China is the world's most populous nation, with around 1.3 billion
inhabitants - more than triple the population of the United States,
40 times that of Canada. China's population passed 100 million in
1684. It took almost 300 years to pass 1 billion (in 1982). In 1990,
a baby was born in China every one-and-a-half seconds.
One third of the population today is under 14, two-thirds are under
30 - 600 million have been born since 1949. About three-quarters
of the people live in rural areas. However, urban centers are growing
The most populated cities are Shanghai, with 14 million inhabitants,
Beijing with around 12 million, Chongqing with 11 million and Tianjin
with 10 million. Greater Chongqing rivals Mexico City, San Paolo,
Tokyo and New York as a megalopolis of almost unfathomable size.
All-told China has 27 super large cities, 32 large cities, 72 medium-sized
cities of more than 200,000 population, 283 smaller cities with
less than 200,000 population, as well as 3,178 townships and 53,000
large agricultural villages. Top
Most of the people of China belong to the Han nationality. About eight
per cent belong to 56 minority nationalities, of which the largest
are Zhuang, Uighur, Yi, Miao, Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan and Hui. Unlike
the others, the Hui are identified not by race but by religion; they
are Chinese Moslems. Top
The standard language of China is Putonghua, or Mandarin, a term incidentally
unknown in China. Mandarin comes from a Portuguese rendering of a
Sanskrit word for counsel. Putonghua is the dialect of Beijing, and
was the dialect of the court, or counsellors. More common to Western
ears, perhaps, is Yue or Cantonese, the language spoken in Hong Kong
and Canton (Guangzhou) in the south of China. Shanghai has its own
distinctive dialect called Wu, Fuzhou has one called Minbie.
There are hundreds of other dialects, and for the most part each
is unintelligible to the other. When a Chinese opens his mouth he
immediately betrays his home town or county. The language is tonal
and distinguishing the subtle differences is not only tricky but
may expose one to risk of ridicule if a mistake is made (which is
frequently the case).
The writing is standardized, however. Yet even here there are a
couple of differences. Taiwan and Hong Kong use traditional script.
Mainland China under the Communists adopted a simplified script,
developed in the early decades of the 20th century to make it easier
for more Chinese to become literate. The Chinese characters are
used by other Asian nationals. Japan's kanji comes from the Chinese,
of course, but the characters are pronounced very differently. Korea
uses the characters too in addition to its alphabetized script.
Some of the minority nationalities have their own distinctive scripts.
A sampling may be found on any Chinese money bill which features
eight scripts, including Tibetan, Uighur, Mongol as well as Chinese. Top
China is a secular nation. Religions are tolerated just as long
as they do not compete with the government or leaders, or pose a
threat to their authority. This may help to explain why the Chinese
have cracked down so hard on the Falun Gong movement and why they
oppose the Dalai Lama so strongly. Each is perceived as a threat
to the stability of Chinese society (read here, the authority of
the rulers). Catholics have, over the centuries, got into a terrible
mess when they refused to acknowledge that the state's or ruler's
authority should have a higher place than the church's or the Pope's.
The Chinese, as a whole, are more given to superstition. The Communist
Party has tried mightily to rid the people of their often quaint
beliefs, but it's been a Sisyphean struggle. Omens, portends, amulets,
prayers are as much a part of Chinese everyday life today as of
yore. Lady luck looms in every quarter of Chinese life, that and
Fate, when things go wrong.
Many religions are represented in China. The two most prominent
native ones are Taoism, which preaches a way of life in harmony
with nature, and Confucianism, which teaches a way of life based
on the moral code of Confucius.
China has embraced numerous foreign religions, notably Buddhism,
brought by monks from India, Islam brought by Arab traders, and
Christianity by European missionaries. Buddhism arrived in the first
century, Islam arrived soon after the death of Mohammad, and Christianity
dates back to the founding of a church in Beijing in the 13th century,
although it was brought to China by the heretical Nestorians during
the Tang Period, and possibly even earlier by other zealots. Today
there are about 28 million Moslems in China.
The number of practicing Christians has been variously estimated
at between one to three million. There are even Chinese Jews. A
remnant colony survived until nearly modern times in Kaifeng, an
ancient capital city in present-day Henan Province. Top