Officially, the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) proclaims itself to be a unified country with a diverse ethnic make-up, and all nationalities are considered equal in the Constitution. Besides the Han Chinese majority, the government recognizes 55 minority nationalities within its borders. According to the latest national census in 2010, the minority nationalities’ population stands at 111,964,901 persons, or 8.49% of the country’s total population. There are also “unrecognized ethnic groups” in China, numbering a total of 640,101 persons.
The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Regional National Autonomy is a basic law for the governance of “minority nationalities” in China. It includes establishing autonomous areas of nationalities, setting up their own local governance and the right to practice their own language and culture. These regional national autonomous areas make up approximately 64% of China’s total territory.
The Chinese government does not recognize the existence “indigenous peoples” in the PRC despite voting in favor of the UNDRIP. The right to self-determination as “indigenous peoples” is thus not applicable and it results in a lack of legitimate institutions for indigenous group representation. The “minority nationalities” are socially marginalized in the Chinese context.
International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, The Indigenous World 2019