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The Legacy of Chinese Ethnicities: Traditions and Customs from One of the World's Oldest Cultures

China is a vast country influenced by various different cultures. There are 56 recognized ethnic groups, comprising the Han (汉) being the largest, accounting for over 90% of the population. The other 55 ethnic groups, although minorities, have a significant and influential presence.


It is important to remember that culture is a complex construction and, from the point of view of an anthropological perspective, we should not view cultures as we should not view cultures as fixed or static practices, but rather as a mixture of different ethnic influences that can interlace and overlap. When we refer to ethnic minorities, we are referring to a variety of traditions and customs that shape the cultural identity of a country from the moment they interlace.


Among the most well-known Chinese ethnic groups are Tibetans, Mongols, Uyghurs, and others.



The Tibetans


The Tibetans live in the region of Tibet, in southwest China. With a rich and diverse culture based primarily on Tibetan Buddhism and nomadic traditions, Tibetan culture has influenced Chinese culture particularly in art, music, literature, and religion.



Many Buddhist temples and monasteries in China were constructed in a style similar to Tibetan architecture. Certain Chinese music and literary genres have also been influenced by Tibetan music and poetry.


The Tibet Autonomous Region is a provincial-level entity. Established in 1965 over the traditional Tibetan regions of Ü-Tsang and Kham, the area encompasses around 1.2 million square kilometers and has an estimated population of 3.4 million inhabitants. The official language is Mandarin Chinese, but Tibetan is also used within educational systems and administrative sectors.





The Mongols


The Mongols are a nomadic people who founded the largest empire in history, spanning from China to Eastern Europe. They practiced shamanism as their official religion but also had contact with other such as Christianity and Buddhism. They were skilled warriors and horse riders with bows and arrows. They were also traders who took advantage of the Silk Road to exchange goods with other peoples.



The influence of the Mongols on Chinese culture was significant, especially during the Yuan dynasty (元朝) (1271-1368), when China was ruled by Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan. The Mongols introduced new laws, customs, languages, and religions in China, as well as promoting cultural exchange with other regions of the empire.


Inner Mongolia is an autonomous region bordering Mongolia and Russia. It occupies an area of around 1.18 million square kilometers and has a population of approximately 25 million people. The climate is arid continental, with hot summers and cold winters, and agriculture and livestock are among its relevant economic activities. It is also rich in natural resources such as coal, iron, and oil.





The Uighurs


The Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic group who mainly live in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (新疆), in northwestern China and speak a language closely related to Uzbek (Turkic language, official language of Uzbekistan), similar to Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Turkish languages.



Uighur culture is influenced by their Turkic origin and Sunni Muslim religion. They have a rich literary, musical, and artistic tradition that reflects their ethnic and historical diversity.


Xinjiang is the largest territorial region in China, covering 1.66 million square kilometers, which is equivalent to one-sixth of the country's territory. Ürümqi (乌鲁木齐) is the capital and largest city of Xinjiang, with about 2.7 million inhabitants, and its population is around 25 million.


The economy is mainly based on agriculture and trade, and the region also produces one-third of China's cotton, as well as having the country's largest reserves of oil and gas. In recent years, Xinjiang has experienced robust economic growth, with an increase in GDP, exports and imports, and the income of urban and rural residents.





The Chinese government has been making efforts to promote cultural diversity and protect the traditions and customs of ethnic minorities, including promoting cultural festivals and celebrations, language education programs, and recognizing cultural practices as national heritage.


However, these efforts do not eliminate problems instantly. Chinese ethnic minorities still face challenges and discrimination in some areas. In this regard, the government still has a lot of work to do to achieve full equality of opportunities and to fully protect the rights of these communities, as well as to face the challenge of combating foreign speculations based on geopolitical interests.


Many people base their perceptions of Chinese people on stereotypes and projections from Western movies, but the ethnicities in China have a significant influence on the country's overall cultural diversity.

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