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Traditional Chinese Culture 书

Published in 2011 by Britannica Educational Publishing

(a trademark of Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.)
in association with Rosen Educational Services, LLC
29 East 21st Street, New York, NY 10010.

Copyright © 2011 Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica,

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First Edition

Britannica Educational Publishing
Michael I. Levy: Executive Editor
J.E. Luebering: Senior Manager
Marilyn L. Barton: Senior Coordinator, Production Control
Steven Bosco: Director, Editorial Technologies
Lisa S. Braucher: Senior Producer and Data Editor
Yvette Charboneau: Senior Copy Editor
Kathy Nakamura: Manager, Media Acquisition
Kathleen Kuiper: Manager and Senior Editor, Arts and Culture

Rosen Educational Services

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Nelson Sá: Art Director
Cindy Reiman: Photography Manager
Matthew Cauli: Designer, Cover Design
Introduction by Amy Miller

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

The culture of China / edited by Kathleen Kuiper.—1st ed.
p. cm.—(Understanding China)
“In association with Britannica Educational Publishing, Rosen Educational Services.”
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-61530-1 83-6 ( eBook )
1. China. 2. China—Civilization. I. Kuiper, Kathleen.

DS706.C84 2010



On the cover: The Summer Palace in Beijing, China, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. ©
www.istockphoto.com/Robert Churchill

Back cover Andrea Pistolesi/The Image Bank/Getty Images

On page 12: The entrance to a pavilion in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, in 1973.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On page 18: A man communes with Daoist gods by spitting rice wine into the air while

using a large snake whip during the Full Moon Festival in Sanshia, China. Eightfish/The
Image Bank/Getty Images





Introduction 12

Chapter 1: People 19

Selected Ethnic Groups 19

Bai 21
Daur 21

Dong 22
Hani 22
Hui 23
Lahu 24
Lisu 24
Manchu 25
Miao 27
Mongol 28

Population Distribution 29

Lifestyle and Livelihood 29
Rise of the Mongol Empire 29
Dissolution of the Mongol Empire 30
Formation of Inner and Outer Mongolia 31
Naxi 31
She 32
Tibetan 32

Tujia 33

Uighur 33
Wa 34
Yi 35
Zhuang 36
Cultural Institutions, Festivals,
and Sports in Daily Life 36
Lunar New Year 37
Tai Chi Chuan 38

Chapter 2: Chinese Cuisine 40

Emergence of a Cuisine 41
Common Foods and Traditions 41
Great Chinese Schools 42

Beijing 42

Sichuan 43
Zhejiang and Jiangsu 43
Fujian 43
Guangdong 44




Chapter 3: Chinese Languages

and Writing system 45

Sino-Tibetan 45

Altaic 47
Other Languages 48
Linguistic Characteristics of Sinitic
(Chinese) Languages 48
Modern Standard Chinese (Mandarin) 49
Standard Cantonese 51
Min Languages 52
Other Sinitic Languages or Dialects:
Hakka, Wu (Suzhou and Shanghai), and Xiang 52
Historical Survey of Chinese 53

Reconstruction of Chinese

Protolanguages 54

Qieyun Dictionary 54

Additional Sources 55

Early Contacts 56

Pre-Classical Chinese 57
Han and Classical Chinese 58
Post-Classical Chinese 58
The Chinese Writing System 60

Pre-Classical Characters 60

Qin Dynasty Standardization 61
Twentieth Century 62

Chapter 4: Confucianism 63

Thought of Confucius 65

Historical Context 65

Analects 67
Formation of the Classical Confucian Tradition 71

Mencius: The Paradigmatic

Confucian Intellectual 72
Xunzi: The Transmitter of
Confucian Scholarship 74
The Confucianization of Politics 75
Dong Zhongshu: The Confucian Visionary 76
The Five Classics 77
Confucian Ethics in the Daoist
and Buddhist Context 79

Confucian Revival 81

Song Masters 81



Confucian Learning in Jin, Yuan, and Ming 84

Age of Confucianism: Qing China 86
Modern Transformation 87

Chapter 5: Daoism 90

Laozi and the Daodejing 91
Interpretation of Zhuangzi 93

Basic Concepts of Daoism 94

Cosmology 94

Microcosm-Macrocosm Concept 95
Return to the Dao 97
Change and Transformation 97
Concepts of the Human in Society 98

Wuwei 98
Social Ideal of Primitivism 99

Ideas of Knowledge and Language 99
Identity of Life and Death 100
Religious Goals of the Individual 101
Symbolism and Mythology 102
Early Eclectic Contributions: Yin-Yang,
Qi, and Other Ideas 103

Yin and Yang 103

Qi 103
Wuxing 103
Yang Zhu and the Liezi 104
Guanzi and Huainanzi 104
Daoism in Chinese Culture 104

Daoist Contributions to Chinese Science 106

Daoist Imagery 107
Infl uence on Secular Literature 107
Infl uence on the Visual Arts 108
Daoism in the Modern Era 110

Chapter 6: Buddhism 111

Cultural Context 112
Life of the Buddha 115
Spread to Central Asia and China 117
China 118

The Early Centuries 118

Developments During the Tang
Dynasty (618–907) 120

Buddhism After the Tang 120


Sangha , Society, and State 121

Monastic Institutions 121

Sanghas 122
Internal Organization of the Sangha 124
Society and State 126
Mahayana: The Main Chinese Tradition 127

Basic Teachings 127

Zhenyan 128

Bodhisattva Ideal 128

Three Buddha Bodies 129
New Revelations 130
Mahayana Schools and Their Texts 131

Madhyamika (Sanlun/Sanron) 131

(Faxiang/Hossō) 133
Avatamsaka (Huayan/Kegon) 135
Tiantai/Tendai 136
Pure Land 138
Dhyana (Chan/Zen) 141
Vajrayana 142
Falun Gong 143
Popular Religious Practices 144

