ethnic groups, history of

ethnic groups, history of
China reached its maximum territorial extent under the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) when China was ruled by the Manchus (population 10,682,262, 2000 census). The Manchus’ heartland was incorporated into China when they ruled China, and in the eighteenth century they extended authority over ethnic areas like Mongolia (Outer and Inner), the mainly Muslim area in the far northwest, and Tibet.
The most important of many nineteenth-century Muslim rebellions was that of Yakub Beg from 1865 to 1877. Xinjiang (meaning ‘new boundary’) became a province in November 1884. Although Korean migration into the Manchu heartland had begun much earlier, the first major Korean migration to northeast China began in the 1860s (2000 census population of Koreans in China: 1,923,842).
Republican governments recognized five ethnic groups in China: the majority Han (2000 census population: 1,137,386,112), Manchus, Mongols (Chinese 2000 census population: 5,813,947), Muslims and Tibetans (Chinese 2000 census population of Tibetans: 5,416,021). A Turkic Muslim conference held in Tashkent in 1921 revived the long-extinct ethnonym ‘Uighur’, and it became applied to the main Muslim ethnic group of Xinjiang (Chinese 2000 census Uighur population: 8,399,393). Republican policy placed overwhelming priority on national unity, granting minorities only secondary importance. Separatist rebellions persisted in Xinjiang throughout the Republican period, the most important being the founding of the East Turkestan Republic in 1944.
Mongolia declared independence of China at the end of 1911, and Tibet in February 1913. Republican Chinese governments refused to recognize either. In February 1929 Chiang Kai-shek’s government set up the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, equivalent to a ministry in status.
In Outer Mongolia, Soviet troops effected the establishment of an independent state, the Mongolian People’s Republic being set up in 1924. Although Chiang Kai-shek refused to recognize this state until 1945, an independent Mongolia has proved permanent, though Inner Mongolia remains part of China. No Chinese government recognized Tibetan independence, even though this was the reality until PRC troops re-established authority in 1950. China’s Manchu, Korean and most of its Mongolian areas fell under Japanese control from the early 1930s to 1945.
The PRC recognizes fifty-six ethnic groups in China, the majority Han and fifty-five ‘minority nationalities’ (shaoshu minzu). Like the Republicans, it places the highest priority on Chinese unity, and separatist rebellions such as those in Tibet (1987–9) and in Xinjiang in 1990 and 1997 received short shrift. Although PRC policy towards minorities is one of limited autonomy, the overall reality of the ethnic groups since 1949 has been towards national integration. Han immigration to the ethnic areas was not new in 1949, but has generally gathered momentum since then.
Mackerras, C. (1994). China’s Minorities, Integration and Modernization in the Twentieth Century. Hong Kong, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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