There are about 55 different ethnic minorities in China, each with their own distinctive customs, costumes and, in many cases, languages. Though rich in culture, and varied, together they make up only about seven percent of the population, with the main group, known as Han Chinese, accounting for the rest. Modernization of society and intermarriage are inevitably leading to a dilution of these differences, but many groups remain proud of their heritage and retain their traditional beliefs and customs. Many have beautiful styles of dress (especially the women), and these costumes and cultures have become a major attraction to visitors, who bring trade to communities.
A variety of mostly Islamic people inhabit this area dominated by desert, semi-desert, and mountains. The Uighur are the dominant minority and have their own Autonomous Region. Other groups include the Hui, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Tatars.
Over 1 million Kazakh Muslims live in the north of Xinjiang Province. Renowned for their horsemanship, the Kazakhs center their lives around their precious horses and farming.
The Tibetan plateau is home to more than 4.5 million Tibetans. With around 20 different minorities the southwest of China has the most ethnic diversity. The Yi, the largest group in this region (6.6 million), live in Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou.
Bai people live mainly in Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Hunan, and number some 1.6 million. Their capital is Dali (Yunnan). Although traditionally farmers and fishermen, their colorful costumes attract a lot of tourism.
The Dai and Hani of Xishuangbanna in southern Yunnan in the tropical south are mainly Buddhist farmers, and have a deep respect for the natural world.
As well as the Mongolians, there are a few small groups of minorities in the northeast. These include about a few thousand Daur as well as the Oroqen, Hezhen and Ewenki. There are also around 2 million Koreans (Chaoxian) while the largest group are the Manchu, with about 9.8 million.
The Muslim Hui have their own so-called Autonomous Region of Ningxia but have established communities in cities across China.
The Oroqen is one of China’s smallest minority, with a population of about 7,000. They live mainly in Inner Mongolia and in Heilongjiang Province. They live in conical houses with birch bark or skin roofs, supported by poles (see River Border Minorities).
Central & east
The 630,000 She live mainly in Fujian and Zhejiang Provinces. They are farmers, with a strong artistic tradition using bamboo. Another small group, the Gaoshan (about 400,000) are from Taiwan, but many have settled on the eastern mainland, notably in Fujian Province. South
The largest minority in China is the Zhuang (15.5 million), who live mainly in their Autonomous Region of Guangxi, famous for the dramatic dragon-back rice terraces of Longsheng. They have linguistic and cultural links with the Dai who are ethnically related to Thai peoples. Renowned for their crafts and colorful festivals, the Miao (7.4 million) inhabit many areas in the southern provinces.
The 1.1 million Li who inhabit the tropical island of Hainan are best known for their traditional weaving skills, producing colorful woven articles.