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China's Endangered Nationalities

Updated on August 7, 2015
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

A descendant of Mohawk Nation and trained in anthropology, Patty has researched and reported on Indigenous Peoples for over four decades.

Ethic/Language Distribution in China

(public domain)
(public domain)

Subarctic and Arctic Circle Peoples

Heilongjiang (Hei) Province meets Inner Mongolia (Nei Mongol) in the northeast corner of China (please see map).At the northeastern-most tip of Inner Mongolia and the northwestern-most part of Hei province live a group of Altaic peoples. Their language is Tungusic and related to the languages and genetic lineage of Mongols and their Altai people of the Golden Mountains; to the Koreans, more so to South Koreans than to North Koreans.; and to Western Hemisphere indigenous peoples. Genetic mapping is pursued at and is rather complex. However, National Geographic operates a DNA mapping project and demonstrates migration patterns interactively online (please access their link to view).

There are 56 Officially Recognized Nationalities in the Republic of China, including the largest Han people and others - the dozens of minorities that have individualized cultures within the larger China.

Some of these minorities speak their own local languages, but have no written script for them. They also speak a Chinese dialect, along with some of these small ethnic groups that sepak a Russian dialect as well. This linguistic intermixing is most prominent along the northern border of Inner Mongolia that abuts Mongolia and is near Russia. It is also clustered at the joining of Hei Province and Inner Mongolia in two large areas and 3-4 smaller sites.

The People of the North, as they are called worldwide, have migrated around the Arctic Circle and into and through the Subarctic regions (beneath the Arctic) of Siberia, Mongolia, the border between Hei and Inner Mongolia, and on into South Korea, the Kamchatka Peninsula, Alaska, and the Western Hemisphere.

Many of the smaller groups if the indigenous peoples are dwindling in numbers.

The 56 Nations

Oroqen History

Chuonnasuan (1927-2000), last shaman of the Oroqen.
Chuonnasuan (1927-2000), last shaman of the Oroqen.

Oroqen People - The Reindeer People

The Oroqen People comprises a smaller, dwindling band of autonomous-government hunters inside China in the Hei-Inner Mongolia region. However, many abide by the Chines conservation laws to protect endangered wildlife, being endagered themsves. There are just around 6,000 Oroqen left, residing in China (the majority) and Mongolia. They speak a Tungusic language without a written tradition, many speaking and writing Mandarin Chinese as well. There name means "People of the Reindeer" and they believe a reindeer pulls the sun up each morning. Just to the east, their genetic relatives believe the reindeer is a dragon. The Sami to their west hold the reindeer legend as well and are genetically related. The Oroqen use birch bark as Native Americans have done, in the forming of baby cradles, cannoes, and other devices.

Evenki homes are similar to those of the Oroquen, which have wider bark strips. They are similar to the Sami homes and to the North American Plains Natives teepees.
Evenki homes are similar to those of the Oroquen, which have wider bark strips. They are similar to the Sami homes and to the North American Plains Natives teepees.

Evenki People - Also the Reindeer Pepole

Another official minority of China in the same region as the Oroqen People are the Evenki People, numbering around 28,000, with approximately 7,500 speaking Evenki as a specific language and most speaking a Russian dialect as well.

Traditionally a nomadic nation of herders and hunters, they also game-fish for food and travel across the entire region of Siberia, extending down somewhat into Hei and Inner Mongolia.

The Oroqen and Evenki nation can converse well together in their own languages, cross-nation. This fact makes the similarity of languages a marker for linguistic and genetic relatedness.

Evenki People

Evenki Child

Altai Ancestors

Evenki and Oroqen are directly related to the Altai People of the Altai Republic, which split from another Russian province Under the Yeltsin regime because the Altai are so different from the rest of the peoples. Tens of thousands of Altai live in the south of their republic, Russian dominating the northern part. The Altai migrated across Siberia and southeast into Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and Hei Province. They are genetically related strongly to the Mongolians and practice shamanism, as do Evenki and Oroqen, but also, Buddhism and Ak Jang religions.

The bulk of Altai peoples are Ak Jang and have the requisite totem poles, as do many northern and west coast Native Americans and First Nations. However, Altai also have flowers in their totem worship. The land is all-important to the Altai, as it was for Native Americans before they lost their lands and way of indigenous life. The land is important to the Evenki and Oroqen in the 21st century.


Mongolian, Undor Gungor
Mongolian, Undor Gungor

According the the genetic, linguistic, and anthropological data, along with the records of the beautiful cultural traditions, stories, and works of art, the some of the Altai migrated to join with other nations and become the Evenki and the Oroqen, evenutally joiubg some other bands of people and mating as far as the western hemisphere.

