Outside of China
, and even within China itself, it is common to conceive of Chinese culture and government as running back to remote antiquity in an unbroken line. Although there is a certain continuity, it is a fact that Chinese culture has been continuously recrudescing, assimilating influences from many non-Chinese civilizations, especially those of Central
and West Asia
. It comes as an especial surprise for people to realize that for almost half of the life of the Chinese Empire, the land that we call China was wholly or partially ruled by people who were ethnically and politically non-Chinese.
In all, in the 2131 years of Chinese dynastic rule (221 B.C.E - 1911 C.E.), there have been 951 years (45%) when all or part of China was ruled by non-Chinese from Central and North-east Asia:
386- 581 Northern dynasties(chiefly Xianbei and Xiongnu or Hun peoples)
907-1125 Liao (Khitan people)
1115-1234 Jin1 (Jurchen people)
1206-1368 Yuan (Mongol people)
1616-1911 Qing (Manchu people)
In addition, the nobility of the Sui and Tang were largely ethnic Xianbei and other Central Asians.
Some Chinese view this history as a matter of humiliation and shame, but I submit it is actually a sign of the richness of Chinese culture.
I've been asked by Jennifer if I don't actually mean "non-Han" rather than "non-Chinese" here. "Han" as an ethnic term is quite modern - it dates only from the end of the Qing dynasty - and I feel it would be anachronistic to use it here. I'm using "Chinese" as a political term. These two concepts have been blurred by Chinese policies toward non-Han "ethnic minorities" within the modern Chinese state, as part of which it is claimed that the Mongols and others were actually non-Han Chinese. They were not. They were foreigners bent on controlling China, just like the British and other Europeans in the 19th century and the Japanese in the 1930's and 40's. The Chinese of the medieval period and after saw these peoples as politically as well as culturally foreign, so I do prefer the term non-Chinese here.