The People of China
The People of China, all 1.3 billion of them, call home the most populous country on earth. People born in China with at least one parent of Chinese descent is considered a Chinese national.
As with many large countries, in China there are many ethnic groups that make up the population, however, the great majority of the people and what you would typically recognize as "Chinese", roughly 93%, are from the Han Chinese group.
There are over 50 ethnic minorities that account for the remaining 7%, each one with its own set of customs, language, traditions and heritage.
What is life in China like?Being such a diverse land, you will find that lifestyles and customs in China vary greatly. When you visit China, you are first aware of a country dealing with a rapid pace of modernization and at the same time a country that is struggling to maintain its traditions and heritage of thousands of years. Cities pop up from one day to the next, but the ancient traditions, festivals and beliefs are still very much a part of every day life. So in a way you can say that things are changing overnight and at the same time in some respects it is like time is standing still.
In this section, we will attempt to give you a tiny view of what we have found and observed in our travels and interactions through the years, what life in China is like from our perspective.
On a recent trip with my parents, we brought our kids to the old village where our ancestors are from, it was a very special trip for us, specially for grandma and grandpa who loved showing the grandkids around their old stomping grounds.
We tried to capture the essence of "non-tourist" China and how normal every day people go about their daily routines. We will talk about:
- Megacities vs. the Village: from high-rises to yurts
- The Local Market, an essential part of Chinese Life
- Family Life in China
- Education in China
- Religion in China
- About China's Ethnic Minorities
Megacities vs. the Village
The Eastern coastal areas are lined with modern cities, bustling ports and booming factories. Life is fast-paced and urban growth came so quick, masses of apartment buildings are being erected in epic proportions and traditional low-rise housing is being replaced by glitzy high-rises.
High Rise Apartments in Guangzhou
Beyond the large megacities, you find just about everything from very modern housing with the latest ammenities...
New housing development near Jiu Jiang - a town outside Guangzhou
...to the old more traditional and modest dwellings...
A small village by Jiu Jiang
You can still find some of the very unique and time-honored housing styles typical to some areas like they existed thousands of years ago, such as the Hutongs or alleways found in Beijing, the stilt houses in the old fishing villages, the water towns along the waterways, and the unique types of homes typical of the minority groups like the yurt camps in the Inner Mongolia grasslands. In many cases, these types of dwellings are considered national treasures, efforts are being made to preserve their traditional essence and cultural heritage.
Stilt Houses in Tai O Fishing Village in Hong Kong
But regardless of how humble or lavish the lifestyle, some things remain always true and are very much ingrained in Chinese Culture. Old traditions like paying respect to the ancestors, celebrations during the Chinese New Year, the importance of education and tight family bonds, are practiced and observed whether you live in the village or one of the big metropolis.
The Local Market
The Local Market in Jiu Jiang
Another staple of Chinese every day life is the local market. Of course you find supermarkets and department stores in the cities, even Walmarts, but not far from them, you will always find the local market or shopping alleys, which is not necessarily just for shopping, folks come to socialize, these are essential meeting places for the local communities.
Here's a picture tour of the local market, just down the street from the main street with the modern buildings in Jiu Jiang.
Family Life in ChinaChinese families have always lived very closely together. It is not uncommon to find several generations of the same family sharing a home. The grandparents typically move in with the children and grandchildren and are an invaluable asset for the younger couples in taking care of children during the pre-school years while both mother and father work. In turn, the grandparents are cared for in their old age by their children and grandchildren.
Three generations sharing a home
That is why, traditionally, it used to be essential for Chinese to have a male heir, as the family of the first son would be the one assuming the responsibility for taking care of the parents. This was very important due to the lack of a safety net for elderly people, there was no such thing as nursing homes or Social Security in China.
Although trends are towards the younger generations opting to move further away or to the cities in search for better jobs and careers, the strong family ties and reverence to the ancestors still remain. You can see a massive migration during the major Chinese Festivals which are always celebrated as big family affairs as everyone is trying to get home during these periods.
China's Ethnic Minorities
China's ethnic minorities congregate mainly in the South, West, and North of the country. Each with its own set of customs, traditions and language, there are even sub-groups within these ethnic groups.
In the South, the Zhuang is the largest minority group with over 15 million people, they live mainly in the Autonomous Region of Guanxi and are known for their colorful festivals and beautiful handicrafts.
The South-West is home to the largest number of minorities, including the Tibetans in the Tibetan Plateau and the Bai people in Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Hunan Provinces.
In the North-West, minorities that inhabit this area are mostly Islamic. Their territories are mainly desert and mountains. The dominant minority here are the Uighur, also known for their horsemanship are the Kazakhs.
The North-East is home to the Mongols and the Manchus.
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