Calendric Rites and Pilgrimage 145

Anniversaries 145
All Souls Festival 145
New Year’s and Harvest Festivals 146
Buddhist Pilgrimage 147
Rites of Passage and Protective Rites 147

Initiation Rites 147

Funeral Rites 148

Bardo Thödol 149

Protective Rites 150

Chapter 7: Chinese art 151

Art as a Refl ection of Chinese Class Structure 151

Linearity 152
Characteristic Themes and Symbols 153
Major Types: Chinese Bronzes 154

Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE) 155

Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE) 159
Qin (221–207 BCE) and Han
Dynasties (206 BCE–220 CE) 162




Major Types: Chinese Pottery 163

Stylistic and Historical Development 163

The Formative Period (to c. 1600 BCE) 163
Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE) 165
Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE) 165
Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) 166
Three Kingdoms (220–280 CE) and
Six Dynasties (220–589 CE) 166
Sui (581–618) and Tang (618–907)
Dynasties 167
Five Dynasties (907–960) and Ten
Kingdoms (902–978) 169
Song (960–1279), Liao (907–1125),
and Jin (1115–1234) Dynasties 169

Song Dynasty 170

Late Song, Liao, and Jin Dynasties 171
Yuan Dynasty (1206–1368) 174
Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) 175
Qing Dynasty (1644–1911/12) 177

Major Types: Chinese Painting 180

Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE) 180

Qin (221–207 BCE) and Han
(206 BCE–220 CE) Dynasties 183
Three Kingdoms (220–280) and
Six Dynasties (220–589) 186
Sui (581–618) and Tang (618–907) Dynasties 190
Five Dynasties (907–960) and Ten
Kingdoms (902–978) 194

Landscape Painting 195

Flower Painting 196
Song (960–1279), Liao (907–1125),
and Jin (1115–1234) Dynasties 197
Yuan Dynasty (1206–1368) 204
Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) 209
Qing Dynasty (1644–1911/12) 213
Since 1912 218

Painting and Printmaking 218

Painting at the Turn of the
21st Century 224
Other Visual Arts: Jade and Lacquerwork 226

Meaning of Jade 226

Composition of Jade 226







History 227

Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE) 228
Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE) 228
Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE) 228

Qing Dynasty (1644–1911/12) 229

Chinese Lacquerwork 230

Chapter 8: Chinese Music 234

Ancient Artifacts and Writings 235
Aesthetic Principles and Extramusical
Associations 236
Tonal System and Its Theoretical
Rationalization 237

Mathematical Relationship of Pitches 237

Scales and Modes 238
Extramusical Associations 239
Classifi cation of Instruments 239
Sheng 241
Han Dynasty: Musical Events and
Foreign Infl uences 241
Tang Dynasty 243

Thriving of Foreign Styles 243

Courtly Music 244
Song and Yuan Dynasties 245

Consolidation of Earlier Trends 245

Music Theatre 246
Ming and Qing Dynasties 247

Forms of the 16th–18th Centuries 247

Jingxi 248
Other Vocal and Instrumental Genres 252
Period of the Republic of China and
the Sino-Japanese War 254
Communist Period 254

Chapter 9: Chinese Performing arts 257

Formative Period 257
Tang Period 258
Song Period 258
Yuan Period 259

Ming Period 260

Qing (Manchu) Period 261
Twentieth and 21st Centuries 263




Chapter 10: Chinese architecture 266

Elements of Traditional Chinese Architecture 266

Stylistic and Historical Development 270

Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE) 270

Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE) 270
Qin (221–207 BCE) and Han
(206 BCE–220 CE) Dynasties 271
Three Kingdoms (220–280) and Six
Dynasties (220–589) 273
Sui (581–618) and Tang (618–907)
Dynasties 274
Five Dynasties (907–960) and Ten
Kingdoms (902–978) 277
Song (960–1279), Liao (907–1125),
and Jin (1115–1234) Dynasties 278
Yuan Dynasty (1206–1368) 281
Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) 281
Qing Dynasty (1644–1911/12) 284
Infl uence of Foreign Styles 286
Into the 21st Century 287
Conclusion 289

Glossary 291

For Further Reading 293
Index 294





Introduction | 13


hina spared no expense celebrat-

ing its arts and culture during the
opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing
Summer Olympics. Viewers at National
Stadium (the “Bird’s Nest”) in China and
in front of television screens across the
world witnessed dancers, acrobats, pia-
nists, drummers, and opera singers in
spectacular performance. Yet no matter
how cutting-edge or extravagant they
were, the performances remained steeped
in China’s ancient traditions. The events
as a whole were a reminder that China
is home to one of the world’s oldest con-
tinuous civilizations, one that stretches
back millennia.

After the communist government

took over in 1949, the leaders undertook
extensive reforms. But pragmatic policies
alternated with periods of revolutionary
upheaval, most notably in the Great Leap
Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
During this period, the government pro-
hibited the practice of many traditional
arts. But by the end of the 1970s, China’s
leaders had started to renew economic
and political ties with the West and had
begun to once again invest in the arts.

Today, China’s cultural contributions

are once again being overshadowed,
this time by the country’s economic suc-
cess. Images of its billowing factories
and booming cities are the focus of the
world’s news media. Goods of all sorts
bear the label “Made in China.” This book
reorients readers to China’s powerful
influence in the arts and reveals how the

country’s rich cultural history has shaped

the lives of the more than 1 billion people

who live within its boundaries.

The book introduces readers to the

diversity of China’s people. About 92
percent of Chinese are Han. They speak
different dialects in different parts of the
country, but they are united by a common
writing system. The remainder of the
population includes some 55 minority
groups, many of whom speak languages
unrelated to Sino-Tibetan.

