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Colorful minorities people from Yunnan






Meet China's People

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 rapidly.

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

Ethnic Mix
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

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