Indigenous peoples in China

Officially, China proclaims itself a unified country with a multiple ethnic make-up, and all ethnic groups are considered equal before the law. Besides the Han Chinese majority, the government recognizes 55 ethnic minority peoples within its borders. According to China's sixth national census of 2010, the population of ethnic minorities is 113,792,211 persons, or 8.49 % of the country's total population.

Unrecognized ethnic groups

However, there are still “unrecognized ethnic groups” in China numbering a total of 734,438 persons (2000 census figure). Most of them live in China's south-west regions of Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet.

The officially recognized ethnic minority groups have rights protected by the Constitution.This includes establishing ethnic autonomous regions, setting up their own local administrative governance and the right to practise their own language and culture.

“Ethnic autonomous regions” constitute around 60% of China's land area.

The term "indigenous people"

The Chinese (PRC) government does not recognize the term “indigenous peoples”, and representatives of China’s ethnic minorities have not readily identified themselves as indigenous peoples, and have rarely participated in international meetings related to indigenous peoples’ issues. It has therefore not been clearly established which of China’s ethnic minority groups are to be considered indigenous peoples.


The Chinese government voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) but, prior to its adoption, had already officially stated that there were no indigenous peoples in China, which means that, in their eyes, the UNDRIP does not apply to China.

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in China to learn about major developments and events during 2015.