Of the Chinese dialects (or lan-

guages), the most important is Mandarin,
the country’s official language. The
Beijing-based dialect is also known as
putonghua , or “common language.” But
it’s hardly the only Han dialect spoken.
In and around the city of Guangzhou in
southern China, people speak Cantonese.
The non-Chinese languages include
Uighur, a Turkic language spoken in the
Northwest, and Lahu, a Tibeto-Burman
language that is closer to Burmese than
to Chinese.

China’s cuisine is just as diverse as its

people. Beijing is famed for its pork buns,
fried tofu, and multicourse Peking duck.
Spicy hot peppers, peanuts, and gar-
lic dominate dishes prepared in central
China’s Sichuan province. Adventurous
diners in the Guangdong region savour
exotic ingredients such as snakes, eels,
and frogs—foods that do not appeal to
many other Chinese people. The special
preparation of food has deep and ancient
roots. By the 10th or 11th century, China’s
distinctive culinary style began to
emerge. It is a cuisine based on principles

14 | The Culture of China

not technically a religion, its emphases
on personal virtue and on ethical action
within human society continue to influ-

ence Chinese spiritual life.

The other great Chinese tradition

that has its roots in pre-Han dynasty
China is Daoism. Like Confucianism,
Daoism emerged as a vision for stopping
social decline and promoting good gov-
ernment. It took a different track. Instead
of a particular dao of a group of histori-
cal leaders or group of political leaders,
pre-Han Daoist thinkers stressed the
Dao that generated the cosmos as the
appropriate model for human action.
The Daodejing , a philosophical and spiri-
tual text attributed to the mythical sage
Laozi, emphasized wuwei , or nonaction;
however, this meant that people, and par-
ticularly the rulers, should take no action
that is contrary to nature but should
instead cultivate attunement with the
natural fluctuation of the cosmos. In later
centuries, this more naturalistic spiritual
sense of attunement with the universe
became increasingly religious, and Laozi
became revered as a deity, especially
after Buddhism, which was founded in
India, transformed Chinese culture.

Buddhism arrived in China probably

by way of Central Asian trade routes in
about the 1st century CE. The most com-
mon form of Buddhism practiced there
is Mahayana Buddhism in China and
Vajrayana in Tibet. According to legend,
Buddhism came to China after the Han
emperor Mingdi (reigned 57–75) had a
dream about a flying golden god that was
interpreted as a vision of the Buddha.

of balance—hot and cold, grains and veg-

etables with meat—that reached its height
in the Qing dynasty (1644–1911/12).

China is also one of the great centres

of world religious thought, as this book
demonstrates. Confucianism, Daoism,
and Buddhism have formed the basis

of Chinese society and governance for


The ideas of Confucius and his fol-

lowers have guided the lives of China’s
people and leaders for about two millen-
nia. Confucius was born in 551 BCE, and
though he received little recognition dur-
ing his lifetime, he may be said to have
become China’s most famous philoso-
pher and teacher. His teachings, compiled
mainly in a text known as the Lunyu , or
Analects , inspired a rich tradition—known
in the West as “Confucianism”—of phi-
losophers, scholars, political leaders, and
occasional religious figures that helped to
shape not only Chinese culture but that of
Korea, Japan, and Vietnam as well.

Confucius lived at a time in which

society was highly fragmented into com-
peting principalities. He believed that
in order to stem the tide of social decay
and to promote a flourishing and humane
society as had existed in antiquity, the
dao , or the way, of the ancient sage-kings
needed to be revived. To accomplish this,
Confucius advocated the institution of a
meritocracy of cultured, virtuous scholar-
officials who would advise kings to rule
justly. Yet his social vision did not apply
only to the ruling class; Confucius’s
stress on moral character influenced
every level of Chinese society. While it is

Introduction | 15

that augmented the spiritual dimension
of the tradition while emphasizing the
moral character of government officials.
Buddhism and Daoism remained widely
popular in Chinese spiritual life, but they
never again matched Confucianism’s
prominence in Chinese intellectual life.

The book also details the history of

Chinese art, especially its pottery, bronzes,

and sculpture. In China, art has played
a social and moral role. Noble themes
were favoured in traditional Chinese art.
Artists’ reputations could be damaged
or rejuvenated by their work, depending
on the rightness of their practice or their

The world has reaped the rewards

of their efforts. Perhaps nowhere in
the world has pottery assumed such
an importance as it has in China. The
influence of Chinese porcelain on later
European pottery has been profound.

The Chinese have been casting

remarkable bronzes from approximately
1700 BCE. From 1500–300 BCE, bronzes
were vessels for making sacrifices of food
to clan spirits, from the round-bodied li
in which food was cooked to the gui , a
bowl in which the food was presented. In
the field of painting, landscapes predomi-
nate, usually done with black ink on fine
paper or silk, often with colour washes.
The landscape paintings from the Song
dynasty (960–1279) to the Ming (1368–
1644) dynasty are especially noteworthy.

Calligraphy is another notable fine

art. Calligraphy masters spend years
learning the craft of letting the complex
characters that form China’s written

While Confucianism remained the

philosophical and ethical system of the
bureaucracy and the imperial court,
Daoism and Buddhism became the main
sources of philosophical and religious
ingenuity in China between the end of
the Han and the late Tang dynasty (618-
907). Each tradition influenced the other:
Buddhist concepts were explained to the
Chinese through a process of “match-

ing the meanings” to Daoist concepts,

and the Buddhist sangha (community of
monks and nuns) sparked the emergence
of Daoist monasticism. Early on, many
people believed that after Laozi left China
for the West (according to legend), he
traveled to India, where he was honored
for his wisdom and became the Buddha.
By the time of the Sui dynasty (581–618),
Buddhism received state support. In the
7th century, Chan (later known in Japan
as Zen), which stressed the sudden expe-
rience of enlightenment, demonstrated a
purely Chinese variety of Buddhism.

