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Chinese Han

Han Chinese (Simplified Chinese: 汉族; Traditional Chinese: 漢族; pinyin: hànzú) is a term which refers to the majority ethnic group within China and the largest single human ethnic group in the world. The Han Chinese- though they are not a truly coherent, single ethnic group- constitute about 91 percent of the population of mainland China and about 19 percent of the global human population. The name was occasionally translated as the "Chinese proper" in older texts (pre-1980s) and is commonly rendered in Western media as the "ethnic Chinese."

The term is used to distinguish the majority from the various minorities in and around China. The name comes from the Han Dynasty which ruled most parts of China proper where Han Chinese originate and which is considered a high point in Chinese civilization. Even today many Chinese people call themselves "Han persons" (Hànrén). The term Han Chinese is sometimes used synonymously with "Chinese" without regard to the 55 other minority Chinese ethnic groups; usage of this kind tends to be frowned upon by Chinese nationals, who regard the phrase Zhongguo ren (中國人) to be a more precise terminology.

Amongst Southern Chinese, a different term exists within various languages like Cantonese, Hakka and Minnan, but which means essentially the same thing. The term is Tangren (唐人, literally "the people of Tang"). This also derives from another Chinese dynasty, the Tang dynasty, which is regarded as another zenith of Chinese civilization. The phrase probably came into existence due to the fact that the Tang dynasty ruled over broader territories southwards than did the Han dynasty, and its influence was felt far more acutely by Southern Han Chinese. In fact, the term survives in most Chinese references to Chinatown, known as 唐人街 ("Street of Tang People").

Ethnic Han Unity or Disunity?

Han Chinese believe they share common ancestors, mythically ascribed to the patriachs Yellow Emperor and Yan Emperor, some thousands of years ago. Hence many Han Chinese refer to themselves as "descendants of the Yan and Yellow Emperors" (炎黄子孙), a phrase which has reverberative connotations in a divisive political climate, as in that between Mainland China and Taiwan.

Despite the existence of many varied and diverse Chinese spoken languages, one factor in Han ethnic unity is the Chinese written language. For thousands of years, Literary Chinese was used as the standard written format, which used vocabulary and grammar significantly different from the various forms of spoken Chinese. Since the 20th Century written Chinese has been usually based on Standard Mandarin and not the local dialect of the writer (with the exception of the use of Standard Cantonese in writing). Thus, although the residents of different regions would not necessarily understand each other's speech, they would be able to understand each other's writing. It has also led to dialectal literature being slow to develop in the few dialects where it has developed at all. One of the few dialects to successfully diverge in the written form is Cantonese, particularly in Hong Kong. But with the predominance of Han-based writing and literature, local languages have not become a focus for regional self-consciousness or nationalism.

Han Chinese usually wear Western-style clothing. Traditional Han Chinese clothing is still worn by many people in important occasions such as wedding banquets and Chinese New Year. Ironically though, the attire most worn by traditional Han Chinese during festive seasons nowadays, the cheongsam, comes not from the Han Chinese but from a modified dress-code of the Manchurians.

Within some variants of Chinese nationalist theory, including the official version espoused by the People's Republic of China, China is composed of many ethnic groups, and promoting the interest and culture of Han Chinese at the expense of the other ethnic groups is known as Han chauvinism, which has a pejorative meaning. However, another interpretation of Chinese nationalist theory takes the very opposite view and considers only the Han Chinese to be true Chinese and thus equates Chinese nationalism with Han nationalism.

Internal Diversity

Among Han Chinese, there is a wide diversity of distinct cultural and linguistic groups. The differences among regional and linguistic subgroups of Han Chinese are at least as great as those among many European nationalities. Han Chinese speak many varieties of Chinese spoken language which are generally labelled as different Chinese dialects although the difference among them can be as great as seen in many European languages. Cultural differences (cuisine, costume, and custom) are equally great. Modern Chinese history provides many examples of conflict, up to the level of small-scale regional wars, between linguistic and regional groups. Thus, the idea of a unified Han Chinese is quite complicated.

Such diversities, however, have not generated exclusive ethnic identities, and distinctions in religion or political affiliation have not reinforced regional differences. Rather, there has been a consistent tendency in Chinese thought and practice to downplay intra-Han distinctions, which are regarded as minor and superficial.

Due to its internal diversity, any study of the Han is thus of great interest to researchers in many fields, particularly anthropology and human biology. Recent genetic studies have shown genetic differences, especially between Han Chinese in the southernmost coastal areas (Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Hainan, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan) and Han Chinese in the rest of China. The dividing line is much further south than either the Huai River or the Yangtze River, both of which are used as conventionally as regional borders.

Historical evidence indicates that the Han were descended from the ancient Huaxia tribes of northern China. During the past two millennia, the Han culture (that is, the language and its associated culture) extended into southern China, a region originally inhabited by the southern natives, including those speaking Dai, Austro-Asiatic and Hmong-Mien languages.

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