The People and Cultures of China 

China is the world’s most populous country, occupying an area just over 9.6 million square kilometers or roughly the same size as the United States. With over 1.4 billion people, it is one of the oldest civilizations in the world and a major economic, political and cultural force in Asia and around the world.

But what makes China so distinct? 

To understand the culture of China and its people, you need to learn about its rich history, its many distinct languages and dialects, the numerous religions practiced in the country and its diverse geographical landscapes.

Origins of the People of China

The origins of the people of China can be traced back to the Neolithic Age, with archaeological evidence showing the first settlements in the Yellow River Valley dating back to around 7000 BCE. From there, tribes from northern China began to migrate south. By 1400 BCE, these migrations had reached Northwestern China and then entered the Central Plain, located along the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River and Yangtze rivers.

The Xia Dynasty (2,000–1,600 BCE) and the Shang Dynasty (1,600–1046 BCE) are often credited as being the first Chinese dynasties. The Zhou Dynasty (1045–256 BCE) soon followed, and during this time, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism began to take shape. During the Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE), gunpowder was invented and Chinese ceramics and silk textiles started becoming popular abroad. The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 CE) and Qing Dynasty (1644–1912 CE) followed and are credited with ushering in the Chinese cultural golden age.

The Chinese Language

Chinese is the primary language of China, with about 1.2 billion speakers worldwide. Although there is only one official language in China, there are many different dialects and even more sub-dialects. Mandarin is the most widely spoken language, however, it differs among different regions of the country. Other major dialects include Cantonese, Shanghainese, and Hokkien.

Religions Practiced in China

Religion has played a major role in Chinese culture for centuries. While a large portion of the population identify as not religious, the largest religions practiced in China are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity.

Buddhism: Buddhism originated in India and was introduced to China in the first century CE. Buddhism is still the most popular religion in Chinese culture.

Taoism: Taoism is a major religion in Chinese culture, with an estimated 58 million practitioners. A syncretic philosophy and religion, it combines elements of Buddhism and Confucianism.

Islam: The Islamic religion was introduced to China in the 7th century by traders and diplomats. It is estimated that there are nearly 24 million Muslims in mainland China.

Christianity: Christianity was first brought to China in the 6th century, but it was not until the 19th century that it began to gain widespread acceptance. It is estimated that there are over 38 million Christians in China

Geographical Landscapes

China is a geographically diverse country, home to high mountains, extensive deserts, tropical rainforests as well as vast grasslands and lakes.

Mountainous Areas: The mountainous regions account for over 50% of China’s total land area, with famous mountain ranges such as the Himalayas, the Kunlun Mountains, the Qinling Mountains and the Zhongnan Mountains.

Deserts: China is home to numerous deserts, the largest and most famous being the Gobi Desert, which spans nearly 500,000 square kilometers.

Tropical Rainforests: The tropical rainforests of southern China include cities such as Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau.

Grasslands: Embrace vast grasslands in Northern China, home to nomadic tribes such as the Mongols, who have long been herding their livestock across the horizon.

Lakes: China is also home to innumerable lakes and waterways, including Lake Taihu, the third largest freshwater lake in the world, and Lake Qinghai, the largest lake in all of China.

Tourism in China

China is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, attracting more than 60 million international visitors in 2019 alone, making it the third most visited country in the world.

Major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chengdu, and Guangzhou are major hubs for tourism. Beijing, the capital of China, features the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, and the Great Wall – all of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Shanghai is known for its modern architecture and lively nightlife, while Shenzhen is famous for its shopping malls. Other popular cities, such as Chengdu, are known for its delicious cuisine, beautiful tea houses and panda reserves.

China is a vast and diverse country, home to over 1.4 billion people and a variety of different cultures and religions. It is an ancient civilization, but also a major economic and political force in Asia and the world. With its unique geography, ancient monuments, modern cities, and diverse languages and dialects, it is no wonder that China has become a popular tourist destination in recent years. No matter what part of China you visit, you’ll be sure to be amazed and inspired by this ancient yet modern culture.