The name Han was derived from the Han dynasty, which succeeded the short-lived Qin dynasty, and is historically considered to be the first golden age of China's Imperial era due to the power and influence it projected over much of Asia. As a result of the dynasty's prominence in inter-ethnic and pre-modern international matters, many Chinese began identifying themselves as the "people of Han" (Chinese: 漢人; pinyin: Hàn Rén), a name that has been carried down to this day. Similarly, the Chinese language also came to be named the "Han language" (simplified Chinese: 汉语; traditional Chinese: 漢語) ever since. In the Oxford Dictionary, the Han are defined as the "dominant ethnic group in China". In the Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania, the Han are called the dominant population in "China, as well as in Taiwan and Singapore." According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the Han are "the Chinese peoples especially as distinguished from non-Chinese (as Mongolian) elements in the population."
The Han dynasty's founding emperor, Liu Bang, was originally hailed as the king of the Hanzhong region after overthrowing the Qin dynasty, a title that was later shortened to "the King of Han" (漢王) during the Chu-Han contention. The name "Hanzhong", in turn, was derived from the Han River, which flows through the region's plains. The river, in turn, derives its name from expressions such as Tianhan (Chinese: 天漢, "the heavenly river"), Yinhan (Chinese: 銀漢, "the silver river"), Xinghan (Chinese: 星漢, "the star river") or Yunhan (Chinese: 雲漢, "the cloud river"), all ancient Chinese poetic nicknames for the Milky Way and first mentioned in the Classic of Poetry.
Prior to the Han dynasty, ancient Chinese scholars used the term Huaxia (simplified Chinese: 华夏; traditional Chinese: 華夏; pinyin: Huá Xià, "the magnificent Xia") to describe China proper as an area of illustrious prosperity and culture, while the Chinese populus were referred to as either the "various Hua" (諸華) or the "various Xia" (諸夏). This gave rise to a term commonly used nowadays by overseas Chinese for ethnic identity – Huaren (simplified Chinese: 华人; traditional Chinese: 華人; pinyin: Huá Rén, "the Hua people"), as well as a literary name for China – Zhonghua (simplified Chinese: 中华; traditional Chinese: 中華; pinyin: zhōnghuá, "the central Hua").
Among some southern Han Chinese varieties such as Cantonese, Hakka, Minnan and Teochew, a different term exists – Tang Chinese (Chinese: 唐人; pinyin: Táng Rén, literally "the people of Tang"), derived from the later Tang dynasty, regarded as another zenith of Chinese civilization. The term is used in everyday conversation and is also an element in the Cantonese word for Chinatown: "street of the Tang people" (唐人街, Jyutping: tong4 jan4 gaai1, pinyin: Táng Rén Jiē. The phrase Huá Bù 華埠 is also used to describe the same area).
The vast majority of Han Chinese – over 1.2 billion of them – live in areas under the jurisdiction of the People's Republic of China (PRC), where they constitute about 92% of its population. Here, Han Chinese are the majority in every province, municipality, and autonomous region except for the autonomous regions of Xinjiang (45% in 2010) and Tibet (8% in 2014), where Uighurs and Tibetans are the majority, respectively. Han Chinese also constitute the majority in both of the special administrative regions of the PRC—about 95% and 96% of the population of Hong Kong and Macau, respectively.
There are over 22 million Han Chinese in Taiwan; they began migrating from the southeastern coastal provinces of mainland China (especially from Fujian provience)to Taiwan during the 13th to 17th century. At first, these migrants chose to settle in locations that bore a resemblance to the areas they had left behind in mainland China, regardless of whether they arrived in the north or south of Taiwan. Hoklo immigrants from Quanzhou settled in coastal regions, and those from Zhangzhou tended to gather on inland plains, while the Hakka inhabited hilly areas. Clashes between these groups over land, water, and cultural differences led to the relocation of some communities, and, as time passed, varying degrees of intermarriage and assimilation took place.
