Just How Ethnically Diverse Is China Really?

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It’s commonly cited that the total population of China is 1.3 billion. Officially, China has 56 ethnic groups that make up its population. People of dozens of nationalities are also living and working in China for extended periods of time, and contribute to the diversity of the country.

Ethnic Groups In China

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94% is the most widely cited figure for the percentage of Chinese who are of Han descent, by far the most common and ubiquitous ethnicity in China. But recent data indicates more accurate numbers. Chinese government demographic studies from 2000, for example, show that approximately 91.59%, or 1,159,400,000 people belong to the Han ethnicity, while 106,430,000 people are non-Han, comprising 8.41% of the total population of China.

Overall, both the Han and non-Han populations increased in size; the Han population increased from 1990 census numbers by 11.22%, and the non-Han population increased as well by 16.70%. The numbers also suggest that the total number of ethnic minorities, or shaoshu minzu, are increasing overall, although Han continues to make up the vast majority of Chinese citizens.

Other Chinese Minorities

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Eighteen other ethnic minorities live in China. They had a total population greater than 90 million; these minorities are the Mongolians, Hui, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Miao, Koreans, Zhuang, Yi, Buyei, Manchu, Dong, Bai, Yao, Tujia, Hani, Kazakhs, Dai, and Li, with the Zhuang having the largest population at over 18,000,000 people.

However, these numbers still leave millions of people unaccounted for, not to mention many foreigners living and working in China.

How Many Foreigners Live In China?

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Chinese government data, obtained during the 2011 Sixth All-Nation Population Census, revealed that about 1,020,000 people residing in China were not Chinese citizens. The definition of a foreigner includes anyone who is a citizen of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, or any other country besides China.

Certain areas China lays claim to or allows a high degree of autonomy, namely Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, are considered foreign for survey purposes. Out of the total number of foreigners, 170,000 people are Taiwanese citizens, 20,000 are Macanese citizens, and 230,000 are citizens of Hong Kong.

The number of foreigners not from Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan was approximately 600,000. As the chart shows, the top ten foreign populations living in China include South Korea, the United States, Japan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Canada, France, India, Germany, and Australia. The most frequently cited reasons foreigners gave for visiting China were to conduct business, acquire jobs, studying, and settling down for a long term stay.

Which Chinese Cities Expats Prefer To Live In?

The cities of Guangdong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Jiangsu were the most popular places for foreigners to live in; the large sizes, proximity to the Pacific Ocean, and locations as the headquarters of many major employers ensure that these cities attract and maintain substantial expatriate populations.

The Chinese Diaspora In the World

chinese-diasporaMapImage Source: Transpacific Project

In terms of Chinese expatriate communities, approximately 46 million people living outside of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau are of Chinese descent. About 39.5 million migrant workers are Chinese and are present in about 130 countries.

South East Asia

In Asia, the southeast region has been particularly attractive to Chinese migrants, with 30 million of 40 million overseas Chinese living in Southeast Asia and making up 10% of the total population of Southeast Asia.

chinadi2Image Source: Russian Council


The estimated total Chinese population in Europe is 2.15 million, with the largest Chinese populations in the United Kingdom, France, and Italy. Chinese immigrants are also moving rapidly into Russia, and are particularly active in Siberia and the Far East of Russia.


Approximately 1 million Chinese live in Africa, drawn by Chinese government investments in construction projects, oil extraction, and entrepreneurial opportunities. Six special economic zones were set up by China, specially in Zambia, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt.

Chinese_Industrial_Zones_in_Africa_2011Image Source: Wikipedia

Also, the United States and Canada have experienced surges in Chinese immigration, with hundreds of thousands of Chinese drawn to study in American and Canadian universities and hold jobs in North America.

With the steady growth of the Chinese economy, and China’s ever-expanding military and political power, Chinese migration will increase on all continents excluding Antarctica, and will remain a subject of immense importance.

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