During a brief period of persecu-

tion starting in 845, Emperor Wuzong
destroyed Buddhist temples and shrines
and forced monks and nuns to marry and
return to lay life. During the Song dynasty
(960–1279), a group of thinkers reinvigo-
rated Confucian thinking and helped
it to reclaim its past glory in Chinese
thought. The “Neo-Confucians” called
their movement daoxue (“Learning of
the Way”), and claimed to be reviving
the original dao of Confucius that had
been lost for centuries. In reclaiming lost
ground from Daoism and Buddhism, it
borrowed or adapted certain concepts

16 | The Culture of China

305 songs that are dated from the 10th
to the 7th centuries BCE. In 1345 schol-
ars created the Songshi (“Song History”),
a book of 496 chapters, 17 of which are
devoted solely to music.

China also has distinct theatrical tra-

ditions, including Chinese opera. Over
the centuries, two main schools have
developed—quiet, refined kunqu , which
started as a folk art, but which later

became famed for being sophisticated

and refined, and energetic jingxi (Peking)
opera, so called because it is closely
associated with China’s capital city of
Beijing (formerly spelled Peking). Unlike
kunqu , which is poetic and accompa-
nied by flutes and stringed instruments,
jingxi is lively, less refined, and popu-
lar. It features clappers and cymbals to
make emotional points and energetic
acrobatics during battle scenes. Yet, both
styles are highly stylized and rely on the
audience to understand a full range of
symbols. A black flag carried across the
stage, for example, signifies to knowl-
edgeable operagoers that a storm has
blown in. As in China’s visual arts, con-
ventional morality is a strong theme, and
the importance of doing good and avoid-
ing evil is strongly emphasized.

But jingxi and kunqu are not the only

forms of Chinese opera. Today more than
300 kinds of opera are found around the
nation, each type performed according
to local musical styles and in regional

The ideals that have defined China’s art-

work and performing artists have inspired
its finest architectural achievements as

language flow directly and naturally from

their brushstrokes. Connoisseurs prize
the personality and rhythmic elegance
shown by the artists of different schools,
from the controlled “seal” school to the
free, loose “grass” schools of calligraphy,
using words like balance, vitality, energy,
wind, and strength to describe the beau-
ties of different styles. According to
legend, Cangjie, the inventor of Chinese
writing, got his ideas from observing ani-
mal footprints in the sand.

China’s musical tradition is at least

5,000 years old, one of the oldest and

most highly developed of all known musi-
cal systems. Not only do written records
confirm China’s long musical history,
but archaeologists uncovered a number
of ancient instruments, including such
objects as bronze bells and stone chimes.
These and other instruments were clas-
sified in early times according to the
material used in their construction: stone,
earth (pottery), bamboo, metal, skin, silk,
wood, and gourd.

Today the musical instruments most

associated with China include stringed
instruments such as the four-string pipa
lute and the 25-string se zither as well as
drums such as the dagu , used in China
to accompany a narrative. Other note-
worthy instruments include the sheng , a
mouth organ with 17 pipes attached in a
basin, and the fangxiang , made up of 16
iron slabs suspended in a wooden frame.

Chinese scholars have devoted much

attention to musical principles as well.
The Shijing (“Classic of Poetry”), com-
piled by Confucius, contains the texts of

Introduction | 17

Architecture had become highly styl-
ized by the time of the Song dynasty, so
that certain elements showed which build-
ings had greater and lesser importance.
All those elements can be easily identified
in one of China’s greatest architectural
achievements: the Forbidden City. Located
within the inner city of Beijing, this palace
compound—the world’s largest—was used
by 24 emperors during the Ming (1368–
1644) and Qing (1644–1911/12) dynasties.
The Forbidden City has 800 buildings

that have a total of about 9,000 rooms.

Today it has been listed by UNESCO
as the largest collection of preserved
ancient wooden structures in the world.
It was declared a World Heritage Site in
1987 and is now a public museum.

For the 2008 Beijing Summer

Olympics, China invited acclaimed inter-
national architects to design many of the
games’ signature structures, including
the Bird’s Nest. These structures connect
China to the contemporary world cul-
ture, to be sure, but they give little hint of
the complexity and richness of China’s
vast contribution to the world. We hope
this volume serves to unveil China’s cul-
tural wealth.

well. Today the skylines of many Chinese

cities reflect contemporary trends else-
where in the world. Skyscrapers and
bold designs, however, give no hint of
China’s long tradition of achievement
in the field of architecture. Although
many of China’s oldest buildings have
disappeared—some falling victim to
modernization efforts, others to the
enemies of wood construction—the time-
less principles of traditional Chinese
architecture are still evident. One of
the most distinctive features of Chinese
architecture is the use of beautiful slop-
ing and gabled roofs, such as those seen
in the country’s Buddhist pagodas with
their several storied towers. The first
curved roof appeared in China around
500 CE. Great care is also given to where
buildings are placed and what they
are facing, according to the geoman-
tic principles of feng shui. The system
of feng shui (meaning literally “wind
water”) was developed during the Five
Dynasties (907–960) or Ten Kingdoms

period, and its purpose was to harmo-

nize a site or structure with cosmic
principles or spiritual forces) and thus
to ensure good fortune.


hina is a multinational country, with a population com-

posed of a large number of ethnic and linguistic groups.
So thoroughly did the Han dynasty (206 BCE –220 CE ) estab-
lish what was thereafter considered Chinese culture that
“Han” became the Chinese word denoting someone who is
Chinese. The Han is the largest ethnic group, and it outnum-
bers the minority groups or minority nationalities in every
province or autonomous region except Tibet and Xinjiang.
The Han, therefore, form the great homogeneous mass of the
Chinese people, sharing the same culture, the same tradi-
tions, and the same written language. For this reason, the
general basis for classifying the country’s population is
largely linguistic rather than ethnic.


