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Han Chinese

zh-cn:汉族 zh-tw:漢族

Han Chinese (Traditional: 漢, Simplified: 汉 in Pinyin: han4) is a term which refers to the majority ethnic group within China which constitutes over 92% of the population. The term Han Chinese is sometimes used synonomously with "Chinese"; this usage tends to be frowned upon by Chinese. It was occasionally translated as "Chinese proper" in older texts (pre-1980s).

The term was first used in the 19th century to distinguish the majority from the Manchu minority which ruled China. The name comes from the Han Dynasty which ruled the parts of China where Han Chinese originate.

Many Uighurs, either disparagingly call the Han Chinese Anangga ski Hanzular or apply on them the historical ethnonym of Hitay (Khitan), originally belonging to a Confucian, but Mongolic state that once lorded over the Turkic Kara-Khanids. It is interesting the note that the designations for the Chinese in the Russian and Mongol languages today, Kitaj and Khyatad, respectively, derives from the original Mongolic ethnonym, yielding these nations' perception of the Chinese State's northern nomad, Altaic origin.

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 seven or eight mutually unintelligible dialects, each of which has many local subdialects. 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.

Such diversities, however, have not generated exclusive loyalties, 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. What all Han share is more significant than the ways in which they differ. In conceptual terms, the boundary between Han and non-Han is absolute and sharp, while boundaries between subsets of Han are subject to continual shifts, are dictated by local conditions, and do not produce the isolation inherent in relations between Han and minority groups.

Han ethnic unity is the result of two ancient and culturally central Chinese institutions, one of which is the Chinese written language. Chinese is written with ideographs (sometimes called Chinese characters) that represent meanings rather than sounds, and so written Chinese does not reflect the speech of its author. The disjunction between written and spoken Chinese means that a newspaper published in Beijing can be read in Shanghai or Guangzhou, although the residents of the three cities would not understand each other's speech. It also means that there can be no specifically Cantonese Chinese or Hunanese literature because the local speech of a region cannot be directly or easily represented in writing. (It is possible to add local color to fiction, cite colloquialisms, or transcribe folk songs, but it is not commonly done.) Therefore, local languages have not become a focus for regional selfconsciousness or nationalism. Educated Chinese tend to regard the written ideographs as primary, and they regard the seven or eight spoken Han Chinese dialects as simply variant ways of pronouncing the same ideographs. This is linguistically inaccurate, but the attitude has significant political and social consequences.

The other major force contributing to Han ethnic unity has been the centralized imperial state. The ethnic group takes its name from the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). Although the imperial government never directly controlled the villages, it did have a strong influence on popular values and culture. The average peasant could not read and was not familiar with the details of state administration or national geography, but he was aware of belonging to a group of subcontinental scope. Being Han, even for illiterate peasants, has meant conscious identification with a glorious history and a state of immense proportions. Peasant folklore and folk religion assumed that the imperial state, with an emperor and an administrative bureaucracy, was the normal order of society. In the imperial period, the highest prestige went to scholar-officials, and every schoolboy had the possibility, at least theoretically, of passing the civil service examinations and becoming an official.

Within Chinese nationalist theory, China is composed of a 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.

See also: List of Chinese ethnic groups