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|Top: Cao Xueqin · Chien-Shiung Wu · Du Fu · Lai Man-Wai · Sima Qian
2nd: Sun Tzu · Qin Shi Huang · Laozi · Xi Jinping · Deng Xiao Ping
3rd: Qiu Jin · Xuan Zang · Confucius · Zhang Heng · Tsung-Dao Lee
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Bottom: Li Qingzhao · Lee Kuan Yew · Tang Taizong · Yang Liwei · Zhou Xuan
|Regions with significant populations|
Han Chinese or Han People (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 are 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), 74% of the population of Singapore, and about 20% of the entire global human population, making it the largest ethnic group in the world. There is considerable 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). Sometimes Han and other Chinese refer to themselves as the "Descendants of the Yan and Huang Emperors" (simplified Chinese: 炎黄子孙; traditional Chinese: 炎黃子孫).
The name Han comes from the Han Dynasty, which succeeded the short-lived Qin Dynasty that united China. The Han Dynasty's first emperor was originally known as the king of the region of 'Han Zhong' 漢中, which is where the word is derived. Han, as a word in ancient China, especially in classical literary Chinese, can also mean the Milky Way, or as people in ancient China called it, the "Heavenly River" (天河 Tian He).
Prior to the Han Dynasty, the Chinese were referred to[by whom?] as "Huaxia people" (華夏族), citing[who?] ancient text description of China proper as an area of magnificent prosperity and culture. The Han Dynasty was considered as a classical period in Chinese civilization, in that it was able to expand its power and influence over Central, Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia, and come to rival its contemporary Roman Empire in population, territory, wealth, and power. As a result of the Han Dynasty's prominence, many Chinese began addressing themselves as "people of Han" (漢人), a name that was since carried down.
In the English language, the Han are often referred to as simply "Chinese". Whether or not the use of the term Chinese correctly or incorrectly refers only to Han Chinese often is the subject of debate.
Among some southern Han Chinese, a different term exists within various Chinese dialects like Cantonese, Hakka and Minnan – Tángrén (唐人, literally "the people of Tang"). This term derives from a later Chinese dynasty, the Tang Dynasty, which is regarded as another zenith of Chinese civilization. The term survives in one of the Chinese names for Chinatown: 唐人街 (Tángrénjiē); literally meaning "Street of the people of Tang".
Another term commonly used by Overseas Chinese is Huaren (simplified Chinese: 华人; traditional Chinese: 華人; pinyin: huárén), derived from Zhonghua (simplified Chinese: 中华; traditional Chinese: 中華; pinyin: zhōnghuá), a literary name for China. The usual translation is "ethnic Chinese". The term refers to "Chinese" as a cultural and ethnic affiliation and is inclusive of both Chinese in China and persons of Chinese descent residing abroad.
The vast majority of Han Chinese – over 1.2 billion – live in areas under the jurisdiction of the People's Republic of China (PRC), where they constitute about 92% of its population. Within the People's Republic of China, Han Chinese are the majority in every province, municipality, and autonomous region except for the autonomous regions of Xinjiang (41% as of 2000) and Tibet (6% as of 2000). Han Chinese also constitute the majority in both of the special administrative regions of the PRC, about 95% of the population of Hong Kong and about 96% of the population of Macau.
Over 22 million Han Chinese are in Taiwan. The Han Chinese began migrating from southeastern coastal provinces of mainland China to Taiwan in the 17th century.
At first, these immigrants 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 Hakka immigrants 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. Recent scientific research conducted by Chen Shun-sheng of the Kaohsiung Hospital’s psychiatric department claims DNA studies of Taiwan’s people revealed a large percentage of the population has mixed Han Chinese and aboriginal bloodlines.
Of about 40 million "overseas Chinese" worldwide, nearly 30 million live in Southeast Asia. Singapore has the largest majority overseas Chinese population at 74%. Christmas Island also has a Chinese majority at 70%. Large Chinese populations also live in Malaysia (25%), Thailand (14%), Indonesia, and the Philippines. Elsewhere in the world, 3 million people of Chinese descent live in the United States where they constitute 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.
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 places the reign of the Yellow Emperor, the legendary ancestor of the Han Chinese, at the beginning of Chinese history. 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. The Song and Yuan dynasties banned emigration, seen as disloyalty to ancestors and ancestral land, and foresaw severe penalties for it.
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, Beijing was captured by Li Zicheng's peasant rebels and the last Ming Emperor Chongzhen committed suicide. The Manchus (Qing Dynasty) then allied with Ming Dynasty general Wu Sangui and seized control of Beijing. 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 prohibited Han Chinese migration to Manchuria, because the Manchus perceived it as the home base of their dynasty. In 1681, the emperor ordered construction of the Willow Palisade, a barrier beyond which the Chinese were prohibited from settling. The Qing Dynasty started colonising the area with Han Chinese later on in the dynasty's rule. This movement of the Han Chinese to Manchuria is called Chuang Guandong (during previous dynasties, Han Chinese settlement in Manchuria was mainly in 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.)