Some 55 minority groups are spread over approximately
three-fi fths of the country’s total area. Where these minor-
ity groups are found in large numbers, they have been
given some semblance of autonomy and self-government;
autonomous regions of several types have been established
on the basis of the geographic distribution of nationali-
ties. The government takes great credit for its treatment of
these minorities; it has advanced their economic well-being,
raised their living standards, provided educational facilities,


ChaPtER 1

20 | The Culture of China

This map shows China and its special administrative regions.

People | 21

promoted their national languages and
cultures, and raised their literacy levels,

as well as introduced a written language

where none existed previously. It must be
noted, however, that some minorities (e.g.,
Tibetans) have been subject to varying
degrees of repression. Still, of the 50-odd
minority languages, only 20 had written
forms before the coming of the commu-
nist regime in 1949; and only relatively
few written languages—e.g., Mongolian,
Tibetan, Uighur, Kazakh (Hasake), Dai,
and Korean (Chaoxian)—were in every-
day use. Other written languages were
used chiefly for religious purposes and by
a limited number of people. Educational
institutions for national minorities are
a feature of many large cities, notably
Beijing, Wuhan, Chengdu, and Lanzhou.
This chapter includes a sampling of
minority groups.


The Bai (Bo) people live in northwestern
Yunnan province, southwest China.
Minjia is the Chinese (Pinyin) name for
them; they call themselves Bai or Bo in
their own language, which has been clas-
sified as a Tibeto-Burman language. Until
recently their language was not written. It
contains many words borrowed from
Chinese but is itself a non-Chinese, tonal,
polysyllabic language with a markedly
different grammatical structure.

Occupying a triangular area from

Shigu on the upper Yangtze River down
to Dali (Xiaguan) at the foot of Lake Er,
the Bai in the early 21st century were

estimated to number nearly two million,

about half of whom lived on the fertile
plain between the Cang Mountains and
the lake.

Since the establishment of the

People’s Republic of China, the Bai, in
accordance with the Communist Party’s

policy toward non-Chinese peoples, have

been given status as a national minority.
Their principal city, Dali, was from the
6th to the 9th century the capital of the
kingdom of Nanzhao. The Bai probably
already formed the bulk of the population
of the locality at that time.

Most of the Bai are cultivators of

wet rice, along with various vegetables
and fruits. Those in the hills grow barley,
buckwheat, oats, and beans. The lake is
heavily fished.

They have their own social and kin-

ship organization, based on the village
and the extended family (parents, mar-
ried sons and their families). Their
religion differs little from that of the
Chinese; they venerate local deities and
ancestral spirits as well as Buddhist and
Daoist gods.


Another ethnic minority of China, the
Daur (Daghor, Daghur, or Dagur) people
are of Mongol descent. They live mainly
in the eastern portion of Inner Mongolia
autonomous region and western
Heilongjiang province of China and were
estimated in the early 21st century to
number more than 132,000. Their lan-
guage, which varies widely enough from

22 | The Culture of China

populated Guizhou, they share the area
with the Buyei, another official ethnic

Most Dong are lowland farmers with

glutinous rice as their primary crop. They
have also long produced cotton and cot-
ton cloth for sale. The Dong are known as
fish breeders, raising fish in specially
constructed ponds as well as in some
flooded paddy fields. Before 1949 they
were integrated into the periodic market
system of southern China and since the
opening of China have increasingly

shifted to production for the market.

Like related minority peoples, but,

unlike the Han Chinese, they live in large
houses built on pilings. They are known
for pagoda-like wooden drum towers that
can be as tall as 30 metres (100 feet).
These towers and distinctive covered
bridges, together with revived festivals,
particularly those involving water-buf-
falo fights—once associated with animal
sacrifices in traditional Dong religion—
have made some Dong villages attractive
for tourists.

According to data from the 1982 and

1990 censuses, the Dong had the highest
birth rate of any ethnic group in China.
In the early 21st century they numbered
nearly three million.


The Hani (Woni, Houni) live mainly on
the high southwestern plateau of Yunnan
province, China, specifically concen-
trated in the southwestern corner. There

other Mongolian languages to once have

been thought to be Tungusic or a mixture
of Mongolian and Tungus, is now known
to be an archaic Mongolian dialect that
preserves features found in 13th-century

Russian settlers in the 17th century

found the Daur well established in east-
ern Transbaikalia and the Amur region,
and the Orthodox church sent mis-
sionaries to them in 1682. The Chinese
government, not wishing the Daur to fall
under Russian sway, resettled them. By
the early 20th century many Daur lived
in Heilongjiang, around the city of Hailar,
and in the Nen River valley near the city
of Qiqihar. Their chief occupations are
agriculture, logging, hunting, stock rais-

ing, and horse breeding. The clan system

prevails. Their religion is shamanistic,
although some are adherents of Tibetan


The Dong (Dongjia, Dongren) are found
in southeastern Guizhou province and in
neighbouring Zhuang Autonomous
Region of Guangxi and Hunan province.
According to most linguists the Dong
speak a Kam-Sui language that is closely
related to the Tai languages, and they call
themselves Kam.

The Dong first appeared in China

during the Song dynasty (960–1279 CE),
moving southwest in a series of migra-
tions, possibly forced by the advancing
Mongols. Concentrated today in sparsely

People | 23

are also several thousands of Hani or
related peoples in northern Thailand,
Laos, and Vietnam and in eastern
Myanmar (Burma). Altogether they num-
bered some two million in the early 21st

Thirteen subgroups of this official

classification call themselves by other
names, but they speak mutually intel-
ligible Tibeto-Burman languages of the
Sino-Tibetan language family. Classified
as tribes of the larger Yi ethnic group, the
Hani are believed to be a branch of the
ancient Qiang from the north, appearing
in the Dadu River region in Han times.
They were slightly infiltrated by Thai who
were fleeing the Mongols. Contemporary
Hani are mostly farmers who produce
two excellent types of tea and are also
known for their remarkable terraced rice

A distinct subgroup of the Hani

known as the Akha live in China, as well
as parts of Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam,
Laos, and Cambodia. They are believed to

be of Chinese origin, though, for a variety

of reasons, they have lived a wandering
life. A notable feature of female dress is
an elaborate headdress made with silver
or white beads and silver coins. This and
other features of the Akha culture are
dissipating under pressure of both mis-
sionary work and other outside forces.


