Zhonghua minzu

Zhonghua minzu (simplified Chinese: 中华民族; traditional Chinese: 中華民族; pinyin: Zhōnghuá Mínzú; "Chinese nation"[1][2][3]) is a key political term in modern Chinese nationalism related to the concepts of nation-building, ethnicity, and race in the Chinese nationality.[4][5]

Expressions of Zhonghua Minzu
Chinese national flag during the early Republican period, with five colors representing the union of five races
Chinese national flag during the early Republican period, with five colors representing the union of five races
A wall painting in Beijing depicting 56 ethnic groups in China
A wall painting in Beijing depicting 56 ethnic groups in China
Zhonghua minzu
Traditional Chinese中華民族
Simplified Chinese中华民族

Zhonghua minzu was established during the early Republican (1912–1927) and Nationalist (1928–1949) periods to include Han Chinese people and four major non-Han ethnic groups: the Man (Manchus), the Meng (Mongols), the Hui (ethnic groups of Islamic faith in Northwest China), and the Zang (Tibetans),[6][7] under the notion of a republic of five races (Chinese: 五族共和 or Wǔzú gònghé) advocated by Sun Yat Sen and the Chinese Nationalist Party.

Zhonghua minzu was initially rejected in the People's Republic of China (PRC) but resurrected after Mao Zedong's death to include the mainstream Han Chinese and 55 other ethnic groups as a huge Chinese family.[1][4] Since the late 1980s, the most fundamental change of the PRC's nationalities and minorities policies is the renaming from "the Chinese People" (中国人民 or Zhōngguó rénmín) to "the Chinese Nation" (Zhōnghuá mínzú), signalling a shift away from a multi-national communist people's statehood of China to one multi-ethnic Chinese nation state with one single Chinese national identity.[5] With this the Chinese state shifts its claim of representation of people through citizenship, to representing a wider nation with anyone of one of the Chinese ethnicities as nationals, even if they are legally nationals of other states, such as Taiwan or Singapore.[8] This has caused confusion with calling people Chinese nationals which is the term in international law to refer to the Chinese citizens[8] and not any people who are included in the national identity applied by the Chinese state.

Woman wearing a cheongsam or qipao, a typical ethnic fusion dress of Manchu origin absorbing Han and Mongol styles.


An older similar term would be Huaxia, but the immediate roots of the Zhonghua minzu lie in the Qing dynasty founded by the Manchu clan Aisin Gioro in what is today Northeast China. The Qing Emperors sought to portray themselves as ideal Confucian rulers for the Han Chinese, Great Khans for the Mongols, and Chakravartin kings for Tibetan Buddhists.

Lizheng gate(麗正門) in the Chengde Mountain Resort(避暑山莊). On the sign hanging over the gate there is written the letters used in the Qing Dynasty. From the left: Mongolian script, Chagatai Arabic script, Chinese, Tibetan, and Manchurian.[9] These five languages are collectively referred to as "Chinese languages".

"Dulimbai Gurun" (Written ᡩᡠᠯᡳᠮᠪᠠᡳ
) is the Manchu name for China, has the same meaning with the Chinese name "Zhongguo" (Written 中國, means "Middle Kingdom").[10][11][12] The Qing identified their state as "China" (Zhongguo), and referred to it as "Dulimbai Gurun" in Manchu. The Qing equated the lands of the Qing state, including present day Manchuria, Xinjiang, Mongolia, Tibet and other areas as "China" in both the Chinese and Manchu languages, defining China as a multi ethnic state, rejecting the idea that China only meant Han areas, proclaiming that both Han and non-Han peoples were part of "China", using "China" to refer to the Qing in official documents, international treaties, and foreign affairs, and the "Chinese language" (Dulimbai gurun i bithe) referred to Chinese, Manchu, and Mongol languages, and the term "Chinese people" (中國之人 Zhongguo zhi ren; ᡩᡠᠯᡳᠮᠪᠠᡳ
ᡤᡠᡵᡠᠨ ‍ᡳ
Dulimbai gurun-i niyalma) referred to all Han, Manchus, and Mongol subjects of the Qing.[13]