The original nation-groups are dwindling, but are protected by their respective governments and the larger republics in which they reside. This protection allows them to maintain their cultures, customs, histories, religions, arts, and languages. Federal and private funding in Russia, Mongolia, and China is helping these bands of indigenous peoples in small ways, expanding as news of their plight is broadcast. In exchange for helping to ptotect China's list of endagenered species by scaling back hunting traditions to a degree, some indigenous peoples discussed in this article are provided with housing and educational resources.

This green partnership of sorts seems to be a case of the endangered helping the endangered, while the indigenous nations can maintain autonomous rule and identity as well as dignity, and this is admirable.

Regional Evenki Music

Influence of Altaic Peoples - Mongolia

© 2008 Patty Inglish


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    • Sab Oh profile image

      Sab Oh 8 years ago

      Good hub. I had the opportunity to know individuals from many of China's minority groups long ago and found this information very interesting.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Your site looks interesting, so I will leave your link up for others to see. Thanks.

    • profile image

      Michael 8 years ago Sian is one of the most important culture centres in China. The national culture products and industrial arts products of Sian are not only the first class in China but also enjying reputation around the world. You can possess them staying indoors. Open SIANSHOP please! Our teams come from Sian of China. taking the products of Sian to the whole world is our dream for many years.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      It has been disheartening to read accounts of the Party's control even of the Shao-Lin Temple.

    • Yu-Huang Shang Ti profile image

      Yu-Huang Shang Ti 8 years ago from Beijing

      What is it like to live in the Real China under the Communist Party - a totalitarian ruling party with a Marxist ideology?

      Is the CCP actually necessary for China's growth and prosperity?

      Does "anti-CCP" really mean "anti-China"?

      Why shouldn't China be a democratic, free and morally conscious China?

      How wise are Western states, when they betray their own conscience and fundamental human values in their pursuit of economic interests?

      It seems that the traditional freedom of thought and speech that is generally attributed to Western society is somehow blunted when it comes to anything having to do with China.

      A democracy cannot be both ignorant and free” When you fail to demonstrate adequate concern for the freedom of others, you embolden and empower those who want to take yours away.

      The American economy has become as dependent on import of Chinese products as it has on Saudi oil. As with Saudi oil, it only makes sense to see that near exclusive dependence on import of Chinese products (no matter how cheap), is not a healthy habit, and that America should in both cases start looking for alternate sources for such products. And it further makes sense to ensure that such sources should, as far as possible, not originate from, and not financially benefit, countries that are openly or furtively working to undermine democracy and open society, right?

      All business issues are related to political issues, and in the end, every important political and social issue has relevance to business!

      China's economy has no potential for continuous development, it is not stable, it is not coordinated, and it is not balanced.

      Read the Nine Commentaries on the Chinese Communist Party if you want to know the truth rather than the Commuist Party propaganda CCTV.

      Anybody who is familiar with the Cultural Revolution knows that China's traditional culture has in fact been wholly transformed in order to spread CCP culture. From the very beginning, the CCP never truly intended to promote Chinese traditional culture at all, but only used it as a means to promote itself and cover up its destruction of true traditional culture.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Yu-Huang Shang-Ti - It is a worrisime matter, indeed. Much possibility of mass starvation exists and is a horrible ststus for a people..

    • Yu-Huang Shang Ti profile image

      Yu-Huang Shang Ti 8 years ago from Beijing

      It use to be what sort of society will China become, but now the question remains as to what effect will the collapse of the economic development by the Chinese Communist Regime cause?

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks so much, Write on!

      vreccc, it really seems the government is trying to help. I don't understand all the angles of the Tibet problem. Thanks for contributing so much!

    • Write On! profile image

      Write On! 10 years ago from United States

      A simply outstanding Hub Patty... and a clear winner!


    • vreccc profile image

      vreccc 10 years ago from Concord, NH


      I was just talking with my wife about your hub and she brought up another point. The One Child Policy states that only the Han are restricted to one child. All minorities can have 2. And, local schools are taught in their native minority language in addition to Mandarin.


    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Ys, I think the pictures of race riots in America became an icon for the USA in the 1970s and may still be in some areas globally. That did not make for good international relations. It was indeed Mao's government that put its hands into the Shaolin group. I like the way that the Chinese govt is helping the northestern minorities with housing, food and supplies in excahnge for reduced hunting of endangered species. And allowing them to keep their own language traditions while they also use Mandarin Chinese reading and writing. I would like to know more Chinese people.