The nearly 10 million Hui (Hwei, Huihui)
are Chinese Muslims (i.e., neither Turkic

nor Mongolian) who have intermingled

with the Han Chinese throughout China
but are relatively concentrated in western
China—in the provinces or autonomous
regions of Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu,
Qinghai, Henan, Hebei, Shandong, and
Yunnan. Considerable numbers also live
in Anhui, Liaoning, and Beijing. The Hui
are also found on the frontier between
China and Myanmar (Burma) and in
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan,
in Central Asia. They speak Mandarin as
a first language.

The Hui are distinguished as Hui

only in the area of their heaviest con-
centration, the Hui Autonomous Region
of Ningxia. Other Hui communities
are organized as autonomous prefec-
tures ( zizhizhou ) in Xinjiang and as
autonomous counties ( zizhixian ) in
Qinghai, Hebei, Guizhou, and Yunnan.
Increasingly, the Hui have been moving
from their scattered settlements into the
area of major concentration, possibly in
order to facilitate intermarriage with
other Muslims.

The ancestors of the Hui were mer-

chants, soldiers, handicraftsmen, and
scholars who came to China from Islamic
Persia and Central Asia from the 7th to
the 13th century. After these ancestors
settled in China, they intermarried with
the Han Chinese, Uighur, and Mongolian

nationalities and came to speak Chinese

languages, or dialects (while often retain-
ing Arabic, too). Eventually their
appearance and other cultural character-
istics became thoroughly Chinese. They

24 | The Culture of China

now engage mostly in agriculture, and
most of them live in rural areas, although
urban dwellers are significantly increas-
ing. There have been a number of famous
Hui thinkers, navigators, scientists, and
artists. The “Hui Brigade” was active in
World War II, in the resistance against
Japan (1937–45).


The peoples known as Lahu, or Muhso
(Musso, Mussuh), live in upland areas
of Yunnan, China, eastern Myanmar
(Burma), northern Thailand, northern
Laos, and Vietnam. They speak related
dialects of Tibeto-Burman languages.
Although there is no indigenous Lahu
system of writing, three different roman-
ized Lahu orthographies exist; two of
these were developed by Christian mis-
sionaries and the other by Chinese
linguists. Literacy in Lahu is primarily for
religious purposes; educated individuals
also know the national language of the
country in which they live.

The Lahu have historically lived in

relatively autonomous villages. From
time to time, however, a Lahu leader
would be able to attract a following from
many villages for a temporary period
of time. Since the mid-20th century, the
Lahu have been increasingly integrated
into the countries in which they reside,
albeit often as a marginalized minority.

Most Lahu traditionally engaged

in slash-and-burn agriculture. Like
other traditional peoples, they have

been increasingly compelled by exter-

nal political and economic influences

to adopt settled agriculture. Some Lahu
have been involved in the production of
opium, although they have never been
as involved in this work as have such
other upland groups in the region as the
Hmong and the Mien. Many Lahu have
combined religious practices adopted
from neighbouring Tai-speaking peoples
with their own form of animism.

From the late 20th century onward, a

growing number of Lahu converted to
Christianity. At the beginning of the 21st
century, estimates of the Lahu popula-
tion indicated approximately 450,000
individuals in China, with smaller num-
bers elsewhere.


The Lisu people numbered more than
630,000 in China in the early 21st century.
They have spread southward from Yunnan
province as far as Myanmar (Burma) and
northern Thailand. The Chinese distin-
guish between Black Lisu, White Lisu,
and Flowery Lisu, terms that seem to
relate to their degree of assimilation of
Chinese culture. In the 1960s the Black
Lisu, living highest up in the Salween
River valley, were least assimilated; they
wore coarse clothes of homespun hemp,
while the others dressed in colourful
and elaborate garments. In their migra-
tions the Lisu have kept to the highest
parts of hill ranges, where they cultivate
hill rice, corn (maize), and buckwheat on

People | 25

China. The kingdom was annihilated by
the Mongols in 1234, and the surviving
Juchen were driven back into northeast-
ern Manchuria. Three centuries later the
descendants of these Juchen again came

into prominence, but before long they

dropped the name Juchen for Manchu.
They regained control of Manchuria,
moved south, and conquered Beijing
(1644); and by 1680 the Manchu had
established complete control over all
sections of China under the name of the
Qing dynasty. The Manchu managed to
maintain a brilliant and powerful govern-
ment until about 1800, after which they
rapidly lost energy and ability. It was
not, however, until 1911/12 that the Qing
dynasty was overthrown.

Modern research shows that the

Juchen-Manchu speak a language belong-
ing to the sparse but geographically
widespread Manchu-Tungus subfam-
ily of the Altaic languages. At an early
date, probably about the 1st century CE,
various Manchu-Tungus-speaking tribes
moved from their homeland in or near
northeastern Manchuria to the north
and west and eventually occupied most
of Siberia between the Yenisey River and
the Pacific Ocean. The Manchu became
established in the south, while the Even,
Evenk, and other peoples predominated
in the north and west.

From the Chinese records it is evi-

dent that the Yilou, the Tungus ancestors
of the Manchu, were essentially hunters,
fishers, and food gatherers, though in
later times they and their descendants,

frequently shifted fields worked mainly

with hoes. Their houses are of wood and
bamboo. Crossbows, poisoned arrows,
and dogs are used for hunting. They
have a clan organization, and marriage is
always between members of two different
clans. Their religion combines ancestor
veneration with animism and includes
gods of earth and sky, wind, lightning,
and forest.


