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Zhonghua minzu
Traditional Chinese中華民族
Simplified Chinese中华民族
Literal meaningChinese nation[note 1]
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[note 2]
A wall painting in Beijing depicting 56 ethnic groups in China
A wall painting in Beijing depicting 56 ethnic groups in China

Zhonghua minzu (johng-HWA meen-tsoo[4][5][6]) is a political term in modern Chinese nationalism related to the concepts of nation-building, ethnicity, and race in the Chinese nationality.[7][8]

Zhonghua minzu was established during the early Beiyang (1912–1927) and Nationalist (1928–1949) periods to include Han people and four major non-Han ethnic groups: the Manchus, Mongols, Hui, and Tibetans,[9][10] under the notion of a republic of five races (Wǔzú gònghé) advocated by Sun Yat-sen and the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) party. It is slightly different from the word Hanzu (Chinese: 汉族), a word is only used to refer to the Han Chinese.

Zhonghua minzu was initially rejected in the People's Republic of China (PRC) but resurrected after the death of Mao Zedong to include Han Chinese alongside 55 other ethnic groups as a collective Chinese family.[4][7] Since the late 1980s, the most fundamental change of the PRC's nationalities and minorities policies is the renaming from Zhongguo renmin (中国人民; 'the Chinese people') to Zhonghua minzu (中华民族; 'the Chinese nation'), signalling a shift away from a multinational communist people's statehood of China to one multi-ethnic Chinese nation state with one single Chinese national identity.[8]

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


See also: Legacy of the Qing dynasty, Names of the Qing dynasty, and History of the Republic of China

An older proto-nationalist term throughout Chinese history 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, Bogda Khans for the Mongols, and Chakravartin kings for Tibetan Buddhists.

Lizheng Gate (麗正門) at the Chengde Mountain Resort. 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.[11] These five languages are collectively referred to as "Chinese languages".

Dulimbai gurun (ᡩᡠᠯᡳᠮᠪᠠᡳ
) is the Manchu name for China. It has the same meaning as the Chinese name Zhongguo (中國; 'Middle kingdom').[12][13][14] 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 Zhongguo zhi ren (中國之人; ᡩᡠᠯᡳᠮᠪᠠᡳ
ᡤᡠᡵᡠᠨ ‍ᡳ
Dulimbai gurun-i niyalma 'Chinese people') referred to all Han, Manchu, and Mongol subjects of the Qing.[15]

When the Qing conquered Dzungaria in 1759, they proclaimed that the new land was absorbed into China (Dulimbai gurun) in a Manchu language memorial.[16][17][18] The Qing expounded on their ideology that they were bringing together the "outer" non-Han like the 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 the idea of a unification of the different peoples.[19] 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)".[20][21][22][23] In the Manchu official Tulisen's Manchu language account of his meeting with the Torghut Mongol leader AAyuki Khan, it was mentioned that while the Torghuts were unlike the Russians, the "people of the Central Kingdom" (dulimba-i gurun) were like the Torghut Mongols, and the "people of the Central Kingdom" referred to the Manchus.[24]

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 a dynastic state.[25] 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 Standard Chinese), and the name "China" was commonly used in international communications and treaties uch as the Treaty of Nanking,[26] domestically however, some Chinese nationalists such as Sun Yat-sen initially described the Manchus as "foreign invaders" to be expelled,[27] and planned to establish a Han nation-state modelled closely after Germany and Japan. Fearing 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Sun Yat-sen further expanded this concept when he wrote,[28]

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', 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) ...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).[citation needed]

After the founding of the PRC, 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 are 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.[citation needed]

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] The term is included in article 22 of the Regulations on United Front Work of the Chinese Communist Party: "...promote national unity and progress, and enhance the identification of the masses of all ethnic groups with the great motherland, the Chinese nation, Chinese culture, the Communist Party of China, and socialism with Chinese characteristics."[29] Zhonghua minzu is also one of the five identifications.[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".[30]


The adoption of the Zhonghua minzu concept may give rise to the reinterpretation of Chinese history. For example, the Qing dynasty was originally sometimes characterized as a conquest dynasty or 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 Zheng Chenggong, who were originally often considered to have fought for China against barbarian incursions, have been re-characterized 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.[31] At the same time, China exemplified heroes such as Genghis Khan, who became a national hero as a member of the Zhonghua minzu.[32]


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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 Mongolia would both be considered members of the Zhonghua minzu, which can give rise to potential issues (including loyalty to contemporary nation-states, the proper boundary lines between states/subnational entities, and the modern categorization of historical states) of identity.

Whether overseas Chinese without 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 concept of the Zhonghua minzu has sometimes resulted in friction with neighboring countries such as Mongolia, North Korea and South Korea, who 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. Chinese rejections of that position involve tactics such as pointing out that more ethnic Mongolians live within China than Mongolia and that the modern-day state of Mongolia acquired its independence from the Republic of China which claimed the legal right to inherit all Qing territories, including Mongolia, through the Imperial Edict of the Abdication of the Qing Emperor.[33][34][35]

See also


  1. ^ It also translates to "Chinese people", "Chinese ethnicity" and "Chinese race".[1][2][3]
  2. ^ This flag is now seen as a "warlords' flag", sometimes with a negative connotation, and is no longer seen as a symbol of Zhonghua minzu.