Of about 40 million "overseas Chinese" worldwide, nearly 30 million live in Southeast Asia. They are collectively called Nanyang Chinese. According to a population genetic study, Singapore is "the country with the biggest proportion of Hans" in Southeast Asia. Up until the past few decades, overseas Han communities originated predominantly from areas in southern China (especially the Guangdong, Fujian, and Zhejiang areas). Christmas Island has a Chinese majority at 70%; large Chinese populations also live in Malaysia (25%) and Thailand (14%). Prior to the 1965 split, Malaysia and Singapore used to have the largest overseas Chinese population in the world, in terms of absolute numbers. This position has since been taken by Thailand.
Elsewhere in the world, 3 million people of Chinese descent live in the United States (about 1% of the population), over 1 million in Canada (3.7%), over 1.3 million in Peru (4.3%), over 600,000 in Australia (3.5%), nearly 150,000 in New Zealand (3.7%), and as many as 750,000 in Africa.
Because of the overwhelming numerical and cultural dominance of the Han people in China, most of the written history of China can be read as "a history of the Han Chinese", with only passing references to the ethnic minorities in China.
The prehistory of the Han ethnic group is closely intertwined with both textual records and mythology. Han Chinese trace their ancestry from a confederation of late neolithic/early bronze-age agricultural tribes that lived along the Guanzhong and Yellow River basins in northern China. Writers during the Western Zhou and Han dynasties derived ancestral lineages based on Shang dynasty-era legendary materials, while the famous Chinese historian Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian places the reign of the Yellow Emperor (Chinese: 黃帝; pinyin: Huáng Dì), the legendary leader of Youxiong tribes (有熊氏), at the beginning of Chinese history. The Yellow Emperor is traditionally credited to have united with the neighbouring Shennong tribes (神農氏) after defeating their leader, Flame Emperor, (Chinese: 炎帝; pinyin: Yán Dì) at the Battle of Banquan. The newly merged Yanhuang (Chinese: 炎黃) tribes then combined forces to defeat their common enemy from the east, Chiyou (Chinese: 蚩尤; pinyin: Chì Yóu) of the Jiuli (九黎) tribes, at the Battle of Zhuolu, and established their cultural dominance in the Central Plain region. To this day, Chinese people refer themselves as "Descendants of Yan and Huang" (simplified Chinese: 炎黄子孙; traditional Chinese: 炎黃子孫; pinyin: Yánhuáng Zǐsūn).
Although study of this period of history is complicated by the absence of contemporary records, the discovery of archaeological sites has enabled a succession of neolithic cultures to be identified along the Yellow River. Along the central reaches of the Yellow River were the Jiahu culture (ca. 7000 to 6600 BCE), the Yangshao culture (ca. 5000 to 3000 BCE) and the Longshan culture (ca. 3000 to 2000 BCE). Along the lower reaches of the river were the Qingliangang culture (ca. 5400 to 4000 BCE), the Dawenkou culture (ca. 4300 to 2500 BCE), the Hongshan culture (ca. 2500 to 2000 BCE), and the Yueshi culture.
Early ancient Chinese history is largely legend, consisting of mythical tales intertwined with sporadic annals written centuries to millennia later. Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian recorded a period following the Battle of Zhuolu, during the reign of successive generations of confederate overlords (Chinese: 共主) known as the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors (c. 2852–2070 BCE), who, allegedly, were elected to power among the tribes. This is a period for which scant reliable archaeological evidence exists—these sovereigns are largely regarded as cultural heroes.
The first dynasty to be described in Chinese historical records is the Xia dynasty (c. 2070–1600 BCE), established by Yu the Great after Emperor Shun abdicated leadership to reward Yu's work in taming the Great Flood. Yu's son, Qi, managed to not only install himself as the next ruler, but also dictated his sons as heirs by default, making the Xia dynasty the first in recorded history where genealogical succession was the norm. The civilizational prosperity of the Xia dynasty at this time is thought to have given rise to the name "Huaxia" (simplified Chinese: 华夏; traditional Chinese: 華夏; pinyin: Huá Xià, "the magnificent Xia"), a term that was used ubiquitously throughout history to define the Chinese nation.
Conclusive archaeological evidence predating the 16th century BCE is, however, rarely available. Recent efforts of the Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project drew the connection between the Erlitou culture and the Xia dynasty, but scholars could not reach a consensus regarding the reliability of such history.