When the Qing conquered Dzungaria in 1759, they proclaimed that the new land was absorbed into "China" (Dulimbai Gurun) in a Manchu language memorial.[14][15][16] The Qing expounded on their ideology that they were bringing together the "outer" non-Han Chinese like the Inner Mongols, Eastern Mongols, Oirat Mongols, and Tibetans together with the "inner" Han Chinese, into "one family" united in the Qing state, showing that the diverse subjects of the Qing were all part of one family, the Qing used the phrase "Zhongwai yijia" (中外一家) or "neiwai yijia" (內外一家, "interior and exterior as one family"), to convey this idea of "unification" of the different peoples.[17] A Manchu language version of a treaty with the Russian Empire concerning criminal jurisdiction over bandits called people from the Qing as "people of the Central Kingdom (Dulimbai Gurun)".[18][19][20][21] In the Manchu official Tulisen's Manchu language account of his meeting with the Torghut Mongol leader Ayuki Khan, it was mentioned that while the Torghuts were unlike the Russians, the "people of the Central Kingdom" (dulimba-i gurun 中國, Zhongguo) were like the Torghut Mongols, and the "people of the Central Kingdom" referred to the Manchus.[22]

Before the rise of nationalism people were generally loyal to the city-state, the feudal fief and its lord or, in the case of China, to the dynastic state.[23] The French Revolution and subsequent developments in Europe paved the way for the modern nation-state and nationalism has become one of the most significant political and social forces in history. Nationalism spread in the early 19th century to central Europe and from there to eastern and southeastern Europe and in the early 20th century nationalism began to appear in China.

While Qing rulers adopted the Han Chinese imperial model and considered their state as Zhongguo ("中國", the term for "China" in modern Chinese), and the name "China" was commonly used in international communications and treaties (such as the Treaty of Nanking),[24] domestically however, some Chinese nationalists such as Sun Yat-sen initially described the Manchus as "foreign invaders" to be expelled,[25] and planned to establish a Han nation-state modelled closely after Germany and Japan. Fearing, however, that this restrictive view of the ethnic nation-state would result in the loss of large parts of imperial territory, Chinese nationalists discarded this concept. The abdication of the Qing emperor inevitably led to controversy about the status of territories in Tibet and Mongolia. While the emperor formally bequeathed all the Qing territories to the new republic, it was the position of Mongols and Tibetans that their allegiance had been to the Qing monarch; with the abdication of the Qing, they owed no allegiance to the new Chinese state. This was rejected by the Republic of China and subsequently the People's Republic of China.

Liang Qichao, who put forward the concept of "Zhonghua Minzu (the Chinese nation)"

This development in Chinese thinking was mirrored in the expansion of the meaning of the term Zhonghua minzu. Originally coined by the late Qing philologist Liang Qichao, Zhonghua minzu initially referred only to the Han Chinese. It was then expanded to include the Five Races Under One Union, based on the ethnic categories of the Qing.

Sun Yatsen further expanded this concept when he wrote,

有人說,清室推翻以後,民族主義可以不要。這話實在錯了。……現在說五族共和,我們國內何止五族呢?我的意思,應該把我們中國所有各民族融化成一個中華民族。……並且要把中華民族造成很文明的民族,然後民族主義乃為完了。 Some people say, after the overthrow of the Qing, we will have no further need of nationalism. Those words are certainly wrong... At the present we speak of unifying the 'five nationalities' (Han, Manchu, Mongol, Hui, and Tibetan), yet surely our country has far more than five nationalities? My stand is that we should unite all the peoples of China into one Chinese nation (Zhonghua minzu)...and, furthermore, develop that nation into an advanced, civilized nation; only then will nationalism be finished.

The concept of Zhonghua minzu was first publicly espoused by President Yuan Shikai in 1912, shortly after the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the founding of the Republic of China. Facing the imminent independence of Outer Mongolia from China, Yuan Shikai stated, "Outer Mongolia is part of Zhonghua minzu [the Chinese nation] and has been of one family for centuries" (外蒙同為中華民族,數百年來儼如一家).

After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the concept of Zhonghua minzu became influenced by Soviet nationalities policy. Officially, the PRC is a unitary state composed of 56 ethnic groups, of which the Han ethnic group is by far the largest. The concept of Zhonghua minzu is seen as an all-encompassing category consisting of people within the borders of the PRC.

