Population: 4,300

Major areas of distribution: Heilongjiang

Language: Hezhe and Han

Religion: originally Shamanism

The Hezhes are one of the smallest ethnic minority groups in China. In fact, poverty and oppression had reduced their numbers to a mere 300 at the time of the founding of the People¡¯s Republic of China in 1949. Since then, however, they have made speedy advances in their economic life and health care, so that by 1990 the population had grown to 4,300.

They are a nomadic people who live mainly by hunting and fishing in the plain formed by the Heilong, Songhua and Wusuli rivers in Tongjiang, Fuyuan and Raohe counties in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. Their language, which belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic group of the Altaic family, has no written form. For communication with outsiders they use the spoken and written Chinese language.

In winter they travel by sled and hunt on skis. They are also skilled at carpentry, tanning and iron smelting; but these are still cottage industries.