Ethnic minorities in Chinese entertainment

Does she look Chinese to you?

One of the most frustrating things about introducing new Chinese artists are the “they don’t look Chinese” comments. Considering China has 56 official ethnicities with their ancestral homes in China, and who knows how many unofficial ones, and 1.3 billion people, it’s unfair to homogenize any part of China (or of the world ). And according to wikipedia, minority populations are rising at 7 times the rate of the Han Chinese because the One Child Policy only applies to Han Chinese (no, China is not trying to eliminate its minorities via One Child).

Photographer Chen Haiwen recently paid a tribute to the diversity of China by producing a series of photos that captured this diversity. Along with a team of photographers, he traveled across China for a year to take photos of a family from each ethnic group. Those, along with thousands of other photos captured on the trip, were put on display in Beijing’s WangFuJing Street last month. zhouzhzh on youtube has a slideshow of all the photos.

Here’s a spot light on some, definitely not all, minority Chinese artists in pop culture.

Super Girl He Jie

our Yi-group
manager: Super Boy Ji Jie and brand manager for Bacardi
members: two powerful and tomboyish songstresses SM’s lost cause Zhang Liyin
and really lost cause Super Girl He Jie
and boyband Blue Bird Flying Fish‘s 70.
HuHu’s not Yi, but he’s there by association. Maybe Zhang Yunjing can join, too, by marriage.

Manchu Actor Tong Dawei

Manchu (10 million)
Na Ying
Kiki, the lead singer of of Milk@Coffee
Wang Zhonglei and Wang Zhongjun! -president and CEO of H.Y. Brothers
Pianist Lang Lang
Actor Tong Dawei –  lead of Struggle
Actor Hu Jun – (Semi-Gods and Demi-Devils, Bodyguards and Assassins, etc)
Wu Jing – fairly tall for a martial artist (5′ 7)

Zhuang (16 million)
Gymnastics prince and company founder Li Ning
Wei Wei

Hui (9 million)
the Hui are an Muslim offbranch of the Han majority
Man Wenjun

Miao artist Song Zuying is one of the most prominent folk song singer in China

Miao (Hmong) (8 million)
Song Zuying
Song Jialing (Song Zuying’s sister who was in Ugly Wudi 3)

Yunan province's Shan Ren Yue Dui has three ethnicities

Folk group Shan Ren Yue Dui‘s Ai Yong (center back in picture)

Folk group Shan Ren Yue Dui ‘s Xiao Bu Dian. (left)
Strong recommendation to watch their episode on Happy Camp here. They have a most fascinating instruments show in the second half, and their music is great.


Dragon Angels 4th place Baha Guli

Uyghurs (7 million)
Bear Biscuit
2009 Dragon Angel Baha Guli
Kid performer Arafat




Zhaxi Dunzhu

Han Hong
Alan Dawazhuoma
2006 My Hero champion Pu Bajia
2007 My Hero Zhaxi Dunzhu
2008 Jiayou! Dragon Angels champion Quni Ciren
2008 Jiayou! Dragon Angels Jinzhu Zhuoma

Singer Jin Haixin

Korean (2 million)
Jin Haixin
“Father of Chinese Rock” Cui Jian
band Arirang

Two of the thirty-seven children of the Hulunbei'er Choir

Ewenki, Oroquen and Daur
Multicolor Hunlunbei’er Choir (a mix of Ewenki, Oroquen, Daur and Mongolian children)

Shu Ke
Half of band Phoenix Legend.
Super Boy 2007 Amulong
Teng Ge’er
Buren Bayaer
Siqin Gaoli
Actor Bao Jianfeng (Dreams Link)
Actress Siqin Gaowa (Kangxi Dynasty)

World Champion Gymnast/TV anchor Mo Huilan

dancer Yang Liping

Han Geng

(ex-?)boyband member Han Geng


There are also the aboriginal Taiwanese, of which the ROC recognizes 13 different tribes that the PRC groups into “gaoshan.” A-mei is the most famous pure aborigine I know of. Vivian Hsu is half. I’m not going to list them all because there are way too many with every fractions possible.

There are also many subgroups like the Hakka, a subgroup of the Han with their distinct dialect and lifestyle. Ella of S.H.E. and Super Girl Liu Xijun are both Hakka.

Tan Lina

Many people are also mixed. Angela Zhang is 1/4 Uyghur, Qi Wei of Boy& Girl is 1/4 Korean and actor-singer Li Xiaolu is 1/4 Russian, etc. And increasingly, people from China are having kids with foreigners. Super Girl Tan Lina and Dragon Angel Luo Jing are two examples.

