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I wonder which of the following would be correct/preferred:

  • Regarding the English proficiency of Chinese people, ... (not sure if this is correct)
  • Regarding the English proficiency of the Chinese people, ... (I believe this is correct)

By "Chinese people", I'm referring to the people/residents of China.

Note: I've seen examples on Google where "English proficiency" is replaced by other descriptions and "Chinese" replaced by British/American/Japanese/etc.

In addition, is there any difference between British vs. American usage in this case?

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

  • Welcome to ELU.SE. This site strives to provide well researched, intriguing questions. howardck, questions that do not show prior research are considered off-topic. Take the tour or have a look at the help center to find out more about good questions. What does your research about usage of the definite article the show? – Helmar Sep 29 '16 at 16:52
  • I've done quite some research prior to asking this question. I'm asking this question because I've seen a few examples where "the" is missing and am not sure if that's grammatically acceptable. Example from Wikipedia: The British Empire was "built on waves of migration overseas by British people",[149] who left the United Kingdom and "reached across the globe and permanently affected population structures in three continents".[49] – howardck Sep 29 '16 at 17:04
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I believe the Chinese people and just Chinese people do carry ever-so-slightly-different meanings.

The Overseas Chinese, particularly those living in South-East Asia, never cease to consider themselves Chinese. The same can be true of Chinese living in Britain or America. But if you say the Chinese people it suggests to me that you are talking about the population of the People's Republic. So to encompass all Chinese I would definitely drop the article.

I'm effectively saying that the presence of the article indicates the nationality, but its absence indicates the ethnicity - all Chinese everywhere.

But whilst I can speak of the Chinese, having spent a fair amount of time in South East Asia, I am not clear whether this "rule" would operate in exactly the same way with other ethnicities.

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The two phrases mean different things which are probably better illustrated using words referring to groups other than the Chinese. "The X people" refers to the citizens of a country while "X people" refers to an ethnic group or people from a geographical region.

Often these are basically the same group, think of "The French people" and "French people". However "The American people" refers to the citizens of the USA while "American people" could include anyone from Canadians to Chileans and Argentinians and all nationalities in between (but can also refer specifically to people from the USA).

It is possible to belong to more than one group. For instance someone could be ethnically Chinese and be a "Chinese person", be a citizen of the USA and so be one of "The American people" and by virtue of that be an "American person".

There are also cases where only one phrase can be used. "European people" and "South Asian people" both make sense, but "The European people" and "The South Asian people" are not really meaningful since both areas consist of independent sovreign states and there is no unifying federal state called South Asia or Europe. (There is the European Union but that is not a nation state).

It is always possible to say "X people" because a nation state is a region but it is not always appropriate to say "The X people" since not all regions are nation states.

The complication with "The Chinese people" is that there are two meanings: the people of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the people of the Republic of China (RoC). Perhaps this might not be an issue inside the two states but it certainly applies outside. "Chinese people", however, applies to all Han and Chinese minority people wherever they live.

In additon to the above it should be noted that "X people" does not have to refer to all the inhabitants of a region or people from that region. In some contexts it can apply to a subset, even quite a small one. For example in a discussion of ethnic minority communities in London someone might say "Chinese people have strong communal ties".

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