Manchu - Orientation

Identification. From the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century, the Manchu played a key role in Chinese history as the rulers of the Qing dynasty. As a result of their long interaction with the Han they are one of the most highly Sinicized of any of China's minorities. Even so, they retain a strong sense of ethnic identity.

Location. The largest concentration of Manchu (46.2 percent) is in Liaoning Province. Most of the remainder is located in the other two northeast provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang, and in smaller numbers in Hebei, Gansu, Shandong, and Ningxia provinces and the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia. There are also sizeable Manchu populations in major cities such as Beijing, Chengdu, Xian, and Guangzhou. The dispersal of the population relates in part to the sending of Manchu administrators and military colonists to various parts of the empire during the Qing dynasty. At present, 80 percent of the Manchu are in areas where settled farming is possible. The Manchurian plain, crossed by the Liao and Sungari rivers, has become a major agricultural and industrial center.

Demography. The 1990 estimate of the Manchu population is 9,821,180. The early 1950s estimate was 2.4 million, but it is difficult to say how much of the rise is due to natural population growth and how much is due to the increased willingness of Manchu to identify themselves as such.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Manchu language belongs to the Manchu-Tungus Branch of the Altaic Language Family. The Manchu script, which was developed in the sixteenth century, is a modified borrowing from Mongolian. In the eighteenth century, educated Manchu began to use the Han ideographic writing system. At present, although the state encourages publications in Manchu, many Manchu cannot easily speak or read the language. They do, however, have a much higher literacy rate in Chinese than the national average.

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