Ethnic Culture in China

China is a large country with 55 ethnic minorities and the ethnic culture in China is an important part of the entire Chinese culture, which boasts its own national characteristics created and developed in the historical development of each ethnic minorities, including material culture such as food, clothing, housing and spiritual culture like language, literature, art, etc. China’s ethnic culture are very rich that can be said to be an inexhaustible treasure house, with distinctive and prominent characteristics. 

55 Ethnic Groups in China

China’s minority ethnicities mainly live in border regions and mountainous areas of the north, south, and west. Costumes are the most representative feature of an ethnic group, with designs and colours closely linked with geographical environment and customs. According to the population, the major ethnic groups are Zhuang, Uyghur, Hui, Manchu, Miao, Yi, Tujia, Tibetan, Mongol, Dong, Buyei, Yao, Bai, Korean, Hani, Li, Kazakh and Dai.

See Ethnic Minorities in China

Features of Ethnic Culture in China

  • A long history. Many ethnic minorities in China live and grow with the Han nationality. Many nationalities have created their own language and characters in history, and formed rich cultural classics. 
  • Various forms and rich contents. Ethnic minority cultural achievements are manifested in many aspects, such as clothing, food, housing, religion, ethics, philosophy, literature, art, medicine, architecture, clothing, customs and so on. They not only maintain and inherit excellent traditional culture, but also absorb and accommodate modern culture.
  • Unique carrier of national language and writing. Among the 55 ethnic minorities in China, 53 ethnic groups have their own languages except Hui and Manchu, and 22 ethnic groups use 28 native languages.
  • Strong Regional Characteristics. Different climatic conditions and different geographical environments make the cultures of different ethnic groups present distinct local colours, such as plateau culture, snow culture, oasis culture, farming culture, grassland culture, fishing and hunting culture and other manifestations.
  • In spiritual value, they are not only intermingled and complementary, but also have their own style. Between the minority culture and the Han culture, they exchange, influence, penetrate and absorb each other, which not only deepens the connotation of Chinese culture, enhances the consistency of Chinese culture, but also maintains the diversity and richness of Chinese culture.

Distribution of Ethnic Minorities in China

There are five regions designated minority areas, including Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous RegionTibet Autonomous RegionInner Mongolia Autonomous RegionGuangxi Zhuang Autonomous RegionNingxia Hui Autonomous Region

Ethnic Minorities Distribution by Location

Distribution Location Ethnic Minorities
Southwest China BaiBlangBouyeiDaiDongDeangDulongGelaoHaniJinoJingpoLuobaLahuLisuMiaoMonbaNuNaxiPrimiQiangShuiWaYiTibetanAchang
Northwest China BonanDongxiangRussHuiKazakSalarTuYugurTagikTatarUygurXibeKirgizUzbek
Southeast China GaoshanGinLiMulamMaonanShe,  TujiaYaoZhuang
Northeast China ChaoxianDaurOroqenEwenkiHezhenManMongol

See Distribution of Ethnic Minorities.

Language of Ethnic Minorities in China

Of the 55 ethnic minorities in China, Hui and Manchu use the same Chinese as Han, and 53 use their own language. Among them, there are 29 ethnic groups’ languages belonging to the Sino-Tibetan language family, mainly in the south-central and southwest regions; 17 belonging to the Altaic language family, mainly in the northeast and northwest regions; 1 belonging to the South Asian language family; and 1 language that has not yet been determined. The intercommunication of languages among ethnic groups is quite common, especially Mandarin Chinese, which has increasingly become the main language of communication among ethnic groups. Before the founding of New China, 21 ethnic minorities had their own written languages. The system of writing includes relatively primitive pictographic ideographic writing, syllabic writing and alphabetic writing. There are seven types of letters, Tibetan, Korean, Uighur, Dai, Arabic, Latin and Slavic. Some ethnic groups use several languages, such as the Dai ethnic group uses four languages and the Mongolian ethnic group uses two languages. After the founding of New China, the government helped some ethnic minorities to create national characters.

Art of Ethnic Minorities in China

In the long historical years, ethnic minorities have created a large number of beautiful and moving myths, legends, epics, as well as music, dance, painting, valuable scientific classics, and built many magnificent, colorful buildings with national characteristic. These excellent cultural and artistic heritages are an important part of Chinese culture, a common spiritual wealth of the Chinese nation, and an important achievement of human civilization. The Potala Palace, Dazhao Temple and Roblinka in Lhasa were selected into the World Heritage List, and the Mongolian long tune and the Uyghur Muqam of Xinjiang were included in the World Intangible Cultural Heritage List by the United Nations. Among the three national intangible cultural heritage catalogues currently published in China, there are 515 ethnic minority projects, accounting for about 42% of the total number of projects.

Customs of Ethnic Minorities in China

Ethnic minorities have their own customs and habits. It is mainly manifested in dress, diet, residence, etiquette, festivals, weddings, funerals, marriages and so on. The customs and habits of ethnic minorities with different characteristics originate either from the history of ethnic development, production practice, major historical events, religious beliefs or living environment. Taking food as an example, rice is the staple food of all nationalities engaged in rice farming in the south of Huaihe River and Korean in the northeast; Uygur and Hui nationalities engaged in wheat farming are accustomed to eating pasta; corn, sorghum, millet and potatoes are the staple food of all nationalities engaged in Cereal cultivation in the Northeast Plain, Loess Plateau and hilly areas of China; Tibetans and other nationalities on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau eat Zanba, buttered tea and yak beef to resist the cold climate. The Hezhe people along the Wusuli River are famous for their ability to produce various kinds of fish food. All nationalities have a set of special cooking methods, making all kinds of food into delicious dishes with national and local flavors. Famous such as Uygur barbecued bread, grab rice, barbecue, Mongolian “hand-picked meat”, Kazakh’s misconception (Ma Nizi), Hui’s instant mutton, Hezhe’s instant fish, Korean cold noodles, spicy cabbage and so on.

See Ethnic Minority Food.

Festivals of Ethnic Minorities in China

There are many kinds of festivals for ethnic minorities . There are public holidays celebrate by certain ethnic minorities in certain regions, which are decided by local governments. It is estimated that more than 1,200 of the 1,700 Chinese festivals belong to ethnic minorities. All these traditional ethnic minority festivals are regarded as indispensable components of the minorities’ customs. Ethnic festivals are always fulled with beautiful legends and featured activities to celebrate. In addition, there are also some recreational festivals, such as the Nadamu Congress of the Mongolian people, to hold wrestling, horseback riding and other competitions, which are of great scale and warm atmosphere.

See more Ethnic Minority Festivals

Minority Discovery with China Dragon Tours

On this vast land, there are 55 ethnic minority groups who have colorful costumes, different flavors of food, unique etiquette, and a variety of festivals. They are mainly distributed in the southwest, northwest and northeast areas. The most popular destinations for minority discovery are YunnanGuizhouGuangxi, Xinjiang and Tibet, which also boasts amazing natural scenery at the same time. Yunnan province has the largest number of ethnic population in China with 25 ethnic minorities. Join our minority discovery tours, and you definitely will have great fun by discovering the ethnic villages, enjoying the local performance and taking parting in the local big event.

Recommended Tours:
4 Days XishuangBanna Water Splashing Festival Celebration Tour
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16 Days Yunnan-Guizhou-Guangxi Minorities Discovery by Speed Train