  1. ^ State and Society in 21st Century China: Crisis, Contention and Legitimation. Psychology Press. 2004. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-415-33204-0. ... however, the CCP's nationalist claims are increasingly falling on deaf ears. Popular nationalists like Jin Hui now speak regularly of the "Motherland" (zuguo) and the "Chinese race" (Zhonghua minzu) - without reference to the Party. And they care so deeply
  2. ^ Anderlini, Jamil (21 June 2017). "The dark side of China's national renewal". Financial Times. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  3. ^ David Tobin (October 2022). Securing China's Northwest Frontier: Identity and Insecurity in Xinjiang. Cambridge University Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-1-108-48840-2. Repeated use of what should now be translated as 'Chinese race, (Zhonghua Minzu 中华民族), alongside omission of ethnic minorities in official narratives ...
  4. ^ a b Landis, Dan; Albert, Rosita D. (14 February 2012). Handbook of Ethnic Conflict: International Perspectives. Springer. pp. 182–. ISBN 978-1461404477. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  5. ^ Zhao, Suisheng (2000). "Chinese Nationalism and Its International Orientations". Political Science Quarterly. 115 (1): 1–33. doi:10.2307/2658031. JSTOR 2658031.
  6. ^ Zhou, Wenjiu; Zhang (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 (in Chinese). 3: 20–29. Archived from the original on 29 October 2019. Retrieved 29 October 2019 – via
  7. ^ a b Lawrance, Alan (2004). China Since 1919: Revolution and Reform: a Sourcebook. Psychology Press. pp. 252–. ISBN 978-0-415-25141-9. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  8. ^ a b Bloxham, Donald; Moses, A. Dirk (15 April 2010). The Oxford Handbook of Genocide Studies. Oxford University Press. pp. 150–. ISBN 978-0-19-161361-6. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  9. ^ 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. S2CID 150609586.
  10. ^ Blum, Susan Debra; Jensen, Lionel M. (2002). China Off Center: Mapping the Margins of the Middle Kingdom. University of Hawaiʻi Press. pp. 170–. ISBN 978-0-8248-2577-5. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  11. ^ Chagatai is the predecessor of Uyghur
  12. ^ Hauer 2007 Archived 4 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 117.
  13. ^ Dvořák 1895 Archived 23 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 80.
  14. ^ Wu 1995 Archived 23 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 102.
  15. ^ Zhao 2006, pp. 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14.
  16. ^ Dunnell 2004 Archived 3 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, p. 77.
  17. ^ Dunnell 2004 Archived 23 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 83.
  18. ^ Elliott 2001 Archived 18 May 2016 at the Wayback Machine, p. 503.
  19. ^ Dunnell 2004 Archived 3 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, pp. 76–77.
  20. ^ Cassel 2011 Archived 30 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine, p. 205.
  21. ^ Cassel 2012 Archived 23 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 205.
  22. ^ Cassel 2011 Archived 23 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 44.
  23. ^ Cassel 2012 Archived 23 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 44.
  24. ^ Perdue 2009 Archived 21 July 2020 at the Wayback Machine, p. 218.
  25. ^ "nationalism;Identification of state and people". Archived from the original on 15 March 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2010.
  26. ^ Empire to nation: historical perspectives on the making of the modern world, by Joseph Esherick, Hasan Kayalı, Eric Van Young, p. 232
  27. ^ French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) Archived 21 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine. (cf. by Tongmenghui adherent)
  28. ^ 修改党章的说明—— 在上海中国国民党本部会议的演说① - 主要著述 - 孙中山故居纪念馆_伟人孙中山. (in Chinese). Retrieved 15 April 2022.
  29. ^ 中共中央印发《中国共产党统一战线工作条例》(Regulations on United Front Work of the Communist Party of China). www (in Chinese). 5 January 2021. Archived from the original on 12 March 2023. Retrieved 13 March 2023.
  30. ^ 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)
  31. ^ "What makes a national hero?". Archived from the original on 10 June 2008. Retrieved 25 May 2008.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Esherick, Joseph; Kayali, Hasan; Van Young, Eric (2006). Empire to Nation: Historical Perspectives on the Making of the Modern World. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-742-57815-9 – via Google Books.
  34. ^ Zhai, Zhiyong (2017). 憲法何以中國 (in Chinese). City University of HK Press. p. 190. ISBN 978-9-629-37321-4.
  35. ^ Gao, Quanxi (2016). 政治憲法與未來憲制 (in Chinese). City University of Hong Kong Press. p. 273. ISBN 978-9-629-37291-0 – via Google Books.

Works cited