The Xia dynasty was overthrown after the Battle of Mingtiao, around 1600 BCE, by Cheng Tang, who established the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE). The earliest archaeological examples of Chinese writing date back to this period – from characters inscribed on oracle bones used for divination – but the well-developed characters hint at a much earlier origin of writing in China.
During the Shang dynasty, people of the Wu area in the Yangtze River Delta, were considered a different tribe, and described as being scantily dressed, tattooed and speaking a distinct language. Later, Taibo, elder uncle of Ji Chang – on realising that his younger brother, Jili, was wiser and deserved to inherit the throne – fled to Wu and settled there. Three generations later, King Wu of the Zhou dynasty defeated King Zhou (the last Shang king), and enfeoffed the descendants of Taibo in Wu—mirroring the later history of Nanyue, where a Chinese king and his soldiers ruled a non-Han population and mixed with locals, who were sinicized over time. By the Tang dynasty, however, this area had become part of the Han Chinese heartland.
After the Battle of Muye, the Shang dynasty was overthrown by Zhou (led by Ji Fa), which had emerged as a western state along the Wei River in the 2nd millennium BCE. The Zhou dynasty shared the language and culture of the Shang people, and extended their reach to encompass much of the area north of the Yangtze River. Through conquest and colonization, much of this area came under the influence of sinicization, and this culture extended south. However, the power of the Zhou kings fragmented not long afterwards, and many autonomous vassal states emerged. This dynasty is traditionally divided into two eras – the Western Zhou (1046–771 BCE) and the Eastern Zhou (770–256 BCE) – with the latter further divided into the Spring and Autumn (770–476 BCE) and the Warring States (476–221 BCE) periods. It was a period of significant cultural and philosophical diversification (known as the Hundred Schools of Thought) and Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism are among the most important surviving philosophies from this era.
The chaotic Warring States period of the Eastern Zhou dynasty came to an end with the unification of China by the western state of Qin after its conquest of all other rival states under King Ying Zheng. King Zheng then gave himself a new title "First Emperor of Qin" (Chinese: 秦始皇帝; pinyin: Qín Shǐ Huángdì), setting the precedent for the next two millennia. To consolidate administrative control over the newly conquered parts of the country, the First Emperor decreed a nationwide standardization of currency, writing scripts, and measurement units, to unify the country economically and culturally. He also ordered large-scale infrastructure projects such as the Great Wall, the Lingqu Canal and the Qin road system to militarily fortify the frontiers. In effect, he established a centralized bureaucratic state to replace the old feudal confederation system of preceding dynasties, making Qin the first imperial dynasty in Chinese history.
This dynasty, sometimes phonetically spelt as the "Ch'in dynasty", has been proposed in the 17th century by Martin Martini and supported by later scholars such as Paul Pelliot and Berthold Laufer to be the etymological origin of the modern English word "China".
The reign of the first imperial dynasty was to be short-lived. Due to the First Emperor's autocratic rule and his massive labor projects, which fomented rebellion among the populace, the Qin dynasty fell into chaos soon after his death. Under the corrupt rule of his son and successor Huhai, the Qin dynasty collapsed a mere three years later. The Han dynasty (206 BC–220 CE) then emerged from the ensuing civil wars and succeeded in establishing a much longer-lasting dynasty. It continued many of the institutions created by the Qin dynasty, but adopted a more moderate rule. Under the Han dynasty, arts and culture flourished, while they expanded militarily in all directions. Many Chinese scholars such as Ho Ping-ti believe that the concept (ethnogenesis) of Han ethnicity, though an ancient one, was formally entrenched in the Han dynasty. This is considered one of the greatest periods of Chinese history, and the Chinese people have since taken their ethnic name from this dynasty.
