Han Chinese are China’s majority ethnic group, consisting of 92 per cent of the mainland’s population. Regarded as descendants of the inhabitants of the Yellow River basin, they are traced to the earliest years of any identifiable Chinese culture, as in the Neolithic. In some scholarship, especially in which the goal is to trace a direct line of descent, the Han are identified with Shang culture. A popular image is of Han culture being an amalgamation of all other cultures into a single stream, absorbing them by the force of by its civilizing power. In many ways the notion Han is by implication equivalent to that of civilization.
The name Han is said to come from the Han dynasty (206 BCE—CE 220), which had its base in the Wei river valley near Xi’an. The term Han was not used frequently until the twentieth century; the precursor term is Hua or Huaxia. The Han speak any of the Sinitic languages, the assortment of loosely related though not mutually intelligible languages classified under the Sinitic branch of Sino-Tibetan (see Sino-Tibetan language speakers). There is not much Han consciousness; those who write about Han culture tend to do so only in contrast with ethnic minorities. Han culture is usually taken as the most advanced form of generalized Chinese culture, with emphasis on rationality, monogamy, education, writing, hierarchy, patriarchy, frugality, assiduousness, and other aspects of what is usually termed ‘Confucian’ culture. Food plays an important role in Han identity; pork is the central meat, and in contemporary China rice is the central grain (especially in the south). The Han are known to be largely free of food taboos.
Han people tend to be aware of themselves as Han principally in areas of contact with minorities, such as border areas. In those places, there may be mention of Han language, hanhua, in contrast to a much-spoken minority language. (A homophone, hanhua, means sinification, or sometimes Hanification, or becoming like the Han/Chinese.) Han culture is usually seen as charismatically pulling non-Han to the centre, with superior technology and social organization.
In the 1980s, the Root-seeking school (xungen yishi) sought an illustrious Han identity in the past, especially in the northwest around Xi’an. This is often connected to the idea of nationalism, with the Han serving as the core of the nation. Han are far from homogeneous, but this is glossed over in deference to the concept of national unity. Southern Chinese refer to themselves as Tangren, so that overseas Chinese ‘Chinatowns’ are usually called, in the local dialect version of the Mandarin, Tangrenjie (Streets of the People of the Tang Dynasty). ‘Han’ thus has a northern flavour.
Gladney, Dru C. (ed.) (1998). Making Majorities: Constituting the Nation in Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia, Fiji, Turkey, and the United States. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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