The People's Republic of China is a united multi-ethnic country. So far, 56 ethnic groups have been identified and recognized by the central government. The population of various ethnic groups differs greatly. While the Han ethnic group has the largest population, that of the other 55 ethnic groups is relatively small, so they are customarily referred to as "ethnic minorities." According to the fifth national census, conducted in 2000, the population of all the 55 ethnic minority groups totaled 104.49 million, accounting for 8.41 percent of the total population of China. People of all ethnic groups in China have made important contributions to the creation of a unified multi-ethnic country and the creation of the time-honored Chinese civilization, as well as Chinese historical progress.

Regional autonomy for ethnic minorities in China means that, under the unified leadership of the state, regional autonomy is practiced in areas where people of ethnic minorities live in compact communities. In these areas, organs of self-government are established for the exercise of autonomy. The implementation of this policy is critical to enhancing the relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among different ethnic groups, to upholding national unification, and to accelerating the development of places where regional autonomy is practiced and promoting their progress.