The fall of the Han dynasty was followed by an age of fragmentation and several centuries of disunity amid warfare among rival kingdoms. During this time, areas of northern China were overrun by various non-Han nomadic peoples, which came to establish kingdoms of their own, the most successful of which was Northern Wei (established by the Xianbei). Starting from this period, the native population of China proper began to be referred to as Hanren, or the "People of Han", to distinguish them from the nomads from the steppe. Warfare and invasion led to one of the first great migrations of Han populations in history, as they fled south to the Yangtze and beyond, shifting the Chinese demographic center and speeding up sinicization of the far south. At the same time most of the nomads in northern China came to be sinicized as they ruled over large Chinese populations and adopted elements of their culture and administration. Of note, the Xianbei rulers of Northern Wei ordered a policy of systematic sinicization, adopting Han surnames, institutions, and culture.
The Sui (581–618) and Tang (618–907) dynasties saw the continuation of the complete sinicization of the south coast of what is now China proper, including what are now the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. The later part of the Tang era, as well as the Five Dynasties period that followed, saw continual warfare in north and central China; the relative stability of the south coast made it an attractive destination for refugees.
The next few centuries saw successive invasions of non-Han peoples from the north, such as the Khitans and Jurchens. In 1279, the Mongols conquered all of China, becoming the first non-Han ethnic group to do so, and established the Yuan dynasty. The Mongols divided society into four classes, with themselves occupying the top class and Han Chinese into the bottom two classes. Emigration, seen as disloyal to ancestors and ancestral land, was banned by the Song and Yuan dynasties.
In 1368, Han Chinese rebels drove out the Mongols and, after some infighting, established the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Settlement of Han Chinese into peripheral regions continued during this period, with Yunnan in the southwest receiving a large number of migrants.
In 1644, the Ming capital, Beijing, was captured by Li Zicheng's peasant rebels and the Chongzhen Emperor committed suicide. The Manchus of the Qing dynasty then allied with former Ming general Wu Sangui and seized control of Beijing. Remnant Ming forces led by Koxinga fled to Taiwan and established the Kingdom of Tungning, which eventually capitulated to Qing forces in 1683. Taiwan, previously inhabited mostly by non-Han aborigines, was sinicized during this period via large-scale migration accompanied by assimilation, despite efforts by the Manchus to prevent this, as they found it difficult to maintain control over the island. In 1681, the Kangxi Emperor ordered construction of the Willow Palisade to prevent Han Chinese migration to the three northeastern provinces, which nevertheless had harbored a significant Chinese population for centuries, especially in the southern Liaodong area. The Manchus designated Jilin and Heilongjiang as the Manchu homeland, to which the Manchus could hypothetically escape and regroup if the Qing dynasty fell. Because of increasing Russian territorial encroachment and annexation of neighboring territory, the Qing later reversed its policy and allowed the consolidation of a demographic Han majority in northeast China.
In the 19th century, Chinese migrants went in large numbers to other parts of the world, including South Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, and North America.
China is one of the world's oldest and most complex civilizations, whose culture dates back thousands of years. Han Chinese maintain cultural affinities to Chinese lands outside of their locale through ancestor worship and clan associations, which often identify famous figures from Chinese history or myth as ancestors of current members. Such patriarchs include the Yellow Emperor and the Yan Emperor, who according to legend lived thousands of years ago and gave Han people the sobriquet "Descendants of Yan and Huang Emperor" (炎黃子孫; 炎黄子孙), a phrase which has reverberative connotations in a divisive political climate, as in that between mainland China and Taiwan.
Throughout the history of China, Chinese culture has been heavily influenced by Confucianism. Credited with shaping much of Chinese thought, Confucianism was the official philosophy throughout most of Imperial China's history, institutionalizing values like filial piety, which implied the performance of certain shared rituals. Thus, villagers lavished on funeral and wedding ceremonies that imitated the Confucian standards of the Emperors. Mastery of Confucian texts provided the primary criterion for entry into the imperial bureaucracy, but even those degree-holders who did not enter the bureaucracy or who left it held increased social influence in their home areas, contributing to the homogenizing of Han Chinese culture. Other factors contributing to the development of a shared Han culture included urbanization and geographically vast but integrated commodity markets.
