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Members of an ethnic group generally claim a strong cultural continuity over time, although some historians and anthropologists have documented that many of the cultural practices on which various ethnic groups are based are of recent invention (Friedlander 1975, Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983, Sider 1993). On the political front, an ethnic group is distinguished from a nation-state by the former's lack of sovereignty.

While ethnicity and race are related concepts (Abizadeh 2001), the concept of ethnicity is rooted in the idea of social groups, marked especially by shared nationality, tribal affiliation, genealogy, religious faith, language, or cultural and traditional origins, whereas race is rooted in the idea of a biological classification of Homo sapiens according to chosen genotypic and/or phenotypic traits, and a belief that such differences among human beings are of such a magnitude as to be classified by the anthropological sense of "race", i.e. subspecies.

In the United StatesEdit

Collectivities of related ethnic groups are typically denoted as "ethnic". Most prominently in the US, the various Latin American ethnic groups plus the Spanish are typically collectivized as "Hispanics". The many previously designated Oriental ethnic groups are designated as Asian ethnic groups and similarly lumped together as "Asians", however, this does not include people of other Asian countries such as India and Russia. So too with the many indigenous American groups. The terms "Black" and "African American," while different, usually describe the descendants whose ancestors, usually in predominant part, were indigenous to Africa. Even the racial term "White American" is typically used in an ethnic sense, lumping all the various , European, Semitic/Middle Eastern, and North African groups together. There has been controversy over the inclusion of various groups from the Middle East, such as Iranians, who are not "Asian" in the sense of people from East Asia or South Asia, as White. The additional factor of intermarriage and multiethnic ancestry further complicates the picture.

Categories and data on "Ancestry" in the US are compiled on the following criteria from the Census Bureau: "Ancestry refers to a person’s ethnic origin or descent, 'roots', or heritage, or the place of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States." The ancestry questionnaire is only available on a random basis to one out of six households during the census.

In the United KingdomEdit

The classification of ethnic groups used during the United Kingdom Census 2001 are described on the National Statistics website.[1]

UK police began to classify arrests in racial groups in 1975, but later replaced the race code with an Identity Code (IC) system.[2]:

  • IC1 White person
  • IC2 Mediterranean or Hispanic person
  • IC3 African/Caribbean person
  • IC4 Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, or any other Asian person
  • IC5 Chinese, Japanese, or South-East Asian person
  • IC6 Arabic, Egyptian or Maghreb person
  • IC0 Origin unknown

This classification is still referred to on some police websites and police chase TV shows, e.g. "Driver is IC1 male, passenger is IC3 male".[3]

However, from April 1, 2003, all police forces were required to use the new 16 + 1 system (based on the Census classification system described above). In this system there are 16 ethnic codes, "+1" for "Not stated" when an "individual chooses not to acknowledge their ethnic background. If this is the case the officer will assume their ethnicity and record this instead.[4]

  • W1 White British
  • W2 White Irish
  • W9 Any other white background
  • M1 Mixed White and Black Caribbean
  • M2 Mixed White and Black African
  • M3 Mixed White and Asian
  • M9 Any other mixed background
  • A1 Asian - Indian
  • A2 Asian - Pakistani
  • A3 Asian - Bangladeshi
  • A9 Any other Asian background
  • B1 Caribbean
  • B2 African
  • B9 Any other black background
  • O1 Chinese
  • O9 Any other ethnic group
  • NS Not stated

In terms of popular use as opposed to official policy there is one main difference, the use of the term Oriental is widespread and without negative connotation in the UK and Europe while in the UK Asian is generally reserved for people from the Indian subcontinent (see Oriental and British Asian for more details).

In ChinaEdit

Main article: List of ethnic groups in China

The People's Republic of China has officially split the population into 56 ethnic groups of which the most numerous are the Han Chinese. Many of the ethnic minorities maintain their own individual culture and language, although many are also becoming more like the Han. The Han Chinese are the only ethnic group bound by the One-child policy and many villages faked a change in their ethnic group (e.g. from Han to Manchu) to avoid the policy.

Some of the minorities suffered during the Cultural Revolution. Many minority cultures remain under threat. Han Chinese dominate the whole of China with the exception of Tibet and Xinjiang where the Han are still in the minority.

There is a degree of autonomy granted to areas with a high minority population. Inner Mongolia is an example of such. Sometimes ethnic minorities are allowed to use their own language in official documents, but not always. For example, a Tibetan can request an official document to be in either the Chinese or Tibetan language. But a Han Chinese can only request Chinese. Some ethnic groups do not have this option, like the Hui, who can only request Chinese.

There is no equal opportunity law in China, and although the ethnic groups are stressed to be equal, it is commonplace to specify which ethnic group is preferred, or even required, when (for example) advertising employment.

Most official government bodies are required to employ at least one member of an ethnic minority.

Sometimes people are given the choice of which ethnic group they wish to belong to, but 'mixed-race' is not an option.

All ID cards in China state which ethnic group the holder belongs to.

The 56 ethnic groups are:

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