Even amongst the Han, with a population of over 1.2 billion, there is huge diversity among looks. There are stereotypes that say Northerners are taller and more slender than Southerners. But even amongst regions, there are differences between individual looks. Just think of how different Jiang Yingrong, Huang Ying and Li Yuanxi look like, and they’re all from around the same city.

Does she look Han to you?

68 thoughts on “Ethnic minorities in Chinese entertainment

  1. Most ethnic minorities in China are Mongoloid. Meaning they are identical to other Mongoloid nationalities such as Chinese, Mongolians, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese etc. The PC term is Asian or East Asian. There are also South East Asian populations in China. They are largely identical except with darker skin tones.

    A few exceptions exist such as Uyghurs and Tajiks who are actually of Persian and Iranian stock. These people are Caucasoid with stereotypical Middle Eastern features. Uyghurs ancestrally are a Mongoloid people. But they expanded over non-Mongoloid populations that tend to create a mixture in their stock. Tajiks were always Caucasoid, and speak a language that is related to Iranian and Persian.

    The girl in the first picture is Uyghur. She has the typical elliptical face shape of a Mongoloid but lacks epicanthanic folds. Or at the very least, they are not very pronounced.

  2. @anonymous:

    You do know that Islam is a religion and not an ethnicity/nationality, right? And also, it sounded like you quoted your information from a non-Chinese, possibly biased source. Before you go all “Chinese government is bad because they’re FORCING people to do this and that, blah blah blah”, check your information. In fact, go to China. What really annoys me is that people hear a few words of something and they assume they know it all, when they really don’t.

    As for the whole minority thing…it’s really not that big of a deal. I’m mixed Han and Manchu, and no one can tell~ I actually think that some minority people are really pretty. But I don’t think it really matters if you’re minority or not. Either way, they’re Chinese, even if foreign people don’t believe it.

  3. @cobra
    Plastic surgery is actually not as common in Chinese entertainment …. the large majority of mainland’s pop stars came straight from college, be they singers and actors, and it would be obvious if they had anything that changed their facial features dramatically.

    Plus, I don’t think people would lie about their ethnicity, or really could given the fact it is on their records.

  4. As for the ‘ethnic minorities’ in entertainment circles, pardon my not-so-nice comments…bt I hear quite a no of them are in fact Han girls who underwent cosmetic surgery to look ‘mixed’- whatever that means.
    Of course you hv natural beauties, two famous examples I can think off-hand are Michele Reis, who typifies the Eurasian beauty, and Zhang Ziyi, whose classic features best represent Chinese beauty ;) Bt if you want to get a good first-person acount of the ethnic diversity en Chine then entertainment artistes are not the best bet. EXPLORE the country…I have and I can tell you many, many, Chinese are in fact very heterogenuous in their appearance, stature,etc. Not that I’m complaining..I enjoy gazing @ beauties…and the more diversity, the merrier! :D

  5. @ annoymous fr December 28, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    Allow me to clarify- while yr criticisms of the Chinese govt is valid, I’ve come across many Chinese people in China who never ever denied the Ugyhurs are non-Chinese- in fact, lots of them refer to them as ‘adopted children’ of the motherland (China) and acknowlege their very different culture and physiological differences…many Han Chinese admire the Ugyhur’s ‘agility’ and generally better dancing abilities. So frankly, yr accusations of Chinese people ‘forcing their language and culture ‘ to Ugyhurs -or for that matter, any other ethnic group, don’t hold any water.

    As for language, I’m sure you it’s a basic courtesy to speak the language of the country you reside in, whether or not you are a native. You know, when in Rome….some examples: in France you speak French irregardless of whether you are Alsatian, Marsellais, Arab, African,
    Asian etc, in Britain or the US, everyone, incl foreigners, speaks English. Ditto for Japan where basic Japanese at least, is a must.
    But make Mandarin Chinese mandatory in China and suddenly everyone screams ‘cultural genocide’! Seriously, detractors, is it because Chinese is not considered ‘”Indo-Aryan” and hence “unworthy” of yr time???
    Let’s be honest for once, shall we?

  6. ^ So you speak for all Uyghurs?

    I agree that China needs to be sensitive to the needs of its citizens but I think you missed the point.

    Just like the term “American” now includes more than just white folks, “Chinese” means more than just Han Chinese.

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