Han Chinese speak various forms of the Chinese language that are descended from a common early language; one of the names of the language groups is Hanyu (simplified Chinese: 汉语; traditional Chinese: 漢語), literally the "Han language". Similarly, Chinese characters, used to write the language, are called Hanzi (simplified Chinese: 汉字; traditional Chinese: 漢字), or "Han characters".
In the late imperial period, more than two-thirds of the Han Chinese population used a variant of Mandarin Chinese as their native tongue. However, there was a larger variety of languages in certain areas of southeast China, like Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Guangxi. Since the Qin dynasty, which standardized the various forms of writing that existed in China, a standard literary Chinese had emerged with vocabulary and grammar that was significantly different from the various forms of spoken Chinese. A simplified and elaborated version of this written standard was used in business contracts, notes for Chinese opera, ritual texts for Chinese folk religion, and other daily documents for educated people.
During the early 20th century, written vernacular Chinese based on Mandarin dialects, which had been developing for several centuries, was standardized and adopted to replace literary Chinese. While written vernacular forms of other varieties of Chinese exist, such as written Cantonese, written Chinese based on Mandarin is widely understood by speakers of all varieties and has taken up the dominant position among written forms, formerly occupied by literary Chinese. Thus, although residents of different regions would not necessarily understand each other's speech, they generally share a common written language.
From the 1950s, Simplified Chinese characters were adopted in mainland China and later in Singapore and Malaysia, while Chinese communities in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and overseas countries continue to use Traditional Chinese characters. Although significant differences exist between the two character sets, they are largely mutually intelligible.
Chinese names are typically two or three syllables in length, with the surname preceding the given name. Surnames are typically one syllable in length, though a few uncommon surnames are two or more syllables long, while given names are one or two syllables long. There are 4,000 to 6,000 surnames in China, of which about 1,000 surnames are most common.
In historical China, the notion of hundred surnames (百家姓) was a crucial identity of Han people. Besides the common culture and writings, common origins rooted in the surnames was another major factor that contributed towards Han Chinese identity.
Today, Han Chinese usually wear Western-style clothing—few wear traditional Hanfu on a regular basis. It is, however, preserved in religious and ceremonial costumes. For example, Taoist priests dress in fashion typical of scholars of the Han Dynasty. Both the Kimono from Japan and the Hanbok in Korea were heavily influenced by the traditional Chinese Hanfu. The Vietnamese Ao dai bears similarities with the Chinese Cheongsam but ultimately descends from the áo tứ thân, which was influenced by the fashion of China's imperial court. In Vietnam, the court attire or royal clothing worn by the Nguyen dynasty descended from Ming clothing with some influence from the newly established Qing dynasty. Nowadays, the most popular traditional Chinese clothing worn by many women on important occasions such as wedding banquets and New Year celebrations is called the qipao. However, this attire comes not from the Han Chinese but from a modified dress-code of the Manchus, the ethnic group that ruled China between the 17th (1644) and the early 20th century (1911). In recent years, a movement has taken place in China,also the world, leading to increasing interest in the reemergence of Hanfu.
Han Chinese families throughout China have had certain traditionally prescribed roles, such as the family head (家長, jiāzhǎng), who represents the family to the outside world, and the family manager (當家, dāngjiā), who is in charge of the revenues. Because farmland was commonly bought, sold, or mortgaged, families were run like enterprises, with set rules for the allocation (分家, fēnjiā) of pooled earnings and assets.
Han Chinese houses differ from place to place. In Beijing, the whole family traditionally lived together in a large rectangle-shaped house called a siheyuan. Such houses had four rooms at the front—guest room, kitchen, lavatory, and servants' quarters. Across large double doors was a wing for the elderly in the family. This wing consisted of three rooms: a central room where the four tablets – heaven, earth, ancestor, and teacher – were worshipped, and two rooms attached to the left and right, which were bedrooms for the grandparents. The east wing of the house was inhabited by the eldest son and his family, while the west wing sheltered the second son and his family. Each wing had a veranda; some had a "sunroom" made with surrounding fabric and supported by a wooden or bamboo frame. Every wing was also built around a central courtyard that was used for study, exercise, or nature viewing.
