China is the world’s largest country by population: approximately 1 in 5 people in the world are Chinese. Around 90 percent of Chinese belong to the Han ethnicity, although there are 55 recognised ethnicities in the country as a whole. Some ethnicities such as the Hui live scattered across China, while others like Zhuang, Tibetans or Uyghurs live predominantly in a single region.

Most Chinese speak Mandarin, but will also use local dialects at home. Such dialects include Wu (Shanghai region), Xiang (Hunan province), Gan (Jiangsu province) Min (which encompasses a number of languages in Fujian province) and Yue (also known as Cantonese).

China’s economy has grown rapidly since the early 1980s, and over 250 million people have been lifted out of poverty as a result. However 200 million still live on earnings of less than £1 per day, and despite rapid urbanisation 65 percent of Chinese still live in rural areas.

In an effort to slow population growth and aid economic development, the Chinese government implemented the controversial ‘one-child policy’, which will remain in place at least until 2010. As a result China’s population is rapidly ageing, and single children of the post-1980 generation face huge pressures and responsibilities to look after their parents and grandparents.

China recognises five official religions: Buddhism, Protestant Christianity, Catholicism, Islam and Daoism. Some ethnic groups belong predominantly to one religion, like the Hui, Bonan, Dongxiang, Kazak and Kirgiz (Islam) or the Tibetans and Yugun (Buddhist).

The menu options (left) give more detail about some issues facing Chinese people and society today.

© Churches Together in Britain and Ireland 2010