 of Tunguso Sibirica (reprint ed.). Otto Harrassowitz Verlag.  
  • Zhao, Gang (January 2006). "Reinventing China Imperial Qing Ideology and the Rise of Modern Chinese National Identity in the Early Twentieth Century". Volume 32 (Number 1). Sage Publications.  

External links

  • The War of Words Between South Korea and China Over An Ancient Kingdom: Why Both Sides Are Misguided Zhonghua minzu and the Sino-Korean controversy over the 'ownership' of ancient Koguryo.
  • Sinicization vs. Manchuness: The Success of Manchu Rule
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