The Manchu (Man) people have lived
for many centuries mainly in Manchuria
(now the Northeast) and adjacent areas
of China. In the 17th century they con-
quered China and ruled for more than
250 years. The term Manchu dates from
the 16th century, but it is certain that the
Manchu are descended from a group of
peoples collectively called the Tungus
(the Even and Evenk are also descended
from that group). The Manchu, under
other names, had lived in northeastern
Manchuria in prehistoric times. In early
Chinese records they were known as
the Donghui, or “Eastern Barbarians”;
in the 3rd century BCE they were given
the name Sushen, or Yilou; in the 4th
to 7th centuries CE Chinese historians
spoke of them as Wuji, or Momo; and in
the 10th century CE as Juchen (Nüzhen
in Pinyin). These Juchen established
a kingdom of some extent and impor-
tance in Manchuria, and by 1115 CE their
dynasty (called Jin in Chinese records)
had secured control over northeastern

26 | The Culture of China

People | 27

to preserve cultural and ethnic segrega-

tion gradually broke down. The Manchu
began to adopt the Chinese customs
and language and to intermarry with the
Chinese. Few, if any, spoke the Manchu
language in the early 21st century.

China’s government, however, contin-

ues to identify the Manchu as a separate
ethnic group (numbering more than

10.5 million in the early 21st century).

The Manchu live mainly in Liaoning,
Jilin, Heilongjiang, and Hebei provinces,
in Beijing, and in the Inner Mongolia
Autonomous Region.


The Miao are mountain-dwelling peoples
of China, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and
Thailand, who speak languages of the
Hmong-Mien (Miao-Yao) family.

Miao is the offi cial Chinese term for

four distinct groups of people who are
only distantly related through language
or culture: the Hmu people of southeast
Guizhou, the Qo Xiong people of west
Hunan, the A-Hmao people of Yunnan,
and the Hmong people of Guizhou,
Sichuan, Guangxi, and Yunnan. There
are some nine million Miao in China, of
whom the Hmong constitute probably
one-third, according to the French scholar
Jacques Lemoine, writing in the Hmong
Studies Journal in 2005. The Miao are

the Juchen and Manchu, developed a

primitive form of agriculture and animal
husbandry. The Juchen-Manchu were
accustomed to braid their hair into a
queue, or pigtail. When the Manchu con-
quered China they forced the Chinese
to adopt this custom as a sign of loyalty
to the new dynasty. Apart from this, the
Manchu made no attempt to impose
their manners and customs upon the
Chinese. After the conquest of China,
the greater part of the Manchu migrated
there and kept their ancestral estates
only as hunting lodges. Eventually these
estates were broken up and sold to or
occupied by Chinese (Han) immigrant
farmers. By 1900 even in Manchuria the
new Chinese settlers greatly outnum-
bered the Manchu.

The Manchu emperors—despite

their splendid patronage of Chinese art,
scholarship, and culture over the centu-

ries—made strenuous eff orts to prevent

the Manchu from being absorbed by
the Chinese. The Manchu were urged
to retain the Manchu language and to
give their children a Manchu education.
Attempts were made to prevent the inter-
marriage of Manchu and Chinese, so as
to keep the Manchu strain ethnically
“pure.” Social intercourse between the
two peoples was frowned upon. All these
eff orts proved fruitless. During the 19th
century, as the dynasty decayed, eff orts

This photo from 1920 shows two Manchu women in their national dress. J. Thompson/Hulton

Archive/Getty Images

28 | The Culture of China

exorcise malevolent spirits or recall the
soul of a sick patient, and animal sacri-
fice is widespread. However, a complete
lack of religious faith is common among
educated Miao in China, while signifi-
cant proportions of the A-Hmao in China
and the Hmong in Southeast Asia have
become Christian.

Young people are permitted to select

their own mates and premarital sex is
tolerated, although sexual regimes are
stricter in China, as are controls on repro-
duction. One form of institutionalized
courtship involves antiphonal singing;
another is the throwing back and forth of
a ball between groups of boys and girls
from different villages, at the New Year.
Polygyny is traditional but in practice
has been limited to the well-to-do. The
household is usually made up of several
generations, including married sons and
their families. The youngest son usu-
ally stays with the parents and inherits
the house, while elder sons may move
out with their own families to form new


The Mongol people are a Central Asian

ethnographic group of closely related

tribal peoples who live on the Mongolian
Plateau and share a common language
and nomadic tradition. Their homeland
is now divided into the independent
country of Mongolia (Outer Mongolia)
and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous
Region of China. Owing to wars and

related in language and some other cul-

tural features to the Yao; among these
peoples the two groups with the closest
degree of relatedness are the Hmong
(Miao) and the Iu Mien (Yao).

The customs and histories of the four

Miao groups are quite different, and they
speak mutually unintelligible languages.
Closest linguistically to the Hmong are
the A-Hmao, but the two groups still can-
not understand each others’ languages.
Of all the Miao peoples, only the Hmong
have migrated out of China.

Agriculture is the chief means of

subsistence for all the groups, who in the
past practiced the shifting cultivation of
rice and corn (maize), together with the
opium poppy. Opium was sold in lowland
markets and brought in silver, which was
used as bridewealth payments. Shifting
cultivation and opium production have
now largely ceased, and in Thailand the
Hmong have turned to the permanent
field cultivation of market garden veg-
etables, fruit, corn, and flowers.

Traditionally, the Miao had little

political organization above the village
level, and the highest position was that
of village leader. In China the Miao have
come under the political organization
common to the whole of China; where
minority populations are dense, they live
in autonomous counties, townships, or
prefectures, where a certain amount of
self-representation is allowed.