The cuisine of the Han people varies from Sichuan's famously spicy food to Guangdong's Dim Sum and fresh seafood. Analyses have revealed their main staple to be rice. During China's neolithic period, southwestern rice growers transitioned to millet from the northwest, when they could not find a suitable northwestern ecology – which was typically dry and cold – to sustain the generous yields of their staple as well as it did in other areas, such as along the eastern Chinese coast.
Han people have a rich history of classical literature dating back to three thousand years. Important early works include classic texts such as Classic of Poetry, Analects of Confucius, I Ching, Tao Te Ching, and the Art of War. Some of the most important Han Chinese poets in the pre-modern era include Li Bai, Du Fu, and Su Dongpo. The most important novels in Chinese literature, otherwise known as the Four Great Classical Novels, are: Dream of the Red Chamber, Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Journey to the West.
Han Chinese have played a major role in the development of the arts, sciences, philosophy, and mathematics throughout history. In ancient times, the scientific accomplishments of China included seismological detectors, multistage rockets, rockets for recreational and military purposes, gunpowder, firearms, the fire lance, the cannon, landmines, naval mines, continuous flame throwers, fire arrows, trebuchets, crossbows, fireworks, pontoon bridges, matches, paper, printing, paper-printed money, insurance, civil service examination systems, the raised-relief map, biological pest control, the multi-tube seed drill, rotary winnowing fan, blast furnaces, cast iron, petroleum and natural gas as fuel, deep drilling for natural gas, oil drilling, porcelain, lacquer, lacquerware, silk fabric, dry docks, the pound lock, the Grand Canal, the magnetic compass, south-pointing chariots, odometers, fishing reels, the Su Song water-driven astronomical clock tower, chain pumps, escapements, sliding calipers, trip hammers, kites, sunglasses, the toothbrush, inoculation, etc. Paper, printing, the compass, and gunpowder are celebrated in Chinese culture as the Four Great Inventions. Chinese astronomers were also among the first to record observations of a supernova.
Chinese art, Chinese cuisine, Chinese philosophy, and Chinese literature all have undergone thousands of years of development, while numerous Chinese sites, such as the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army, are World Heritage Sites. Since the start of the program in 2001, aspects of Chinese culture have been listed by UNESCO as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Throughout much of history, successive Chinese dynasties have exerted influence on their neighbors in the areas of art, music, religion, food, dress, philosophy, language, government, and culture. In modern times, Han Chinese form the largest ethnic group in China, while an overseas Chinese diaspora numbering in the tens of millions has settled in and contributed to countries throughout the world.
In modern times, Han Chinese have continued to contribute to mathematics and sciences. Among them are Nobel Prize recipients Steven Chu, Samuel C. C. Ting, Chen Ning Yang, Tsung-Dao Lee, Yuan T. Lee, Daniel C. Tsui, Roger Y. Tsien, and Charles K. Kao (known as the "Godfather of Broadband" and "Father of Fiber Optics"); Fields Medal recipients Terence Tao and Shing-Tung Yau, and Turing Award recipient Andrew Yao. Tsien Hsue-shen was a prominent rocket scientist who helped to found NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Chien-Shiung Wu, nicknamed the "First Lady of Physics" contributed to the Manhattan Project and radically altered modern physical theory and changed the accepted view of the structure of the universe. Ching W. Tang was the inventor of the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) and hetero-junction organic photovoltaic cell (OPV) and is widely considered the "Father of Organic Electronics". Others include David Ho, one of the first scientists to propose that AIDS was caused by a virus, thus subsequently developing combination antiretroviral therapy to combat it. Dr. Ho was named Time Magazine Person of the Year in 1996. Min Chueh Chang was the co-inventor of the combined oral contraceptive pill and is known for his pioneering work and significant contributions to the development of in vitro fertilization at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology. Tu Youyou is a prominent medical scientist and chemist who became the first native Chinese in history to receive the Nobel Prize in natural sciences when she received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering artemisinin (also known as qinghaosu) and dihydroartemisinin, used to treat malaria, which has saved millions of lives across the world. Choh Hao Li discovered human growth hormone (and subsequently used it to treat a form of dwarfism caused by growth hormone deficiency), beta-endorphin (the most powerful of the body's natural painkillers), follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone (the key hormone used in fertility testing, an example is the ovulation home test). Joe Hin Tjio was a cytogeneticist renowned as the first person to recognize the normal number of human chromosomes, a breakthrough in karyotype genetics. Yuan-Cheng Fung, is regarded as the "Father of modern biomechanics" for pioneering the application of quantitative and analytical engineering principles to the study of the human body and disease. The geometer Shiing-Shen Chern was one of the leaders in differential geometry of the 20th century and was awarded the 1984 Wolf Prize in mathematics. China's system of "barefoot doctors" was among the most important inspirations for the World Health Organisation conference in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan in 1978, and was hailed as a revolutionary breakthrough in international health ideology emphasizing primary health care and preventive medicine.
