Although most Chinese still live in rural areas, China's cities are growing rapidly as people move from rural areas to cities, seeking better economic opportunities. About 36 percent of China's population now lives in urban areas. About 64 percent live in rural areas. Most of the rural residents are involved in agriculture.
Of the total population, 93 percent are Han Chinese. These are the people whom non-Chinese often consider to be the Chinese Chinese.
However, China is an ethnically diverse country consisting of 55 ethnic groups. The non-Han ethnic groups are distributed throughout China's territory. Most of the non-Han ethnic groups differ fundamentally from the Han in their customs, traditions, languages, and cultures.
The non-Han minorities contribute very substantially to China's social fabric. Nearly all are well integrated into China's national unity.
Famine was once a serious, periodic problem in Chinese history. With China's historic famines having come to an end, China's birthrate reached its peak during the 1970s.
China's population was already very large. Most of China is agriculturally unproductive, so there is no surplus agricultural land. The high rate of population growth was impeding the country's socio-economic development. It was also stretching China's natural resources to their limits, and interfering with environmental protection.
In 1978, the Chinese government set out to slow the increase of China's population. Family planning has been carried out throughout China. This effort combines governmental guidance with the people's voluntary compliance. The basic rights of every married couple are respected and protected. China's strict birth control policy is intended to provide the best future China for every Chinese baby. Out of respect for the non-Han ethnic minorities, they are exempted from the stricter policies and are allowed to have more children than the Han.
China has eight major dialect groups: Putonghua (Mandarin), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghainese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan and Hakka and many sub-dialects.
The language spoken in Beijing is often referred to as Mandarin or Putonghua. Putonghua, which means "common language", is the country's predominant language and is widely used by more than 70 percent of the population.
Putonghua is variously referred to as the "Han language" (hanyu), "Mandarin", or simply Chinese. About two-thirds of the Han people are native speakers of Putonghua, while Han people who come from the southwestern and southeastern sections of China often speak Putonghua as well as their own dialects, such as Shanghaiese and Cantonese.
Various groups such as the Mongolian, Tibetan, Naxi, Yi, Uygur, as well as many other ethnic groups have their own "native" languages. Because of the increased economic and cultural flow across China during the past twenty years, the use of Putonghua has also increased.
In recent years, as tourism to China has been increasing, the use of English has been sweeping across the country. Most of the service staff in hotels and many stores can speak fluent or basic English. Now, there is no longer any reason to have language concerns when visiting China. Of course, it will be interesting and fun for you to learn some basic Putonghua.