Monday, June 8, 2009

The Hanren

My son is most likely a member of the Han Chinese ethnic group. The Han Chinese comprise 92% of the people of mainland China, and most of the other ethnic groups live in the more remote provinces, such as Tibet and Xinjiang. As you can see from the map below, Jiangsu province is right in the middle of Han majority territory:

See where Shanghai is, on the eastern coast? Wuxi city, in Jiangsu province, is about 2 millimeters north of that.

"Hanren" means literally "People of Han." The Hanren believe they can trace their ancestry all the way back to the Yellow Emperor, Huang-di, who is said to have reigned from 2497 BCE to 2398 BCE. A lack of historical records makes this claim difficult to prove, but it's fairly likely, and of course being descended from the people of Huang-di (or the Yan Empire) doesn't preclude any given person from having other ethnicities in their ancestry as well.

The word "Han" refers to the Han River, the region that produced the members of the Han Dynasty. The Han Dynasty ruled for an impressive 400 years and conquered enough territory to be comparable to the Roman Empire in scope. After its fall, the Chinese people began to call themselves "Hanren" to distinguish themselves from the nomadic tribal peoples nearby.

There was quite a lot of ethnic assimilation in the ensuing centuries, but the term "Hanren" has dominated above other ethnic identities. The Chinese are quite proud of their ancestral connection to the Yellow Emperor and the other esteemed figures in their long and storied history.

The word "Han" can also mean "The Milky Way" or "Heavenly River."

Han is the single largest ethnic group in the world, currently comprising 19% of the world's population. To compare, the global population of people with sub-Saharan African ethnicity is around 14%. I couldn't find a reliable statistic for the group of ethnicities we know of as "white," but it seems to be somewhere around 12% of the world's population... maybe... give or take.

What does this mean? On a global scale, my kid is not a minority. He's definitely in the powerful majority in Asia, and his race isn't doing too shabbily in other parts of the world either. Practically all the Chinese immigrants to any other region of the world are Han.

Kinda puts a new spin on the idea of him facing racism, huh?

Oh, I'm sure he'll still encounter racism, but I'll tell him all about his heritage, and hopefully bolster up his sense of racial identity so that he doesn't start believing he's somehow racially inferior. Maybe he can educate his would-be detractors with a few global statistics, too.

If he does, he will totally, totally prove he's the child of his father and me. :D

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