Descendents of the Dragon ... and Other Awesome Ways to say "Chinese People"

Zhong Guo Ren is Just the Start...

When you begin learning Chinese, you learn that the word for Chinese people in Chinese is 中国人 (zhōng guó rén). However 中国人 is more of a nationality, ie. Chinese citizens. What about American Chinese? Canadian Chinese? Singaporean Chinese? Vietnamese Chinese? Are they still 中国人? 

Chinese Expats

In this case, they’re 华人(huá rén). When referring to foreign citizens of Chinese origin, they’re XX华人.

  • American Chinese – 美国华人 měi guó huá rén
  • Canadian Chinese – 加拿大华人 jiā ná dà huá rén
  • Singaporean Chinese – 新加坡华人 xīn jiā pō huá rén
  • Vietnamese Chinese – 越南华人 yuè nán huá rén

华人 also can be called 华裔 (huá yì), 裔 means descendent. 

So, “Chinese people” is not just 中国人, they can be 华人/华裔 if they are citizens of countries other than China. 

However, there are many other situations when Chinese don’t just call themselves 中国人 or 华人. These names are mostly based on their recognition of cultural identity. These names are rarely used in daily Chinese, but are popular in situations like Spring Festival TV Galas, propaganda, publicity and students’ essays…

Descendents of the Dragon (龙的传人, lóng de chuán rén:)

Historically, the Chinese dragon was the symbol of the Emperor of China. Emperors were dragons. Therefore, their people considered themselves the descendants of Chinese dragons. The symbolic meaning of dragons in modern Chinese culture still links to power, prosperity and good luck. The saying 龙的传人 was created as part of a trend started in the 1970s when different Asian nationalities were looking for animal symbols for representations.  

There’s a Chinese Pop song called 龙的传人 by Leehom Wang:


People of the Middle Kingdom (中华民族, zhōng huá mín zú)

中华 originally refers to Henan province where most ancient Han Chinese built the capitals. Henan province and its surrounding areas were in the center [中] of China and were blooming culturally [华], so it was called 中华. 中华 was usually used for Han Chinese until the reformers in late Qing Dynasty protested that 中华民族 should refer to all people of Chinese origin. 

Sons and Daughters of Hua Xia Civilization (华夏儿女, huá xià ér nǚ)

Prehistorically, 华 and 夏 (two tribes that inhabited in the downstream areas of the Yellow River) were considered the origins of Chinese people. The earliest written evidence of the saying was in the Book of History during 307-313 AD: 华 and 夏 both refer to the great civilization of the Middle Kingdom. Specifically, 华 refers to the courtesy and hospitality of the Chinese civilization and 夏 refers to the proper and fine way of how Chinese peopledress. 

Children and Grandchildren of Yan and Huang (炎黄子孙, yán huáng zǐ sūn)

炎 and 黄 were said to be the two leaders of the two tribes 华 and 夏.

They are considered the earliest ancestors of the Han Chinese. Some Chinese ethnic groups identify themselves as the descendants of Yan and Huang too. Even the Japanese royals worshipped them in the ancient times.

An Yi, Emily and Maria's classmate for four years, does social media management in the U.S. for GoEast and writes for their blog. She taught Chinese in American high schools for two years and is now settling down in Texas, looking forward to be a Chinese teacher at local schools again.