the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world















中國 / 中国 « Çuŋ5 Kuo35 » / 中華 / 中华 « Çuŋ5 Xua35 »

China is a cultural nation defined by the Sinitic dialects, and the region (depicted at right, in blue) inhabited by that nation. By extension, China is the primary state controlled or predominantly populated by that nation, at various points in history, including during those periods when the ruling dynasty was not culturally or ethnically Chinese. The primary Chinese state at present (outlined at right) is the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国 « Çuŋ5 Xua35 Ẓən35 Min35 Kuŋ5135 Kuo35 »).

As an ethnic group, the Chinese are often called “Han” ( / « Xan51 »). The term comes from the name of a dynasty, ruling 202 BCE – 220 CE; the same name is used for the dominant Sinitic dialect (漢語 / 汉语 « Xan51 Ü214 », “Han language”) and the Chinese script (漢字 « xan51 ci51 », “Han characters”). The previous dynasty, the Qin or Chin ( « Ć‛in35 »), ruling 221-206 BCE and responsible for creating the imperial system, is the source of English ‘China’.

Sinitic is one of two main branches of the Sino-Tibetan language family. The dialects of Sinitic exist in part in a dialect continuum, following the coast from north to south and then a limited distance inland. Mandarin (漢語 / 汉语 « Xan51 Ü214 » / 普通話 / 普通话 « P‛u214 T‛uŋ5 Xua51 », “common language”) is the chief standardized dialect and lingua franca, as well as the dialect promoted by the People’s Republic of China and its predecessors. It represents the local dialect of Beijing (北京 « Pei214 Ćiŋ5 », “northern capital”), which lies towards the far north of the continuum and has often (but not always) been the center of power in China. Other major dialects or dialect groups, north to south, are:
— Wu (吳語 « Hu2 Ñü4 »), centered on Shanghai (上海 « Zã He »), the largest Chinese city
— Gan (贛語 / 赣语 « Kön Nü »), centered in Jiangxi (江西 « Koŋ42 Śi42 »)
— Hunanese (湖南話 / 湖南话 « Ğu13 Nia13 Ğo21 » / 湘語 / 湘语 « Siọ̃431 »)
— Northern Min (閩北語 « Miŋ53 Paök213 Ŋü3 »), centered in northern Fujian (福建 « Xu24 Kioŋ213 »)
— Southern Min (閩南語 « Ban35 Lam35 Gu53 »), spoken in southern Fujian (福建 « Hok1 Kian21 ») and nearby Taiwan (臺灣 / 台灣 / 台湾 « Tai35 Uan35 ») but also in Chinese settlements throughout Southeast Asia
— Hakka (客家話 « Hak1 Ka4 Va1 », “guest family language”), whose speakers were migrants from the North China Plain to the southern coast but are also widely dispersed in China and overseas; the dialect has been variously classified as a northern and a southern dialect
— Cantonese (廣東話 / 广東话 « Kuoŋ35 Tuŋ5335 »), centered in Canton (廣州 « Kuoŋ35 Cau53 ») and Hong Kong (香港 « Höŋ53 Koŋ35 »), but also common in many overseas settlements (such as Chinatowns in the US).

The spread of Han Chinese throughout Chinese-controlled territory outside of the continuum has generally meant the spread of Mandarin, so that there are now large areas, in the northeast, northwest, and southwest, where Mandarin is the native dialect, and where local variants now exist.

The Chinese script was originally ideographic, but many characters now have a phonetic component as well. Each syllable of spoken language is represented by one character, and thousands of characters exist, though a majority of those are not commonly used. It is often claimed that dialects of Chinese that are not mutually intelligible in speech can still be understood by one another’s speakers in written form. Notably, though, Mandarin is significantly different from other dialects in writing because Mandarin has lost many sound contrasts and especially final consonants, leading to the development of bisyllabic terms that other dialects express with one syllable (and thus write with only one character). The PRC introduced simplified forms for many of the commonly-used characters; the traditional characters are still learned and used in various contexts, and outside of China.

The ancient religion of China includes paganism and ancestor worship. This folk religion was supplemented — not supplanted — by three later traditions: Confucianism, Taoism, and Taoist Buddhism. Chinese religion is decidely pluralist; these later traditions, known as the “Three Teachings”, were independent and each at times favored politically, but were sufficiently compatible that the Chinese blended the three of them and their folk religion into a single tradition that most Chinese believe to some extent. For example, Confucianism is primarily an ethical tradition, Taoism is primarily a cosmological tradition, and Buddhism in China was transformed by contact with Taoism.

The heart of China is the North China Plain (华北平原 / 華北平原 « Xua35 Pei214 P‛iŋ35 Üen35 »), an expansive, fertile lowland forming roughly a triangle, with one side along the coast (depicted at left, light green, in the center of the image). Chinese civilization began in the North China Plain, along the Yellow River (黃河 « Xuaŋ3535 »). As a superior locale for agriculture, the plain became and remains densely populated, and thus one of the world’s major concentrations of population. The central portion of this plain, along the Yellow River upstream of the Shandong highlands, is the Central Plain (中原 « Çuŋ5 Üen35 »), the hearth area of the Yellow River civilization.