The Qing Dynasty was replaced by the Republic of China in 1912. In 1949 the People's Republic of China was established towards the end of the Chinese Civil War while the Republic of China retreated to Taiwan. About one million refugees fled with it, further augmenting the population of Taiwan. In the 1980s, the one-child policy was introduced in People's Republic to regulate population growth, which only applies to the Han.
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 Yan and Huang 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.
Han Chinese speak various forms of the Chinese language; one of the names of the language group 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".
While there are many Chinese dialects, historically there has been greater unity in Chinese written languages. This unity is credited to the Qin dynasty which standardized the various forms of writing that existed in China at that time. For thousands of years, Literary Chinese was used as the standard written format among the literati, which used vocabulary and grammar that may be significantly different from the various forms of spoken Chinese.
During the early twentieth century, written vernacular Chinese based on Beijing Mandarin, which has been developing for a few centuries, was standardized and adopted to replace Literary Chinese. While written vernacular forms of other languages of China exist, such as written Cantonese, written Chinese based on Mandarin is widely understood by speakers of all Chinese languages and has taken up the dominant position among written Chinese languages, formerly occupied by Literary Chinese. Thus, although the residents of different regions would not necessarily understand each other's speech, they generally share a common written language.
Beginning in the 1950s, Simplified Chinese characters was adopted in mainland China and later in Singapore, while Chinese communities in Hong Kong, Macau, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and overseas countries continue to use Traditional Chinese characters. While 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 character 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, hundred surnames (百家姓) was a crucial identity of Han people. Besides the common culture and writings, common origin 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 Han Chinese clothing 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. The ceremonial dress in Japan, such as those of Shinto priests, is largely in line with ceremonial dress in China during the Tang Dynasty. Now, the most popular traditional Chinese clothing worn by many women on important occasions such as wedding banquets and New Year 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 seventeenth (1644) and the early twentieth century.
Han Chinese housing is different from place to place. Chinese Han people in Beijing traditionally commonly lived with the whole family in large houses that were rectangular in shape. This house is called a 四合院 (traditional and simplified characters) or sì hé yuàn (Hanyu Pinyin). These houses had four rooms in the front: the guest room, kitchen, lavatory, and servants' quarters. Across the 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. There the two rooms attached to the left and right 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 from a surrounding fabric supported by a wooden or bamboo frame. Every wing is also built around a central courtyard used for study, exercise, or nature viewing.
Chinese has a rich history of classical literature dating back several thousand years. Important early works include classics texts such as Analects of Confucius, the 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, or 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 rocket, rocket for recreational and military purposes, gunpowder, fire lance, cannon, landmine, naval mines, continuous flame thrower, fire arrow, trebuchet, crossbow, fireworks, pontoon bridge, matches, paper, printing, paper-printed money, insurance, menu, civil service examination system, the raised-relief map, cartography, biological pest control, the multi-tube seed drill, rotary winnowing fan, cast iron heavy plough, geobotanical prospecting, blast furnace, cast iron, steel, horse collar, petroleum and natural gas as fuel, deep drilling for natural gas, oil drilling, porcelain, lacquer, lacquerware, silk, dry docks, paddle wheels, Stern mounted rudder, the canal lock, Grand Canal, flash lock, water-tight compartments in ships, the double-action piston pump, the magnetic compass, South Pointing Chariot, odometer, fishing reel, Su Song water-driven astronomical clock tower, chain pump, chain drive, escapement, hot air balloon, mechanical clock, belt drive, sliding calipers, pound lock, pendulum, gimbal, collapsible umbrella, trip hammer, kites, sunglasses, 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 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, Charles K. Kao, Gao Xingjian; Fields Medal recipients Terence Tao and Shing-Tung Yau, and Turing Award recipient Andrew Yao. Tsien Hsue-shen was a prominent scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, while Chien-Shiung Wu contributed to the Manhattan Project and was nicknamed the "First Lady of Physics". Ching W. Tang was the inventor of the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) and hetero-junction organic photovoltaic cell (OPV) and won the 2011 Wolf Prize in Chemistry for this contribution. Others include David Ho (scientist), 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's 1996 Person of the Year. Min Chueh Chang was the co-inventor of the combined oral contraceptive pill and contributed significantly to the development of in vitro fertilization at the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology. Choh Hao Li was associated with the identification, purification and synthesis of Growth hormone and discovered Beta-endorphin. Shiing-Shen Chern was one of the leaders in differential geometry of the twentieth century and was awarded the 1984 Wolf Prize in mathematics. The antimalarial drug Artemisinin and anti-IgE antibody Omalizumab for treatment of asthma was discovered and developed by ethnic Chinese scientists. China's system of Barefoot doctors was among the most important inspirations for the WHO conference in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan in 1978, and was hailed as a revolutionary breakthrough in international health ideology emphasising primary health care and preventive medicine.
