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The Most Fascinating Minority Groups of China

Think all Chinese people are the same? Well, then you may have only seen the Han majority. There are officially 55 ethnic minority groups in China in addition to the Han, each with its own unique customs, dressing, as well as arts and language. If ethnic diversity and minority culture interests you, a trip to China to discover the ethnic groups would absolutely fascinate you.

Here are just some of the most interesting groups that you may not have heard of.

Mosuo Tribe


The Mosuo tribe, nestled in the Himalayas close to Tibet, has made international news in recent years, and for a good reason. As possibly one of the world’s last Matriarchy, women from the Mosuo tribe do not marry, are able to have as many lovers as they wish, and are essentially the decision-makers of the family. 

That’s right, China is no stranger to girl power.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Mosuo culture is the Walking Marriage. Girls who have come of age could invite a man that they are interested in to spend the night with her in a private bedroom. The man then leaves the following morning, and if a child is born, he or she stays with the mother and is raised by the mother’s side of the family. The child may not know who the father is, and the woman could have as many Walking Marriages as she likes in her lifetime.


The Oroqen tribe of Northeast China traditionally lives off fishing and hunting in the forests in the Hinggam Mountains of Northeast China. The Oroqens’ language belong to the Manchu-Tungusi group of the Altaic language family, and in the 20th century, the tribe faced a dwindling population.

The Oroqen believe in the spirits of nature and their ancestors and live in spiritual harmony with animals. Bears and tigers were revered, and Shamanism was also practiced. 

While the Oroqen used to be a nomadic tribe that hunted, today, breeding and raising animals is more common these days.   

Yao People


Image Credit: Wikimedia

There are over 2 million Yao people in China, and the majority of them live in Southern China and Vietnam today. There are many sub-groups within the Yao ethnic minority, and some not only speak the Yao language, but also the languages of the Zhang and Dong. 

In the Hangluo Red Yao Village, girls wear their hair long and almost never cut their hair, so it isn’t hard to find a girl with hair over one- meter. Hair is cut only once before marriage, and a woman’s hairstyle is also a symbol of her marriage status. Unmarried women would bundle their hair in a cloth and hide it, while married women would leave it in a bun outside. 


The Manchus are the fourth largest ethnic group in China and is probably the most influential minority group, having established dynasties and reigned over China during the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).  Rising from the Jurchen tribes.

If you had watched period Chinese dramas set in the Qing Dynasty, you would have a fair idea of Manchurian imperial dressing-fancy headgear for the women, and pigtails for the men. In fact, Han Chinese were forced to adopt the half-shaven pigtail hairdo or be threatened with execution. As for the Manchu court women, they were wearing sky-high platform shoes way back in the day. The painful difference is that the heels were right in the middle of the shoes, so women had to either walk gracefully or suffer from a perpetual state of sprained ankles. 


Image Credit: Pinterest (Left), Listal (Right)

In recent years, there has been some growing interest amongst young Manchus to preserve the language and culture. The Manchu language is more similar to Mongolian and it is to Mandarin, is phonetic, and uses an alphabet system.


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Image Credit: XCN

European? No, Chinese Tatar! The history of the Tatar people in China dates back from to the Tang Dynasty(618-907) and today, they live primarily in the Xinjiang province, along with the Uyghurs and the Kazakhs. The Chinese Tatar practice Islam and speak a variant of the Turkic Tatar language.

Tartar handicraft and embroidery is sophisticated and beautiful. Women’s traditional clothing include small caps with beads, as well as long and elegant dresses with lace and accessories such as earrings, necklaces, and brooches. 

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About the author

Tilda is a happy sufferer of chronic wanderlust. When she isn't spending a disproportionate amount of time Googling about places and cultures, she's writing, dancing, and navigating a massive career change. She shares stories and photography on Wanderful People, and shares her coffee with no one.


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