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Population and Ethnic Groups 

 China is the most populous country in the world, with 1.25909 billion people at the end of 1999, about 22 percent of the world's total. This figure does not include many Chinese in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Taiwan Province and Macao Special Administrative Region.

  
The population density in China is 130 people per square kilometer. This population, however, is unevenly distributed. Along the densely populated east coast there are more than 400 people per square kilometer; in the central areas, over 200; and in the sparsely populated plateaus in the west there are less than 10 people per square kilometer.
               

When New China was founded in 1949, China had a population of 541.67 million. Owing to China's stable society, rapid development of goods, improvement of medical and health conditions, insufficient awareness of the importance of population growth control and shortage of experience, the population grew rapidly, reaching 806.71 million in 1969. In the early 1970s, the Chinese government realized that the over-rapid population growth was harmful to economic and social development, and would cause great difficulties in the fields of employment, housing, communications and medical care; and that if China could not effectively check the rapid population growth, and alleviate the tremendous pressure that the population growth was exerting on land, forests and water resources, the worsening of the ecology and the environment in the coming decades would be disastrous, thus endangering the necessary conditions for the survival of humanity, and sustainable social and economic development. Chinese government began implementing family planning and population control policy to promote the coordinated development of the economy, society, and natural resources, despite being a large country with a poor economic foundation, a large population and had little cultivated land. Since then, birth rates have steadily declined year by year. China's birth rate dropped from 34.11 per thousand in 1969 to 15.23 per thousand at the end of 1999; and the natural growth rate decreased from 26.08 per thousand to 8.77 per thousand, thus realizing a change in the population reproduction type to one characterized by low-birth, low-death and low-increase rates.

China's family planning policy combines government guidance with the wishes of the masses. The basic requirements of family planning are late marriages and late childbearing, so as to have fewer but healthier babies, especially one child per couple. But a flexible family planning policy is adopted for rural people and ethnic minorities; in rural areas, couples may have a second baby in exceptional cases, but must wait several years after the birth of the first child. In areas inhabited by minority peoples, each ethnic group may work out different regulations in accordance with its wish, population, natural resources, economy, culture and customs: In general a couple may have a second baby, or a third child in some places. As for ethnic minorities with extremely small populations, a couple may have as many children as they want.


        
Profound changes have taken place in the people's viewpoints on marriage, childbearing and the family. Late marriage, late childbearing and fewer but healthier babies are the accepted norms of most people in China. Now the people have a common understanding that there is no difference between a son or a daughter. It has become a custom to set up a small, happy, and harmonious family. Meanwhile, family planning has helped Chinese women get rid of the burden of frequent childbearing and the heavy family burden after marriage, thus raising women's status and improving the health of both mothers and children.

        

             

Ethnic Groups: China is a united multi-ethnic nation of 56 ethnic groups. According to the fourth national census, taken in 1990, the Han people made up 91.96 percent of the country's total population, and the other 55 ethnic groups, 8.04 percent. As the majority of the population is of the Han ethnic group, China's other ethnic groups are customarily referred to as the national minorities.

       

       
The Han people can be found throughout the country, though mainly on the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, the Yangtze River and the Pearl River valleys, and the Northeast Plain. The national minorities, though fewer in number, are also scattered over a vast area (see the attached table, and can be found in approximately 64.3 percent of China, mainly distributed in the border regions from northeast China to north, northwest and southwest China. Yunnan Province, home to more than 20 ethnic groups, has the greatest diversity of minority peoples in China. In most of China's cities and county towns, two or more ethnic groups live together. Taking shape over China's long history, this circumstance of different ethnic groups "living together in one area while still living in individual compact communities in special areas" continues to provide the practical basis for political, economic and cultural intercourse between the Han and the various minority peoples, and for the functioning of the autonomous national minority areas system.

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