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I looked at the dictionary definitions of 中国人, 華人, 漢人, and 唐人, and it appears that all of them mean "Chinese person".

Questions:

  1. What is the difference between them?
  2. Why are there so many ways of saying "Chinese person"?
  3. What is the most common way of referring to a Chinese person (including persons of Chinese ancestry, not just from China)?
  • 3
    I don't have a complete answer but I can tell you the most common way to refer to Chinese people is the first one you write which is 中国人. the 漢 ideogram refers to something Chinese indeed but is mostly used for objects or concepts coming from China like in 漢方薬 (which means traditional Chinese medicine) or 漢字 (kanji or Chinese ideograms) – N Gillain Jan 18 at 13:54
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It's like this:

  1. 中国人: "a person with Chinese nationality"
  2. 漢人:
    1. "a person from the Han dynasty"
    2. "a person of Han (Chinese) ethnicity"
  3. 華人: "a person of ethnically Han ancestry living outside of China"
  4. 唐人:
    1. "a person from the Tang dynasty"
    2. "a Seric; a Cathayan"

The word 中国人 (#1) is by far the most common word corresponds to English Chinese, that is what most lay people naively imagine about the word (which technically tends to be #2-2).

About #2-1 and #4-1, I don't explain here because they are obviously historical terms.

For #2-2, it's good to know that both PRC and Taiwan are multiethnic countries, just >90% of whose population is made up by people who identify themselves as 漢族 "Han ethnicity", or Chinese in a narrow sense. But as you may suspect, this is merely an academic term in Japan that only experts would know.

On top of this, #3 is, in short, overseas Chinese (#2-2) people, or Chinese-hyphen-somewhere people (a.k.a. 華僑【かきょう】).

And for #4-2, did you know those English words? They are older names for Chinese, in other words, you aren't going to use it until you write a historical novel in Japanese.


So, basically what you have to memorize is only 中国人, and for those who have Chinese ancestry but not from China, you should use 華人/華僑 (individual) or 中国系 (group or property). For instance, a Chinese-American is described as 中国系アメリカ人 or 中国系米国人 in Japanese.

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