I would have to say the movement of the “Han people” is very complex. Most casual observers would think that the Mandarin version of Chinese language is the most “proper” version. In fact, it is the most modern version with the Beijing dialect heavily influenced by the Man language. Both the Minanese and Cantonese would claim their “version” as the most original Chinese. Scholars are still debating whether Minanese or Cantonese are the older form of Chinese or which is the Shang or Zhou version.
I think even most Chinese would be unfamiliar with the term Hoklo. In Taiwan the majority Miananese speakers consider themsleves Hoklo. The term actually comes from the the Minanese pronunciation of Heluo, wrongly translated as 福佬 but actually means 河洛. It is actually a reminder that the Miananese’s ancestors originated from Henan Luoyang which lies in the central plain. The Cantonese also originated from central plains years ago, and that is why educated Minanese and Cantonese have such pride in their dialects. They would tell you that Tang poetry rhyme betters in those old Chinese than the modern ones.
On the surface the differences seems to create division but it actually reinforced the strength of the Chinese people, as all groups seems to claim the same lineage. The last major Han Chinese group to move out en masse was the Hakka, they also claimed ancestry and cultural continuity from the central plain. So who exactly has the most pure Chinese language? The fact is, there are none, the various Chinese languages simply evolved over time and still survive and coexist. The only other country that I think of that has a more complex language history is India. To be honest, I am glad Qing Shihuang unified the written script, if not China would have one extra problem to face.
There are some inexperienced commentator who would like to equate Chinese as Han people only. However, is it fair that the group of so-called Han people get to monopolize the usage? I commonly read articles that like to insinuate that, and hinted that in China it is the Han vs the rest. Contrary to most popular belief, a lot of so-called Chinese cultural object are not necessary of old Han origin but rather incorporated into Chinese culture over time. I will point out a few Chinese items we are familiar with but come from foreign land that eventually assimilated in Chinese lives and become known worldwide as Chinese.
The Chinese teapot originated from the Middle East initially as an oil lamp. Ancient Chinese find it convenient for brewing tea thus it gradually got transformed into the teapot we know today. The abacus also has a similar origin but has become Chinese.
I recently posted a video of a Chinese flute (Dizi). A friend commented that more Chinese instruments should be used in modern song. His comment got me thinking. During the Han dynasty period, instrument like Erhu, Yangqing, Pipa etc are not considered Han instruments! At that time only nomadic tribes used them, the Han mostly used drum and gong as music instrument. These instruments became popular only after the Five Hu Sixteen Kingdom period and today are as Chinese as it can be.
And of course there are the people. At that time the common Chinese people don’t have a sense of modern nation state, they either called themselves Han people or the minorities as Hu people/ren. Gradually, the country got united again under the short lived Sui dynasty. The subsequent Tang dynasty was to be known as another Chinese golden age. However, how are people being classified during this period?
The Tang does not have a rigid system at all. Basically if you dressed like a Han ren you are considered a Han ren and vice versa. The Tang court does not discriminate between the various ethnics groups. By most count easily one fifth of Tang China population are the Hu people who speak a myrid of languages and practiced different cultural belief, just like the various Han groups. At that time people with last names such as Dugu, Muyong, Zhangsun, Yiuchi, Yuwen, Linghu are considered Hu ren. For example many of the famous generals of Li Shimin are of Hu origin.
Li Shimin grandmother is a sister of Empress Dugu Qieluo, so he is also from mixed origin like the Sui Yang emperors. Today, if you meet any Chinese with last names of Dugu, Muyong, Zhangsun, Yiuchi, Yuwen, Linghu they will tell you they are Han Chinese and are classified as Han people in modern day China; but thirteen hundred years ago they are Hu Chinese whose ancestors come from areas as far as Kazakhstan or India. And many of these nomadic groups who settled among the Han eventually become sinicized not just by adopting Chinese names and customs but also bringing their languages and culture into the Han family. Variation of this story is to repeat over time.
The culture and language of modern Chinese people are a accumulation of centuries of migration and integration. The modern Chinese people are thus descendents of many varied ancestors. So whenever I see some uninformed commentators like to portray the minorities as non-Chinese they obviously don’t know much about China.
It is not a propaganda that all Chinese people belonged to one family of mixed ethnic origin the 中华民族. The term is neither Han centric nor excluding of the current minorities. It is actually a fair and unbiased naming of a country that has such a long and illustrious history.