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China Introduction Historical Development Current Migration Development Migration Policies The Immigrant Population Citizenship Integration Refuge and Asylum Irregular Migration Current Developments References


Lan Diao Maren Opitz

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The population of the People’s Republic of China is characterized by ethnic and cultural heterogeneity. Although around 90 percent of the Chinese population is Han-Chinese, they should not be regarded as a homogenous group. Besides the Han nationality, there are 55 other nationalities. Only about 0.1 percent of the population are foreigners.

Unrest in China’s province Xinjiang. An Uigur family leaves Urumqi after violent clashes between Han-Chinese immigrants and resident Uigurs. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

The population of the People’s Republic of China , founded in 1949, is characterized by ethnic and cultural heterogeneity. A multinational state had already developed on what is today Chinese territory with the first unification in the 3rd century B.C. Presently around 90 percent of the Chinese population is Han-Chinese. The approximately 1.2 billion Han-Chinese should not be regarded as a homogenous group. Their linguistic and cultural customs at times vary greatly. In addition to the Han nationality, there are 55 other nationalities, or rather ethnic groups, the so-called recognized national minorities, to which around 106 million Chinese belong.

At the end of 2010, 593,832 foreigners lived in China, making up 0.05 percent of the total Chinese population. If the approximately 426,000 people living in China who are from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan are counted as foreigners, then the percentage of foreigners would total 0.1 percent. The People’s Republic is therefore not a country of immigration. So far it has not implemented any internationally comparable instruments for the management of migration and integration of immigrants. Chinese leaders see their task in integration policy rather as facing the political, economic and socio-cultural challenges that have resulted from the historical multinational nature of China.

Information Background Information*

Capital: Beijing
Languages: Mandarin Chinese ("Putonghua"), various Chinese dialects, various minority languages
Area: 9,597,995 km² (including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao)
Population (2012): 1.35 billion
Population density (2011): 144.1/km²
Population growth rate (2012): 0.5%
Foreign population (2010): 593,832 people (0.05%) or 1,020,145 people (0.1%) **
Working population (2012): 803,498,000
Unemployment rate (2012): 4.5%
Religions: Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Protestant and Catholic "state churches"*** (whereby China follows an atheistic state ideology)

*If not otherwise indicated, the data were obtained from the German Federal Office of Statistics and the Foreign Office.
**The percentage of foreigners is 0.1 percent if those persons from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao who live in China are taken into account.
***Five religions are officially permitted in the People’s Republic of China: Buddhism, Islam, Taoism as well as an alignment of Protestantism und Catholicism, the so-called Protestant and Catholic "state churches". The recognized religions are controlled by the state and there are no reliable statistics on the number of followers for each individual religion. The following numbers serve as approximates (according to official data from 2000 and surveys by East China Normal University and Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences in 2005): Buddhism ca. 150-200 m followers, Protestant Christianity 25-35 m, Islam 11-18 m, Catholic church 8.5-13 m, and Daoism 5.5 m followers (Meyer 2009).

This text is part of the Interner Link: country profile China.



  1. In this profile, unless otherwise indicated, the terms “People’s Republic of China” and “China” include neither the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao nor Taiwan.

  2. Schmidt-Glintzer (2008), Senz (2010), Shen (2011).

  3. People from Hong Kong and Macao have Chinese citizenship. However, they occasionally have other rights and obligations than the Chinese from mainland China who may, for example, only travel to Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan with an entry permit. Another example refers to the one-child policy that is not applicable in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Those people from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan who are living in mainland China could be included under the term “foreigners” not only because of their different rights and obligations, but also because many population-related censuses of the Chinese government refer solely to the mainland population.

  4. Senz (2010).


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Lan Diao, Doctor of Educational Sciences in foreign language didactics with a focus on Chinese didactics, originally comes from Beijing and is currently a teacher for Chinese and German at a secondary school in Hamburg.

Maren Opitz has a master’s degree in International Migration and Intercultural Relations from the University of Osnabrück and is currently working for the German Youth for Understanding Committee in Hamburg. After completing her bachelor studies in Sinology, Civil Law and Language Acquisition Research she spent two years in China where she worked inter alia in the office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Shanghai.