This term has continued to be invoked and remains a powerful concept in China into the 21st century. In mainland China, it continues to hold use as the leaders of China need to unify into one political entity a highly diverse set of ethnic and social groups as well as to mobilize the support of overseas Chinese in developing China.[citation needed]

In Taiwan it has been invoked by President Ma as a unifying concept that includes the people of both Taiwan and mainland China without a possible interpretation that Taiwan is part the People's Republic of China, whereas terms such as "Chinese people" can be, given that the PRC is commonly known as "China".[26]


The adoption of the Zhonghua minzu concept may give rise to the reinterpretation of Chinese history. For example, the Manchu-founded Qing Dynasty was originally sometimes characterized as a "conquering regime" or a "non-Han" regime. Following the adoption of the Zhonghua minzu ideology, which regards the Manchus as a member of the Zhonghua minzu, dynasties founded by ethnic minorities are no longer stigmatized.

The concept of Zhonghua minzu nevertheless also leads to the reassessment of the role of many traditional hero figures. Heroes such as Yue Fei and Koxinga, who were originally often considered to have fought for China against barbarian incursions, have been recharacterized by some as minzu yingxiong (ethnic heroes) who fought not against barbarians but against other members of the Zhonghua minzu (the Jurchens and Manchus respectively).[27] At the same time, China exemplified heroes such as Genghis Khan, who became a "national hero" as a member of the Zhonghua minzu.[28]

The Zhonghua Minzu concept in practice gives Chinese nationals who are not of the ethnic Han majority preferential university entry status, favorable tax laws, non-compliance with the one-child policy, among other preferential conditions under Chinese law for ethnic minorities.[29]


The theory behind the ideology of Zhonghua minzu is that it includes not only the Han but also other minority ethnic groups within China, such as the Mongols, Manchus, Hmong, Tibetans, Tuvans, etc. An ethnic Korean from China living and working in Korea or an ethnic Mongol from China living and working in the Mongolia would both be considered members of the Zhonghua Minzu, which can give rise to potential issues (including contemporary loyalty to contemporary states, the proper boundary lines between states/subnational entities, and the modern categorization of historical states) of identity.

Whether ethnic Han Chinese living overseas and not having Chinese citizenship are considered part of this Chinese nationality depends on the speaker and the context. More often than not, overseas Chinese in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore make a clear distinction between being Chinese in a political sense and being Chinese in an ethnic sense, making it unclear whether or not they belong to such a group that contains both political and ethnic connotations.

The conceptual boundaries of the Zhonghua minzu may be complicated by the politics of neighboring countries such as Mongolia and Korea, who exclusively claim regional historical peoples and states. For instance, the idea of Genghis Khan as a "national hero" is contested by Mongolia, which since the fall of socialism has explicitly positioned Genghis Khan as the father of the Mongolian state. In opposition to this, it is common to point out that there are more ethnic Mongolians in China than in the state of Mongolia. In further argument, Mongolians are a large minority in the Russian Federation and some traditionally Mongol lands have never been ruled by Han Chinese.

