When you are traveling around China or studying Asian history, it can sometimes be confusing about the difference between the Manchu, Mongol, and Han Chinese ethnic groups of people. They may all seem similar, but they are actually different ethnic groups.
The Manchu people are traditionally from Northeastern China, and they traditionally speak a language called Manchurian. The Mongol people mainly live in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia in China. They speak the Mongolian language. On the other hand, the Han Chinese are the major ethnic group in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. There are many dialects of Chinese spoken, but the major dialects are Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese.
The Manchu People
The Manchus are an ethnic minority group in present-day China. Sometimes the Manchus are called Red Tasseled Manchus; this is due to the ornamentation on their traditional Manchu hats. Manchuria gets its name from the Manchu people and is mainly from Northeastern China.
In present-day China, the Manchu are the fourth largest ethnic group of China; some also live in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Only about 0.78% of the present-day Chinese population are considered Manchu or Manchurian.
The Manchu ethnic group can be found in almost all Chinese provinces. The largest population centers of the Manchu ethnic group are found in China in Liaoning, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Inner Mongolia, and Beijing. Throughout China, there are hundreds of Manchu towns and townships.
The Manchu ethnic group is from the branch of the Tungusic people. The Manchu ethnic group has its own language, which is not the same as Mandarin Chinese but is related to the Altaic language; Manchurian is closer to Mongolian, Turkic, and Korean languages.
If anyone studies Chinese history, they will learn that the Manchus took over the Chinese imperial throne and formed the Qing dynasty from 1644 until 1911. The famous Hollywood movie called The Last Emperor shows the last Manchurian Chinese Emperor Pu Yi as he abdicated the Chinese throne.
Even though Pu Yi was considered a Manchurian Chinese Emperor, he did speak much of the Manchurian language; instead spoke mainly Mandarin Chinese. This shows how integrated the Manchu ethnic group was among the Han Chinese population.
The Manchu are many times mistaken for nomadic people or thought of as Mongol. The Manchu are not nomadic as the Mongol’s are, and instead, they were into agriculture, farming, and raising animals on the farm.
The Mongol People
The Mongol ethnic group is a Central Asian ethnic group that lives mainly on the Mongolian plateau. The Mongols all share a common Mongolian language and cultural traditions.
The Mongol peoples now live in two major places: Mongolia, known as Outer Mongolia, and Inner Mongolia, or China’s autonomous region. Some Mongols can be found throughout Central Asia.
To put this into perspective, the Mongols form the bulk of the population of independent Mongolia. They also represent about 1/6 of the population in China’s inner Mongolian autonomous region. Throughout China, several enclaves have Mongols with a high percentage in Qinghai, Xinjiang, Tibet, and including some areas in northeast China where many of the Manchus live.
The Mongols are known to be nomadic people; even today, in present Mongolian, you can find many Mongolian nomads who are herding sheep, goats, and other animals. They are also known to be superb horsemen, and in many desert areas, they regularly ride camels.
Present-day Mongolia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. The landmass of Mongolia is 1,566,000 square kilometers or 605,000 square miles. Yet the population in this huge landmass is just over 3 million people.
If you compare this to Inner Mongolia, there are far more Mongols living in China than Mongolia. The Mongols are the 10th Ethnic group in China and have a population of almost 6 million people. This is almost double the population of Mongolia.
The Han Chinese
The Han Chinese are also known as Hanzu or Han People. Over 91% of the Chinese population is considered Han Chinese, so you can say that the Han Chinese is basically Chinese.
In Taiwan, about 97% of the Taiwanese population is considered Han Chinese. And in Singapore, about 75% of the total population is Han Chinese. And in Hong Kong and Macau, about 88% of the population are Han Chinese.
Ethnic groups are defined as a group of people who share an ancestry, history, homeland, language (can also be a dialect), and cultural heritage. Based on this definition of ethnic groups, the Han Chinese are the world’s largest ethnic group. In fact, the Han Chinese share an ancient history that is over 4,000 years old.
There are many different spoken language dialects of Chinese. Even today, when you travel throughout China, there can be various Chinese dialects spoken in the same city or province.
The two main dialects of Chinese are Mandarin Chinese (the official language of China) and Cantonese (spoken mainly in Hong Kong and unofficially in Southern China). Even though both dialects are both Chinese, they are actually both very different; speaking one dialect of Chinese does not mean you can speak or understand the other Chinese dialect.
The Han Chinese are native to the Yellow River Basin area of modern-day China. This contrasts with the Manchurians who came mainly from Northeastern China or the Mongol who is from the Mongolian Plateau area.
Manchu’s, Mongols, and Han Chinese Compared.
Many times people can confuse the Manchu’s, Mongols, and Han Chinese ethnic groups. When you view the table below, you can see that actually the Manchus, the Mongols, and the Han Chinese are all different ethnic groups with different characteristics. And in particular, the Manchu and the Mongols are not the same ethnic group.
Here is a chart to show the difference of each ethnic group:
|Original Location||Northeastern China||Mongolia and Inner Mongolia||Yellow River Basin, China|
|Lifestyle||Agriculture and Farms||Nomads||Agriculture and Farms|
|Type of Language||Altaic Language||Altaic Languages||Sino- Tibetan Languages|
|Countries where majority of population lives||China||Inner Mongolia (China) and Mongolia||China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.|
|Principle Location within China||Liaoning, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Inner Mongolia and Beijing.||Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Qinghai and Gansu||All throughout China|
|Population -Ethnic Group in China||10,387,958||5,981,840||1,220,844,520|
|Percent of Chinese Population||0.78%||0.49%||91.65%|
Even though all three of these groups – Manchu, Mongols, and Han Chinese, have many similarities, they are three distinct ethnic groups. What they do have in common is a large part of their population lives in present-day China.
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