In religion, most Miao practice ances-

tor worship and believe in a wide variety

of spirits. They have shamans who may

People | 29

showed very little change over many

centuries. They were basically nomadic
pastoralists who were superb horsemen
and traveled with their flocks of sheep,
goats, cattle, and horses over the immense
grasslands of the steppes of Central Asia.

Traditional Mongol society was

based on the family, the clan, and the
tribe, with clan names derived from those
of common male ancestors. As clans
merged, the tribal name was taken from
that of the strongest clan. In the tribe,
weaker clans retained their own headmen
and livestock but were subordinate to the
strongest clan. In periods of tribal unity,
khans (Mongol monarchs) assigned com-
manders to territories from which troops
and revenues were gathered. Mongol his-
tory alternated between periods of tribal
conflict and tribal consolidation.

Rise of the Mongol Empire

Among the tribes that held power in
Mongolia were the Xiongnu, a confeder-
ated empire that warred with the young
Chinese state for centuries before dis-
solving in 48 CE. The Khitan ruled in
Manchuria and North China, where they
established the Liao dynasty (907–1125)
and formed an alliance with a little-known
tribal confederacy known as All the
Mongols. After the fall of the Liao, the
Tatars—a Mongol people but not mem-
bers of the league—appeared as allies of
the Juchen, the Khitan’s successors.

During this time Genghis (Chinggis)

Khan (1162–1227) came to power within

migrations, Mongols are found through-

out Central Asia.

Population Distribution

Mongols form the bulk of the population
of independent Mongolia, and they con-
stitute about one-sixth of the population
in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous

Region. Elsewhere in China there are

enclaves of Mongols in Qinghai province
and the autonomous regions of Xinjiang
and Tibet and in the Northeast (Manchuria;
Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang prov-
inces), and there are groups in Russia’s
Siberia. All of these populations speak
dialects of the Mongol languages.

Present-day Mongol peoples include

the Khalkha, who constitute almost
four-fifths of the population of indepen-
dent Mongolia; the descendants of the
Oyrat, or western Mongols, who include
the Dorbet (or Derbet), Olöt, Torgut,
and Buzawa and live in southwestern
Russia, western China, and independent
Mongolia; the Chahar, Urat, Karchin, and
Ordos Mongols of the Inner Mongolian
region of China; the Bargut and Daur
Mongols of Manchuria; the Monguors of
the Chinese province of Gansu; and the
Buryat of Russia, who are concentrated in
Buryatia and in an autonomous district in
the vicinity of Lake Baikal.

Lifestyle and Livelihood

With a few exceptions, Mongol social
structure, economy, culture, and language

30 | The Culture of China

(1215–94) became great khan in 1260,
and Mongol power reached its zenith
during his rule. The Mongols destroyed
the Southern Song dynasty and reuni-
fied China under the Yuan, or Mongol,
dynasty (1206–1368).

Dissolution of

the Mongol Empire

Mongol khans relied on their subjects

and on foreigners to administer their
empire. Over time, power shifted from the
Mongols to their bureaucrats, and this,
added to the continual feuding among
the different khanates, led to the empire’s
decline. In 1368 the Mongols lost China

to the native Ming dynasty. In the same

period, the Il-Khanid dynasty of Persia
disintegrated, and the western Golden
Horde was defeated by a Muscovy-led
alliance in 1380. Soon the empire was
reduced to the Mongol homeland and
scattered khanates. Eventually Ming
incursions into Mongolia effectively
ended Mongol unity.

In the 15th and 16th centuries

supremacy passed from tribe to tribe.
Military gains were made but never held,
and politically all that was achieved was a
loose confederation. First were the west-
ern Mongolian Oyrat, who penetrated
into Tibet and Xinjiang, where the Ming
were weak. Next the Ordos in the Huang
He (Yellow River) region challenged the
Oyrat and warred successfully against
the Ming. Finally power came to the
Chahar in the north, but tribal defections

the All the Mongols league and was pro-

claimed khan in 1206. He skillfully gained
control over the Mongols outside the
league. Between 1207 and 1227 he under-
took military campaigns that extended
Mongol domains as far west as European
Russia and as far east as northern China,
taking Beijing in 1215. He died on cam-
paign against the Xi Xia in northwest
China. By this time the Mongol empire
stretched over an immense swath of Asia
between the Caspian Sea (west) and the
China Sea (east), and Siberia (north) and
the Pamirs, Tibet, and central China
(south). The amazing military achieve-
ments of the Mongols under Genghis
Khan and his successors were largely due
to their armies of mounted archers, who
possessed great speed and mobility.

After Genghis Khan’s death the

Mongol empire passed to his four sons,

with overall leadership going to Ögödei.
Jochi received the west extending to
Russia; Chagatai obtained northern Iran
and southern Xinjiang; Ögödei inherited
northern Xinjiang and western Mongolia;
and Tolui was awarded eastern Mongolia.
Ögödei dominated his brothers and
undertook further conquests. In the west
the Golden Horde under Jochi’s succes-
sor, Batu, controlled Russia and terrorized
eastern Europe; in the east advances were
made into China. With Ögödei’s death
in 1241 the branches fell into war and
intrigue among one another for leader-
ship. Tolui’s son Möngke became great
khan in 1248 and continued an expan-
sionist policy. Möngke’s brother Kublai

People | 31

By the 20th century there was wide-
spread dissatisfaction in both Mongolias,
compounded by Russian and Japanese
intrigue in the region. After the 1911
Chinese Revolution, Outer Mongolia
declared its independence, but the situ-
ation was unsettled until 1921, when
a Mongol-Russian force captured
Ulaanbaatar and formed the Mongolian
People’s Republic from Outer Mongolia.
Efforts to unite Inner and Outer Mongolia
failed, and Inner Mongolia remained a

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