Chinese culture has been long characterized by religious pluralism and Chinese folk religion has always maintained a profound influence. Indigenous Confucianism and Taoism share aspects of being a philosophy or a religion, and neither demand exclusive adherence, resulting in a culture of tolerance and syncretism, where multiple religions or belief systems are often practiced in concert with local customs and traditions. Han Chinese culture has for long been influenced by Buddhism, while in recent centuries Christianity has also gained a foothold among the population.
Confucianism, a governing philosophy and moral code with some religious elements like ancestor worship, is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture and was the official state philosophy in China during the Han Dynasty and unto the fall of imperial China in the 20th century.
Chinese folk religion is a set of worship traditions of the ethnic deities of the Han people. It involves the worship of various figures in Chinese mythology, folk heroes such as Guan Yu and Qu Yuan, mythological creatures such as the Chinese dragon, or family, clan and national ancestors. These practices vary from region to region, and do not characterize an organized religion, though many traditional Chinese holidays such as the Duanwu (or Dragon Boat) Festival, Qingming, and the Mid-Autumn Festival come from the most popular of these traditions.
Taoism, another indigenous religion, is also widely practiced in both its folk forms and as an organized religion, and has influenced Chinese art, poetry, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, alchemy and chemistry, cuisine, martial arts, and architecture. Taoism was the state religion of the early Han Dynasty, and also often enjoyed state patronage under subsequent emperors and dynasties.
In the Han Dynasty, Confucian ideals were the dominant ideology. Near the end of the dynasty, Buddhism entered China, later gaining popularity. Historically, Buddhism alternated between periods of state tolerance (and even patronage) and persecution. In its original form, Buddhism was at odds with the native Chinese religions, especially with the elite, as certain Buddhist values often conflicted with Chinese sensibilities. However, through centuries of assimilation, adaptation, and syncretism, Chinese Buddhism gained an accepted place in the culture. Buddhism would come to be influenced by Confucianism and Taoism, and exerted influence in turn—such as in the form of Neo-Confucianism.
Though Christian influence in China existed as early as the 7th century, Christianity did not begin to gain a significant foothold in China until the establishment of contact with Europeans during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Chinese practices at odds with Christian beliefs resulted in the Chinese Rites controversy, and a subsequent reduction in Christian influence. Christianity grew considerably following the First Opium War, after which foreign missionaries in China enjoyed the protection of the Western powers and engaged in widespread proselytising.
The term "Huaxia" was used by Confucius's contemporaries, during the Warring States era, to describe the shared ethnicity of all Chinese; Chinese people called themselves Hua Ren. Southern Han people – such as the Hoklo, Cantonese and Hakka – all claim northern Chinese origins from ancestors who migrated from Northern China's Yellow River Valley during the 4th to 12th centuries. Hoklo clans living in southeastern coastal China, such as in Chaozhou and Quanzhou–Zhangzhou, originated from northern China's Henan province during the Tang dynasty.
There were several periods of mass migration of Han people to southeastern and southern China throughout history. The ancestors of the Cantonese are said to be northern Chinese who moved to Guangdong, while the Yue (Baiyue) descendants were indigenous minorities who practised tattooing, as described in "The Real Yue People" (Zhen Yueren 真越人) essay by Qu Dajun (屈大均), a Cantonese scholar who extolled his people's Chineseness.
