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China's people and places are as varied as the young faces in the crowd above. Although it is widely believed that China's population is homogenous, in fact many races and creeds make up the composition of the Chinese people who now number over 1.29 billion and are increasing at a rate of over 12 million per year. But while those figures may seem huge, China's population growth is just over 1% annually, making it one of the low birth rate countries.


Officially China is a multi-ethnic country and the constitution recognizes many ethnic groups and has policies for the preservation of their culture, customs, and language.

As in the USA, many of these ethnic groups are descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants of parts of the country and live in land set aside for them in autonomous counties and regions.

Nine out of ten Chinese are considered part of the Han Han ethnic group. But that designation obscures great regional differences in appearance, dialect, and customs. Over the course of China's long history waves of immigration from outside China left their impact on different parts of the country.

All Chinese Share The Same Written Language

The official language of China is Mandarin Chinese or putonghua putonghua , the Beijing dialect. There are numerous dialects of spoken Chinese which have great tonal differences. They are not different languages, however. The main dialects are Yue (Cantonese) Cantonese, Wu (Shanghainese) Wu, Shanghainese, Minbei (Fujianese) Minbei, Hokkien/Minnan (native Taiwanese) Hokkien, Minnan, Xiang Xiang , Gan Gan, Hakka Hakka, and minority languages.

All Chinese speakers share the same written language. Written Chinese is composed of tens of thousands of characters. A knowledge of around 600 to 2,000 characters is necessary to be literate.

On mainland China and Singapore Singapore, simplified characters are used. Traditional characters are still in use in Taiwan Taiwan, Hong Kong Hong Kong, and in the remaining "Chinatowns" of the world, such as in San Francisco, London, or Sydney.

What Is Pinyin?

Pinyin Pinyinis the romanization of Chinese characters or words. Formally introduced by China around 1979, it is gaining international acceptance over the older non-native Wade-Giles system.

Pinyin is used throughout the Sinomania! website. When Pinyin appears in this web site it is usually italicized with certain exeptions, for example, personal names and geographic locations. Some names, such as Chiang Kai-shek, are in Wade-Giles because their Pinyin equivalent is so different that it would lead to confusion.

Pinyin was developed as an improvement since most words in Pinyin are pronounced as they appear. However it is not perfect and there are a few rules of enunciation:

Pinyin c has the English equivalent ts
Pinyin q has the English equivalent ch
Pinyin x has the English equivalent sh

The Hukuo

Mobility is a new characteristic of the Chinese people. At least ten percent of Chinese make up a "floating population" of migrants. The number is estimated at between 100 to 200 million people, mostly rural residents who migrate to cities in search of work. But most of these migrants are poor and can not get any welfare because they are outside the official "household registration system" or hukou.

The hukuo Hukuo system began in 1955-56 and was adopted into law in 1958. It was originally set up to avoid overwhelming the cities of China with uncontrolled immigration.

At the time it was created, the new Chinese government, controlled completely by the Chinese Communist Party C.C.P., was busy building the unified nation that we know today from the ruins left by the ineffective Kuomintang (Guomindang) KMT government led by Chiang Kai-shek and the various foreign governments (Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union, USA) that had separately administered large areas of the country.

Huge numbers of Chinese had nothing and the only chance of a life lay in China's cities. But the new Chinese government was concerned with rebuilding China from the ground up and made policies to revive and develop agriculture.

Under the hukuo all Chinese got papers that classified them as either "rural" or "urban" citizens. In order to receive many state benefits, such as education or certain types of work permits, you had to be an officially registered person in your town or rural county. This essentially made it very hard to legally move around the country.

Since the end of the Mao era, however, the hukuo system has been recognized as a hindrance to the growth of China's cities and bureaucratically impossible to administer.

Dismantling of the system began in test counties and towns in the 1990s and in October 2001, the entire system was relaxed. At the end of 2001, the system was abolished in Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, Jilin, and Liaoning provinces.

Reform of the hukuo continues and many Chinese think tanks and prominent citizens have called for its complete elimination. But millions of Chinese depend on the hukuo system to ensure their benefits in old age. This is a reason the hukuo is being phased out gradually over time.

City Life

China is more urban today than ever before. Over 36% of Chinese live in a city or large town and the urbanization rate is accelerating rapidly. For example, the city of Shenzhen Shenzhen, a ninety minute train ride from Hong Kong, grew from a rice-growing village in the late 1970s to a city of over three million people today.

The percentage of urban residents is expected to reach between fifty and sixty percent in just twenty years. New national policies call for the careful development of many mega-cities.

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