Chinese culture has been long characterized by religious pluralism. The 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, along with local customs and traditions. Han Chinese culture has also been long influenced by Buddhism, while in recent centuries, Christianity has also gained a foothold in 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 from the Han Dynasty until the fall of imperial China in the twentieth century.
The Chinese folk religion is the set of worship traditions of the ethnic deities of the Han people. It involves 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 religion 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 Han Dynasty, Confucian ideals were the dominant ideology. Near the end of the dynasty, Buddhism entered China and later gained popularity. Historically, Buddhism alternated between state tolerance and even patronage, and persecution. In its original form, Buddhism was at odds with the native Chinese religions, especially 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 influence in China until contact with Europeans during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Chinese practices at odds with Christian beliefs resulted in the Chinese Rites controversy, and 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 widespread proselytism took place.
The definition of the Han identity has varied throughout history. Prior to the 20th century, some Chinese-speaking groups like the Hakka and the Tanka were not universally accepted as Han Chinese, while some non-Chinese speaking peoples, like the Zhuang, were sometimes considered Han. Today, Hui are considered a separate ethnic group, but aside from their practice of Islam, little distinguishes them from the Han; two Han from different regions might differ more in language, customs, and culture than a neighboring Han and Hui. During the Qing Dynasty, Han Chinese who had entered the Eight Banners military system were considered Manchu, while Chinese nationalists seeking to overthrow the monarchy stressed Han Chinese identity in contrast to the Manchu rulers. Upon its founding, the Republic of China recognized five major ethnic groups: the Han, Hui, Mongols, Manchus, and Tibetans, while the People's Republic of China now recognizes fifty-six ethnic groups.
Whether or not there was the concept of "ethnic groups" in ancient China is still questionable. However, throughout history, majority of Chinese regarded each other as subjects of a particular Kingdom. Nevertheless, thousands of years of unity under various Han-dominated dynasties have brought a common identity. Many Chinese scholars such as Ho Ping-Ti believe that the concept of a Han ethnicity is an ancient one, dating from the Han Dynasty itself.
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 of Han Chinese increases in diversity as one looks from northern to southern China, which suggests that some male migrants from northern China married with women from local peoples after arriving in 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. 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. Additionally, 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 also occurred during almost all periods in the past two millennia. Moreover, 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, and it means that in many cases blood of ethnic minorities has mixed into Han, while at the same time, blood of Han also has mixed into the local ethnicities. A recent, and to date the most extensive, genome-wide association study of the Han population shows that little geographic-genetic dispersion from north to south has occurred. Ultimately, with the exception in some ethnolinguistic branches of the Han Chinese, such as Pinghua, there is a coherent genetic structure in all Han Chinese populace.
In addition to a diversity of spoken language, which were all descended from a common Old Chinese ancestor, there are also regional differences in culture among Han Chinese. For example, China's cuisine varies from Sichuan's famously spicy food to Guangdong's Dim Sum and fresh seafood. However, like other ethnic groups, some sense of cultural (or at least political) unity still exists between the various groups because of common cultural, behavioural, linguistic, and religious practices.
Historical documentation indicates that the Han were descended from the ancient Huaxia tribes of northern China. During the past two millennia, the Han culture (that is, the language and its associated culture) extended into southern China, a region inhabited by the southern natives, including those speaking Tai–Kadai, Austro-Asiatic, and Hmong–Mien languages. As Huaxia culture spread from its heartland in the Yellow River basin, it absorbed many distinct ethnic groups which then came to be identified as Han Chinese, as these groups adopted Han language (or variations of it) and customs.
For example, during the Shang Dynasty, people of the Wu area, in the Yangtze River Delta, were considered a different tribe. They spoke a language that was almost certainly distinct from that of the Shang, and were described as being scantily dressed and tattooed. Later Taibo, elder uncle of King Wen of Zhou, realising that his younger brother, Jili, was wiser than him and deserved to inherit the throne, fled to Wu and settled there. Three generations later, King Wu of Zhou defeated the last Yin emperor, and enfeoffed the descendants of Taibo in Wu, this mirrors the later history of Nanyue, where a Chinese king and his soldiers ruled a local non-Chinese population, and mixed with the local inhabitants who were sinicized over time. By the Tang Dynasty, however, this area had become part of the Han Chinese heartland, and is today the most densely populated and strongest performing economic region in China, the site of China's largest city Shanghai. Many Chinese languages are mutually unintelligible, but descend from a common Old Chinese, and Middle Chinese ancestors.
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