No indigenous people in China?

I read a curious thing in the 2010 UN Human Development Report earlier this week – “According to official Chinese policy, there are no indigenous peoples in the country; the term used is “ethnic minorities.” (It’s on page 75 if you want to check for yourself.)

To say that something is indigenous to a location means that it is native to it. To me, the Chinese policy says that there are no native Chinese people living in China. Given that the majority ethnic group, the Han, makes up approximately 92% of the population and they took their name from the Han Dynasty that ruled China from 206BC to 220AD, this policy is illogical. Even more so when you consider that the Han were likely descended from the Qin, who were likely descended from the Zhou and, further back, from the Shang (all Dynasties, not necessarily discrete ethnicities). That’s several thousand years worth of an essentially native Chinese people (even taking into account the mixing of bloodlines from feudal states pre-unification and from areas that now make up modern day Korea, Mongolia, Tibet and so on).

The UN report, in part, discussed the status of countries’ indigenous people or, in China-talk, their ethnic minorities. So instead of saying there are no indigenous people in China, a completely non-sensical claim, couldn’t the Chinese government have just said, ‘Well, our indigenous people are the majority so the most disadvantaged are actually the ethnic minorities’? Much more accurate.

Anyway, it doesn’t really matter and I’m probably just arguing semantics. As I said, I just found it curious.


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