    • vreccc profile image

      vreccc 10 years ago from Concord, NH


      It is true that the Han are the ethnic majority. And, I understand the point you are making here. However, I wouldn't want your comments misunderstood. My wife is Han. She is very lovely and sweet and so are many other Han people. I think critizing the Han is counterproductive. If it happened to be any of the other Minorities in charge then they would be doing the same thing the Han are - trying to grow.

      Something that doesn't get reported in the news here are the positive things the Chinese government does for the minorities. For example, most of the minorities live in remote and poor areas. Only 20 years ago they couldn't read and write. Now, because of the efforts of the Han government, the majority of children in these areas are learning to read and write and do mathematics. It's a catch-22 for the government. If they do nothing for the minorities then they can be blamed for neglecting them and creating a povery gap. On the other hand, if they provide education for them and try to develop the area, then they are accused of trying to take control of the minority areas.

      To be sure, there are bad intentioned Han people and minority people as well. When I lived in China I had some run ins with minorities and Han alike. But, I just wouldn't want anyone to misunderstand your comments by thinking your intention is to cast the Han as some hegemonistic race bent on evil.

      Finally, Tibet is more of an issue here than it is in China. There are many Tibetins who appreciate the relationship with the Han. My wife has been there twice. The Tibetins couldn't read and write until the Han brought the resources to build schools there. On the other hand, when Mao was in power some pretty horrible things did happen there. Remember, the Dali Lama left when Mao was in power back in the 50's. China was very confused during that time.

      Also, all minorities, Tibetins including, are given priviledges when going to university. It's kind of an affirmative action thing. They get scholarships and so on.

      Now, that's not all to say that the relationship couldn't be improved, much like that between whites and minoroties in America. But, because I'm white living in America, I don't think that makes me a bad person.

      And lastly, I promise I'll shut up after this... Chinese Han and minorities alike think it's pretty appalling what we have done to Native Americans and Black Americans here during the past few hundred years. They see video of blacks getting beaten by police in the 50s and 60s during the civil rights movement and can't believe what they see. "How could you do that to them?" they say. They also can't believe that we unilaterally invade countries like Iraq. China has a policy of not interfering in the affairs of other countries. I personally don't see a problem with it if it is done as a coalition. But, the Chinese Han can't get over how we throw our weight around this world.

      Anyway, I'm done. All this isn't necessarily directed at you , Lissie. It's just all pent up inside me because I hear it so much. You just opened the flood gates.

      Cheers and love,


    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      It's interesting, the Korean peple oringally and still call themselves "Han" as well. This should be very interesting. I'll be really looking hard at other minorites in Northeast China and see how they relate to the First Nations and Native Americans over here.

      Thanks for the comments, Lissie. The Shaolin Temple was nearly ruined at one point as well by politics and control tactics.

    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 10 years ago from New Zealand

      Excellent hub. I think the way the Han Chinese treat the minorities is appalling -we here about Tibet in the West but I know that are lots of others being dispossessed and assimilated . Everyone I have met who has backpacked China says get out of the Han dominated areas and get to the minority areas - the people are much nicer! Look forward to your new series!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      How lovely and wonderful! I would most enjoy a visit and to meet your wife and her dear parents perhaps if they are well enough at that time. In addition, I can see with my own eyes and feel with my own heart where my ancestors from the Mohawk Nation first originated, as well as feel the culture that influnced the martial arts that I teach. It will be like sacred time travel.

    • vreccc profile image

      vreccc 10 years ago from Concord, NH

      Welcome, welcome! We will return there to live again some day. Come visit! We have some goals to achieve here in the States for the time being, but China still calls on us, and especially her since her parents are getting old and are all alone over there. She feels she owes it to them to be by their side. That's Chinese culture.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I can only try, encouraged by the fact that many are related to western hemisphere indigenous peoples - it will extend that series and connect more peoples together.

      Next time you and your lovely wife visit in China, please consider taking me with you.. I will ride in a suitcase if need be. :)

    • vreccc profile image

      vreccc 10 years ago from Concord, NH


      Great hub!! I lived in China for 8 years. I met my wife over there. She has gone to many of these places and met with these minorities, ate with them and slept in their humble homes. She and I went to Yunnan the year before we got married. We were taken in by a Tibetan near the border between Yunnan and Tibet. We ate dinner with his family, chatted (my Chinese is decent) and slept in his house.

      I think each Chinese minority deserves its own hub. Are you up to the task?



    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thank you steph!

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Patty - what an amazing hub! So much information, and well put together. I am fascinated! I love learning about other cultures.


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