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Linguistic Groups, 1971

Title: Linguistic Groups
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Description: " Ethnolinguistic Groups – Almost all inhabitants of mainland China are of Mongoloid stock, and ethnic distinctions in the country are largely linguistic rather than racial. The Han comprise nearly 95 percent of the population; the remaining 5 percent, consisting of approximately 50 groups, are termed " minority nationalities " by Peking. Although non-Han peoples are relatively few in number, they are politically significant; most inhabit strategic frontier territory, and some have religious or ethnic ties with groups in adjoining nations. The traditional preponderance of non-Han groups in western China, however, is lessening because Han Chinese have entered these remote regions in increasing numbers since 1950. Major Language Families – Four major language families are represented in China – the Sino-Tibetan family, Altaic, Indo-European, and Austroasiatic. The Sino-Tibetan family is numerically and really the most important, and within it the several languages and dialects of Chinese predominate. Although unified by tradition, written language, and many cultural traits, the Han Chinese speak several mutually unintelligible tongues. Most Han Chinese use the northern dialect, or one of its variants, commonly called Mandarin; a national vernacular based on this dialect has been popularized. Several different Chinese languages are spoken south of the Yangtze. They include Wu, Hsiang, Kan, Min, Cantonese, and Hakka, each of which is used by several million persons, with lesser numbers speaking other local languages and dialects. Tibeto-Burman Groups – Politically the most potent of the several Sino-Tibetan language groups, aside from the Han Chinese, are the Tibeto-Burman speaking people who inhabit much of the rough mountainous country of western and southwestern China. The Tibetans, inhabiting a vast sweep of territory from Kansu and Szechwan westward to Kashmir, are the most important group. Totaling only about 3 million, they have retained their cultural identity and political unity largely through the bond of Lamaism — the Tibetan variant of Buddhism. The former ecclesiastical power base provided by Lamaism, at whose apex was the Dalai Lama, has been greatly reduced and weakened since suppression of the 1959 Tibetan revolt. The three dialects spoken in Tibet — western, central, and eastern — are mutually intelligible. The Hui, or Chinese Muslims, number about 3 million and are intermingled with the Han throughout much of China. Their heaviest concentration is in the Northwest, particularly in the Ningsia Hui Autonomous Region and Kansu, where nearly one-third of the Hui reside. Although the Hui speak Mandarin or regional Chinese languages and use Chinese characters, they generally live in separate communities and their history is marked by uprisings against the Han. The other Tibeto-Burman speaking groups are divided into hill people — whose way of life is characterized by a subsistence economy based upon varying mixtures of agriculture, animal husbandry, and hunting — and lowland people such as the several Tai-speaking groups. Of the hill groups, the Yi (Lolo) are the most numerous. Those living in the mountains of southern Szechwan between the Yangtze and it tributary, the Ya-lung Chiang, share with the Tibetans a cultural identity and a tradition of independence marked by frequent conflict with the Han Chinese. Two sizable Tibeto-Burman speaking groups — the Pai (Min Chia) and Tuchia — are valley dwellers engaged in wet-rice agriculture. Miao-Tao — The Miao-Yao group of the Sino-Tibetan family is widely scattered throughout the mountains of the South and Southwest China; a number also live in northern Southeast Asia. Although the Miao and Yao exhibit some cultural variations; in general they are upland dwellers. Their traditional slash and burn agriculture reportedly has been curbed, and more stable and intensive agricultural practices have been promoted. In spite of a history of suppression and dispersal throughout Southwest China, the Miao have retained independent ways that are marked by initiative and adoptability to changing physical and political conditions. Tai — Tai-speaking peoples comprise the fourth major group of the Sino-Tibetan family. They appear to be differentiated by minor linguistic dissimilarities — although Tai dialects reportedly are mutually intelligible — and partly by locational and minor cultural variations. The largest group is the Chuang, who total nearly 7 million and inhabit western Kwangsi. Unlike many hill-dwelling groups, most Tai groups have been strongly influenced by Chinese culture. Nearly all of the Tai inhabit lowlands and their economy is based upon growing irrigated rice. Altaic Family — People of the Altaic language family are widely dispersed from the forests of Northeast China to the basins of Sinkiang. They include the Mongols, several Tungusic groups in Northeast China, and the Turkic groups in Sinkiang’s oases and grasslands. The Mongols are the most widely dispersed of the Altaic language speakers, and several dialects are recognized. Most of the Mongol population live in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, but small Mongol and Mongol-related groups are scattered from Sinkiang through Tsinghai and into the provinces of the Northeast. Some retain their tribal divisions and are pastoralists, but now live in permanent settlements and are engaged in a mixed crop and livestock economy. Turkic Groups — Turkic-speaking groups predominate in Sinkiang and are scattered in Tsinghai and Kansu. The productive oases of Sinkiang have felt the impress of different peoples and cultures from ancient times; consequently the racial, linguistic, and cultural origins of the present day inhabitants are blurred and complex. The Uighurs are the most numerous of the Turkic speakers, numbering about 5 million, they predominate in the oases of southern Sinkiang where they comprise an estimated 90 percent of the population. The Kazakhs, who rank second in number, inhabit areas adjacent to the USSR and Mongolian borders. The third largest group is the Kirghiz, high mountain pastoralists inhabiting southwestern Sinkiang. Other smaller Turkic-speaking groups occupy valleys of the Tien Shan and the oases and grasslands of northern Sinkiang. Other Altaic Groups — Other members of the Altaic language family include such Tungusic groups as the seminomadic Evenki and Oronchon, the Sibos, and the Manchus. The Evenki, Oronchon, and Sibos together number only a few thousand. Although the 1953 Chinese census recognized some 2.4 million of them, they appear to have been almost entirely assimilated by the Han Chinese and therefore are not separately identified on the map. Slightly more than 1 million Koreans live in China, primarily in Kirin Province adjacent to the North Korean border. The exact affinities of the Korean language are unclear, but because of strong structural similarities it is included with the Altaic family. Indo-European and Austroasiatic Families — The Indo-European and Austroasiatic language families are both represented by relatively insignificant number; representatives of these language families live in southwestern Sinkiang and in Yunnan. The Kawa, a Mon-Khmer speaking group, inhabit the rugged mountain country of the Burma-China border. The Indo-European family is represented by the Tadzhiks who live in the valleys and surrounding uplands of southwestern Sinkiang. " — CIA, 1971
Source: Central Intelligence Agency, People's Republic of China Atlas (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971) 41
Map Credit: Courtesy the private collection of Roy Winkelman
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