Chinese ethnic groups

Zhonghua minzu 中华民族 [zhōng huá mín zú), usually translated as Chinese ethnic groups or Chinese nationality, refers to the modern notion of a Chinese nationality transcending ethnic divisions, with a central identity for China as a whole. It includes people of all 56 distinct ethnic groups in China who have historically interacted, contributed and assimilated to various extents with Chinese civilization. Traditional Chinese Culture covers large geographical territories, where each region is usually divided into distinct sub-cultures. Such distinctions give rise to the old Chinese proverb: “十里不同风, 百里不同俗” (shí lǐ bù tóng fēng, bǎi lǐ bù tóng sú), literally “the wind varies within ten miles, customs vary within a hundred miles.” Most social values of Chinese people are derived from Confucianism and Taoism.

Three treasuresThree Treasures 三宝 [sān bǎo] are basic virtues in Taoism. They first appear in Tao Te Ching chapter 67, which Lin Yutang (1948:292) says contains Laozi’s “most beautiful teachings:


Every one under heaven says that our Way is greatly like folly. But it is just because it is great, that it seems like folly. As for things that do not seem like folly – well, there can be no question about their smallness!
Here are my three treasures. Guard and keep them! The first is pity; the second, frugality; the third, refusal to be ‘foremost of all things under heaven’.
For only he that pities is truly able to be brave;
Only he that is frugal is able to be profuse.
Only he that refuses to be foremost of all things
Is truly able to become chief of all Ministers.
At present your bravery is not based on pity, nor your profusion on frugality, nor your vanguard on your rear; and this is death. But pity cannot fight without conquering or guard without saving. Heaven arms with pity those whom it would not see destroyed.

The first of the Three Treasures is ‘ci’ 慈 [cí], literally “compassion, tenderness, love, mercy, kindness, gentleness, benevolence”, which is also a Classical Chinese term for “mother” (with “tender love, nurturing” semantic associations).

The second is ‘jian’ 俭 [jiǎn], literally “frugality, moderation, economy, restraint, be sparing”, a practice that the Tao Te Ching praises. When applied to the moral life it stands for the simplicity of desire.

The third treasure is a six-character phrase instead of a single word: ‘bugan wei tianxia xian’ 不敢为天下先 [bù gǎn wéi tiān xià xiān] “not dare to be first/ahead in the world”. To remain behind and to be humble is to allow oneself time to fully ripen and bear fruit.

Chinese mianziChinese “Face” mianzi 面子 [miàn zi] “face; reputation; self-respect; prestige, honor; social standing” is very important in Chinese culture. While many languages have “face” terms that metaphorically mean “prestige; honor; reputation.” Lin Yutang (1895-1976) considered Chinese “face” as psychological face: Interesting as the Chinese physiological face is, the psychological face makes a still more fascinating study. It is not a face that can be washed or shaved, but a face that can be “granted” and “lost” and “fought for” and “presented as a gift”. Here we arrive at the most curious point of Chinese social psychology. Abstract and intangible, it is yet the most delicate standard by which Chinese social intercourse is regulated. (1935: 199-200)

There are four types of ‘face’ in Chinese:

1. ‘shi mianzi’ 失面子[shī mianzi] “lose face”. This is when one’s actions or deeds have been exposed to people. 

2. ‘gei mianzi’ 给面子[gěi mianzi] “give face; show respect (for someone’s feelings). It involves the giving of face to others through showing respect.

3. ‘liu mianzi’ 留面子[liú mianzi] means “grant face; give (someone) a chance to regain lost honor”. This is developed by avoiding mistakes and showing wisdom in action.

4. ‘zheng mianzi’ 争面子 [zhēng mianzi] “fight for face; keeping up with the Joneses”. It is critical you avoid losing face or causing the loss of face at all times.

In general, the Chinese are a collective society with a need for group affiliation. In order to maintain a sense of harmony, they will act with decorum at all times and will not do anything to cause someone else public embarrassment. They are willing to subjugate their own feelings for the good of the group. This is often observed by the use of silence in very structured meetings. If someone disagrees with what another person says, rather than disagree publicly, the person will remain quiet. This gives face to the other person, while speaking up would make both parties lose face.


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