China is a multinational country, with a population composed of a large number of ethnic and linguistic groups. Almost all its inhabitants are of
Mongoloid stock: thus, the basic classification of the population is not so much Han ethnic as linguistic. The Han (Chinese), the largest group,
(Chinese) outnumber the minority groups or minority nationalities in every province or autonomous region except Tibet and Sinkiang. The Han. therefore, form the great homogeneous mass of the Chinese people, sharing the same culture, the same traditions, and the same written language. Some
55 minority groups are spread over approximately 60 percent of the total area of the country. Where these minority groups are found in large numbers, they have been given some semblance of autonomy and self- government; autonomous regions of several types have been established on the basis of the geographical distribution of nationalities.
The government takes great credit for its treatment of these minorities, including care for their economic well-being, the raising of their living standards, the provision of educational facilities, the promotion of their national languages and cultures, and the raising of their levels of literacy, as well as for the introduction of a written language where none existed previously. In this connection it may be noted that, of the 50-odd minority languages, only 20 had written forms before the coming of the Communists; and only relatively few written languages, for example, Mongolian. Tibetan. Uighur, Kazakh, Tai, and Korean, were in everyday use. Other written languages were used chiefly for religious purposes and by a limited number of persons. Educational institutions for national minorities are a feature of many large cities, notably Peking,
Wuhan, Ch'eng-tu. and Lan-chou.
Four major language families are represented in China: the Sino-
Tibetan. Altaic. Indo-European, and Austro-Asiatic. The Sino-Tibetan family, both numerically and in the extent of its distribution, is the most important; within this family, Han Chinese is the most widely spoken language. Although unified by their tradition, the written characters of their language, and many cultural traits, the Han speak several mutually unintelligible dialects and display marked regional differences. By far the most important Chinese tongue is the Mandarin, or p'u-l'ung hua, meaning
"ordinary language" or "common language". There are three variants of
Mandarin. The first of these is the northern variant, of which the Peking dialect, or Peking hua, is typical and which is spoken to the north of the
Tsinling Mountains-Huai River line: as the most widespread Chinese tongue, it has officially been adopted as the basis for a national language. The second is the western variant, also known as the Ch'eng-tu or Upper Yangtze variant; this is spoken in the Szechwan Basin and in adjoining parts of south-west China. The third is the southern variant, also known as the
Nanking or Lower Yangtze variant, which is spoken in northern Kiangsu and in southern and central Anhwei Related to Mandarin are the Hunan, or
Hsiang, dialect, spoken by people in central and southern Hunan, and the
Kan dialect. The Hui-chou dialect, spoken in southern Anhwei, forms an enclave within the southern Mandarin area.
Less intelligible to Mandarin speakers are the dialects of the south- east coastal region, stretching from Shanghai to Canton. The. most important of these is the Wu dialect, spoken in southern Kiangsu and in
Chekiang. This is followed, to the south, by the Fu-chou, or Min. dialect of northern and central Fukien and by the Amoy-Swatow dialect of southern
Fukien and easternmost Kwangtung. The Hakka dialect of southernmost Kiangsi and north-eastern Kwangtung has a rather scattered pattern of distribution.
Probably the best known of these southern dialects is Cantonese, which is spoken in central and western Kwangtung and in southern Kwangsi a dialect area in which a large proportion of overseas Chinese originated.
In addition to the Han, the Manchu and the Hui (Chinese Muslims) also speak Mandarin and use Chinese characters. Manchu The Hui are descendants of Chinese who adopted Islam and Hui when it penetrated into China in the
7th century. They are intermingled with the Han throughout much of the country and are distinguished as Hui only in the area of their heaviest concentration, the Hui Autonomous Region of Ningsia. Other Hui communities are organised as autonomous prefectures (tzu-chih-cfiou) in Sinkiang and as autonomous counties (tzu-chih-hsien) in Tsinghai. Hopeh. Kweichow, and
Yunnan. There has been a growing tendency for the Hui to move from their scattered settlements into the area of major concentration, possibly, as firm adherents of Islam, in order to facilitate intermarriage with other