Han Chinese (simplified Chinese: 汉族 or 汉人; traditional Chinese: 漢族 or 漢人; pinyin: hànzú or hànrén) are an ethnic group native to China and, by most modern definitions, the largest single ethnic group in the world.
Han Chinese constitute about 92% of the population of the People's Republic of China (mainland China), 98% of the population of the Republic of China (Taiwan), 78% of the population of Singapore, and about 20% of the entire global human population. There is substantial genetic, linguistic, cultural, and social diversity among the subgroups of the Han, mainly due to thousands of years of immigration and assimilation of various regional ethnicities and tribes within China. The Han Chinese are a subset of the Chinese nation (Zhonghua minzu). Many Han and other Chinese also call themselves "Descendants of the Yan Di (Yan Emperor) and Huang Di (Yellow Emperor)" (Chinese: 炎黃子孫 or 炎黄子孙).
The history of the Han Chinese ethnic group is closely tied to that of China. Han Chinese trace their ancestry back to the Huaxia people, who lived along the Huang He or Yellow River in northern China. The famous Chinese historian Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian dates the reign of the Yellow Emperor, the legendary ancestor of the Han Chinese, to 2698 BCE to 2599 BCE. Although study of this period of history is complicated by lack of historical records, discovery of archaeological sites have identified a succession of Neolithic cultures along the Yellow River. Along the central reaches of the Yellow River were the Jiahu culture (7000 BCE to 6600 BCE), Yangshao culture (5000 BCE to 3000 BCE) and Longshan culture (3000 BCE to 2000 BCE). Along the lower reaches of the river were the Qingliangang culture (5400 BCE to 4000 BCE), the Dawenkou culture (4300 BCE to 2500 BCE), the Longshan culture (2500 BCE to 2000 BCE), and the Yueshi culture.
The first dynasty to be described in Chinese historical records is the Xia Dynasty, a legendary period for which scant archaeological evidence exists. They were overthrown by peoples from the east, who founded the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1046 BCE). The earliest archaeological examples of Chinese writing date back to this period, from characters inscribed on oracle bone divination, but the well-developed oracle characters hint at a much earlier origin of writing in China. The Shang were eventually overthrown by the people of Zhou, which had emerged as a state along the Yellow River in the 2nd millennium BC.
The Zhou Dynasty was the successor to the Shang. Sharing the language and culture of the Shang people, they 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 the proto-Han Chinese culture extended south. However, the power of the Zhou kings fragmented, and many independent states emerged. This period is traditionally divided into two parts, the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period. This period was an era of major cultural and philosophical development known as the Hundred Schools of Thought. Among the most important surviving philosophies from this era are the teachings of Confucianism and Taoism.
The era of the Warring States came to an end with the unification of China by the Qin Dynasty after it conquered all other rival states. Its leader, Qin Shi Huang, declared himself the first emperor, using a newly created title, thus setting the precedent for the next two millennia. He established a new centralized and bureaucratic state to replace the old feudal system, creating many of the institutions of imperial China, and unified the country economically and culturally by decreeing a unified standard of weights, measures, currency, and writing.
However, the reign of the first imperial dynasty was to be short-lived. Due to the first emperor's autocratic rule, and his massive construction projects such as the Great Wall which fomented rebellion into the populace, the dynasty fell soon after his death. The Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) emerged from the succession struggle and succeeded in establishing a much longer lasting dynasty. It continued many of the institutions created by Qin Shi Huang but adopted a more moderate rule. Under the Han Dynasty, arts and culture flourished, while the dynasty expanded militarily in all directions. This period is considered one of the greatest periods of the history of China, and the Han Chinese take their name from this dynasty.
The fall of the Han Dynasty was followed by an age of fragmentation and several centuries of disunity amid warfare by rival kingdoms. During this time, areas of northern China were overrun by various non-Chinese 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 from the nomads from the steppe; "Han" refers to the old dynasty. Warfare and invasion led to one of the first great migrations in Han population history, as the population fled south to the Yangtze and beyond, shifting the Chinese demographic center south and speeding up Sinicization of the far south. At the same time, in the north, most of the nomads in northern China came to be Sinicized as they ruled over large Chinese populations and adopted elements of Chinese culture and Chinese administration. Of note, the Xianbei rulers of the Northern Wei ordered a policy of systematic Sinicization, adopting Han surnames, institutions, and culture.
The Sui (581–618) and Tang Dynasties (618–907) 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 Dynasty, 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 (Yuan Dynasty) conquered all of China, becoming the first non-Chinese to do so. The Mongols divided society into four classes, with themselves occupying the top class and Han Chinese into the bottom two classes.
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 Manchus (Qing Dynasty) invaded from Manchuria. Remnant Ming forces led by Koxinga fled to Taiwan, where they eventually capitulated to Qing forces in 1683. Taiwan, previously inhabited mostly by non-Han aborigines, was Sinicized via large-scale migration accompanied with assimilation during this period, despite efforts by the Manchus to prevent this, as they found it difficult to maintain control over the island. At the same time the Manchus discouraged (with only limited success) Han Chinese migration to Manchuria, because the Manchus perceived it as the home base of their dynasty. During the late Qing Dynasty however, restrictions were dropped in the face of Russian and Japanese expansionism, and Han migration to Manchuria boomed. (During previous dynasties, Han Chinese settlement in Manchuria was limited to the southern part, in what is now the province of Liaoning; during and after the late Qing Dynasty, however, Han Chinese settled and became the majority in nearly all of Manchuria.)
In the 19th century, Chinese migrants went in large numbers to other parts of the world, including Southeast Asia, Australia, and North America. See Overseas Chinese.
The Qing Dynasty was replaced by the Republic of China in 1912. In 1931 Japan detached Manchuria and created the puppet state of Manchukuo. Manchukuo attempted to appeal to Manchu nationalism, but by then the majority of its population was Han Chinese.
In 1949 the People's Republic of China was established towards the end of the Chinese Civil War while the Republic of China fled to Taiwan. About one million refugees fled with it, further augmenting the population of Taiwan. Meanwhile, the People's Republic of China organized migration into peripheral areas. In Xinjiang region in the northwest, the Han Chinese population rose from under ten percent in the 1950s to over forty percent today.
Chinese migration overseas has also continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. The returning of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 prompted large waves of Hong Kong Chinese migration to North America, Australia, and elsewhere.Chinese presences have also been established in Europe as well as Russia, especially the Russian Far East.
China is one of the world's oldest and most complex civilizations. Chinese culture dates back thousands of years. Some Han Chinese believe they share common ancestors, mythically ascribed to the patriarchs Yellow Emperor and Yan Emperor, some thousands of years ago. Hence, some Chinese refer to themselves as "Descendants of the Yan and/or Yellow Emperor" (Traditional Chinese: 炎黃子孫; Simplified Chinese: 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, and mastery of Confucian texts provided the primary criterion for entry into the imperial bureaucracy.