The culture of China has had a profound impact on neighboring peoples, specifically the Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, and northern Tai, creating a Sino-Asian cultural sphere. All of these peoples have absorbed Chinese religion, frequently alongside an indigenous belief system. As in other parts of the world, this spread of culture brought with it a large body of borrowed vocabulary, incorporated into the sound systems of the various dialects, and a writing system as well. (Japanese, in fact, had two main waves of lexical borrowing, at different times, meaning the same original Sinitic item can be represented in Japanese with two different pronunciations and two different, but related, meanings.) Japanese still uses Chinese characters, mixed with indigenous syllabaries. Korean primarily uses its own unique alphabetic script, and Vietnamese uses the Latin script, but educated speakers often can use Chinese characters to write Korean or Vietnamese to greater or lesser extents. The existence of a Sino-Asian cultural sphere is the primary tacit reason for the academic and popular concept of East Asia.

The imperial system set up by the first Qin emperor, Qin Zheng (秦政 « Ć‛in35 Çəŋ51 »; he is usually named as Qin Shihuang, 秦始皇 « Ć‛in35 Şr214 Xuaŋ35 », which is actually a title meaning “first emperor”), lasted for two millennia. During that time, China was not always unified, and the territories and peoples it controlled outside of cultural China varied. There were long periods where the ruling dynasty was not ethnically (or originally culturally) Chinese; the practice, though, was to rule China through China, making use of the same imperial structures and bureaucracy as the Han dynasties had employed. (The foreign dynasties were the Jin ( « Ćin5 »), a Jurchen (Manchu) dynasty, ruling 1115-1234; the Yuan ( « Üen35 » / ᠶᠡᠭᠡ ᠶᠤᠸᠠᠨ ᠤᠯᠤᠰ « Jeke Juŭan Ulus »), a Mongol dynasty, ruling 1215-1368, and the Qing ( « Ć‛iŋ5 » / ᡩᠠᡳ᠌ᠴᡳᠩ ᡤᡠᡵᡠᠨ « Daičiŋ Gurun »), a second Manchu dynasty, ruling 1644-1912.) A notable feature of the imperial system was the semi-meritocratic permanent bureaucracy, where positions were obtained through tests over the Confucian canon; this has contributed to a general valuation of education in Chinese culture.

The imperial system was ended by a revolution in 1912 that created the Republic of China (中華民國 « Çuŋ5 Xua35 Min35 Kuo35 »), led by Sun Yat Sen (孫逸仙 « Sün53 Iat3 Sin53 »). The republic did not last long on the mainland, falling to warlordism, the attempted establishment of a new imperial autocracy, a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party (中國共產黨 / 中国共产党 « Çuŋ5 Kuo35 Kuŋ51 Ç‛an214 Taŋ214 »), and a brutal occupation by the Japanese empire before and during World War II. After the war, the Communists, led by Mao Zedong (毛澤東 « Mau3535 Tuŋ5 »), drove the remaining republican forces to Taiwan. The Communists established a totalitarian and, during Mao’s lifetime, highly authoritarian state, which was responsible for mass deaths during the Great Leap Forward (大躍進 « Ta51 Üe51 Ćin51 », 1958-62), an attempt to skip ahead to another stage in the theoretical progression of Marxism, and the Cultural Revolution (無產階級文化大革命 / 无产阶级文化大革命 « U35 Ç‛an214 Ćie5 Ći35 Uən35 Xua51 Ta5135 Miŋ51 », 1966-76), the worst of Mao’s mass campaigns for obedience.

Three modern states (described below) are dominated by Chinese: the People’s Republic, Taiwan, and Singapore. Singapore (新加坡 « Śin1 Ka5 P‛o5 ») is a traditional Malay area, but one of the places in Southeast Asia where Chinese settlement has been densest. The main vernacular has long been Southern Min, though the government has frequently promoted the use of Mandarin instead.

Major cities:
Shanghai (上海 « Zã He » / « Şaŋ51 Xai214 »)
Pearl River Delta region (珠江三角洲 « Cü53 Koŋ53 Sām5 Kok3 Cau5 » / « Çu5 Ćiaŋ5 San5 Ćiau214 Çou5 »)
— Canton/Guangzhou (廣州 « Kuoŋ35 Cau53 » / « Kuaŋ214 Çou5 »)
— Shenzhen (深圳 « Sam53 Can13 » / « Şən5 Çən51 »)
— Hong Kong (香港 « Höŋ53 Koŋ35 »)
Beijing (北京 « Pei214 Ćiŋ5 »)
Wuhan (武漢 / 武汉 « U214 Xan51 »)
Tianjin (天津 « T‛ien5 Ćin5 »)
Chengdu (成都 « C‛ən21 Tu5 » / « Ç‛əŋ35 Tu5 »)
Chungking (重庆 / 重慶 « C‛oŋ21 Ć‛in214 » / « Ç‛uŋ51 Ć‛iŋ35 »)
Hangzhou (杭州 « Hã Ce » / « Xaŋ35 Çou5 »)
Taipei (臺北 / 台北 « Tai35 Pak1 » / « T‛ai35 Pei214 »)
Nanjing (南京 « Nan35 Ćiŋ5 », “southern capital”)
Xi’an (西安 « Śi5 An5 »), historical Chang’an (長安 « Ç‛aŋ35 An5 »)


For the modern states dominated by Chinese:

People’s Republic of China





Home of the Stewardship Project
and O.T. Ford