Vietnam, Guangdong, and Yunnan all experienced a major surge in Han Chinese migrants during Wang Mang's reign. Hangzhou's coastal regions and the Yangtze valley were settled in the 4th century by Northern Chinese families from the nobility. Special "commanderies of immigrants" and "white registers" were created for the massive number of Han Chinese of northern origin who moved south during the Eastern Jin dynasty. The southern Chinese aristocracy was formed from the offspring of these migrants; Celestial Masters and the nobility of northern China subdued the aristocracy of southern China during the Eastern Jin and Western Jin, particularly in Jiangnan. With the depopulation of the north, due to this migration of northern Chinese, the south became the most populous region of China.
Different waves of migration of aristocratic Chinese from northern China to the south at different times – with some arriving in the 300s–400s and others in the 800s–900s – resulted in the formation of distinct lineages. During the 700s (Tang dynasty), Han migrants from northern China flooded into the south. Hong Kong history books record migrations of the Song and Tang dynasties to the south, which resulted in Hong Kongers that are descended from ethnic Han settlers that originated from northern China. Since it was during the Tang dynasty that Guangdong was subjected to settlement by Han people, many Cantonese, Hokkien and Teochew call themselves Tang.
Y-chromosome haplogroup O3 is a common DNA marker in Han Chinese, as it appeared in China in prehistoric times. It is found in more than 50% of Chinese males, and ranging up to over 80% in certain regional subgroups of the Han ethnicity. However, the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of Han Chinese increases in diversity as one looks from northern to southern China, which suggests that male migrants from northern China married with women from local peoples after arriving in modern-day Guangdong, Fujian, and other regions of southern China. Despite this, tests comparing the genetic profiles of northern Han, southern Han and southern natives determined that haplogroups O1b-M110, O2a1-M88 and O3d-M7, which are prevalent in southern natives, were only observed in some southern Hans (4% on average), but not in northern Hans. Therefore, this proves that the male contribution of southern natives in southern Hans is limited, assuming that the frequency distribution of Y lineages in southern natives represents that before the expansion of Han culture that started two-thousand years ago. In contrast, there are consistent strong genetic similarities in the Y chromosome haplogroup distribution between the southern and northern Chinese population, and the result of principal component analysis indicates almost all Han populations form a tight cluster in their Y chromosome. However, other research has also shown that the paternal lineages Y-DNA O-M119, O-P201, O-P203 and O-M95 are found in both southern Han Chinese and South Chinese minorities, but more commonly in the latter. In fact, these paternal markers are in turn less frequent in northern Han Chinese. Another study puts Han Chinese into two groups: northern and southern Han Chinese, and it finds that the genetic characteristics of present-day northern Han Chinese was already formed as early as three-thousand years ago in the Central Plain area.
The estimated contribution of northern Hans to southern Hans is substantial in both paternal and maternal lineages and a geographic cline exists for mtDNA. As a result, the northern Hans are the primary contributors to the gene pool of the southern Hans. However, it is noteworthy that the expansion process was dominated by males, as is shown by a greater contribution to the Y-chromosome than the mtDNA from northern Hans to southern Hans. These genetic observations are in line with historical records of continuous and large migratory waves of northern China inhabitants escaping warfare and famine, to southern China. Aside from these large migratory waves, other smaller southward migrations occurred during almost all periods in the past two millennia.
A study by the Chinese Academy of Sciences into the gene frequency data of Han subpopulations and ethnic minorities in China, showed that Han subpopulations in different regions are also genetically close to the local ethnic minorities, meaning that in many cases, blood of ethnic minorities had mixed into Han, while at the same time, the blood of Han had also mixed into the local ethnicities. A study on Armenian admixture in varied populations found 3.9% Armenian-like DNA in some northern Chinese Han. A recent, and to date the most extensive, genome-wide association study of the Han population, shows that geographic-genetic stratification from north to south has occurred and centrally placed populations act as the conduit for outlying ones. Ultimately, with the exception in some ethnolinguistic branches of the Han Chinese, such as Pinghua, there is "coherent genetic structure" in all Han Chinese populace.