A dispute of a similar nature has arisen over the status of the state of Goguryeo in ancient history, with China claiming it as Chinese on the grounds that much of it existed within the current borders of China as well as the ancient borders of China. On that basis Chinese nationalists maintain that these territories belong to the heterogeneous origin of the Chinese nation. This view is generally rejected by historians from South Korea and North Korea, as well as experts on Goguryeo history from various countries such as the United States, Russia, Mongolia, and Australia.[30][31][32] It has also received criticism from certain domestic scholars, such as Song Chengyou, professor of history at Peking University, who likewise considered Goguryeo as a part of Korean history and denied Chinese connections.[33]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b Dan Landis; Rosita D. Albert (14 February 2012). Handbook of Ethnic Conflict: International Perspectives. Springer. pp. 182–. ISBN 978-1461404477. Archived from the original on 3 November 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  2. ^ Zhao, Suisheng (2000). "Chinese Nationalism and Its International Orientations". Political Science Quarterly. 115 (1): 1–33. doi:10.2307/2658031. JSTOR 2658031.
  3. ^ Zhou Wenjiu, Zhang Jingpeng (2007). "关于"中华民族是一个"学术论辩的考察" [On the academic argument that "the Chinese nation is one"]. Minzu Yanjiu. 3: 20–29. Archived from the original on 29 October 2019. Retrieved 29 October 2019 – via http://d.old.wanfangdata.com.cn/Periodical/mzyj200703003.
  4. ^ a b Alan Lawrance (2004). China Since 1919: Revolution and Reform: a Sourcebook. Psychology Press. pp. 252–. ISBN 978-0-415-25141-9. Archived from the original on 26 April 2017. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  5. ^ a b Donald Bloxham; A. Dirk Moses (15 April 2010). The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies. Oxford University Press. pp. 150–. ISBN 978-0-19-161361-6. Archived from the original on 27 June 2014. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  6. ^ Fitzgerald, John (January 1995). "The Nationaless State: The Search for a Nation in Modern Chinese Nationalism". The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs. 33 (33): 75–104. doi:10.2307/2950089. ISSN 0156-7365. JSTOR 2950089.
  7. ^ Susan Debra Blum; Lionel M. Jensen (2002). China Off Center: Mapping the Margins of the Middle Kingdom. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 170–. ISBN 978-0-8248-2577-5. Archived from the original on 15 February 2017. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  8. ^ a b Sense Hofstede (1 October 2017). "Never Forget Chinese Nationalism's Ethnocentrism". SenseHofstede.nl. Archived from the original on 17 July 2020. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  9. ^ Chagatai is the predecessor of Uyghur
  10. ^ Hauer 2007 Archived 4 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 117.
  11. ^ Dvořák 1895 Archived 23 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 80.
  12. ^ Wu 1995 Archived 23 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 102.
  13. ^ Zhao 2006, pp. 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14.
  14. ^ Dunnell 2004 Archived 3 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, p. 77.
  15. ^ Dunnell 2004 Archived 23 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 83.
  16. ^ Elliott 2001 Archived 18 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine, p. 503.
  17. ^ Dunnell 2004 Archived 3 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, pp. 76–77.
  18. ^ Cassel 2011 Archived 30 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine, p. 205.
  19. ^ Cassel 2012 Archived 23 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 205.
  20. ^ Cassel 2011 Archived 23 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 44.
  21. ^ Cassel 2012 Archived 23 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 44.
  22. ^ Perdue 2009 Archived 21 July 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 218.
  23. ^ "nationalism;Identification of state and people". Archived from the original on 15 March 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2010.
  24. ^ Empire to nation: historical perspectives on the making of the modern world, by Joseph Esherick, Hasan Kayalı, Eric Van Young, p. 232
  25. ^ French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) Archived 21 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine. (cf. by Tongmenghui adherent)
  26. ^ See, e.g. Ma Ying-jeou, President of Republic of China inauguration speech Archived 2 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine, 20 May 2008: (Section 2, Paragraph 8)
  27. ^ "What makes a national hero?". Archived from the original on 10 June 2008. Retrieved 25 May 2008.
  28. ^ The Chinese Cult of Chinggis Khan: Genealogical Nationalism and Problems of National and Cultural Integrity Archived 28 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine, City University of New York.
  29. ^ Ethnic Mosaic of Modern China: An Analysis of Fertility and Mortality Data for the Twelve Largest Ethnic Minorities Archived 13 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  30. ^ Bae, Young-dae; Min-a Lee (16 September 2004). "Korea finds some allies in Goguryeo history spat". Joongang Ilbo. Archived from the original on 28 November 2007. Retrieved 6 March 2007.
  31. ^ Byington, Mark (1 January 2004). "Koguryo part of China?". Koreanstudies mailing list. Archived from the original on 23 April 2007. Retrieved 6 March 2007.
  32. ^ "Korean-Russian academia jointly respond to Northeast Project" (in Korean). Naver. 31 October 2006. Archived from the original on 15 October 2004. Retrieved 6 March 2007.
  33. ^ "Chinese Scholar Slams Co-opting Korean History". Chosun Ilbo. 13 September 2006. Archived from the original on 19 October 2006. Retrieved 6 March 2007.


External linksEdit