When used as an adjective, Chinese refers to anything that originates from China, e.g., Chinese cuisine.
When the word is used as a noun, it means one of the following:
- a person with Chinese nationality. The Chinese expression Zhongguo ren (中國人 or 中国人) literally means "Chinese person" but usually refers to a person of Chinese nationality. This would include someone from the People's Republic of China. Whether or not a person from the Republic of China on Taiwan has Chinese citizenship is a controversial topic;
- a person of Chinese descent (Hua ren (華人 or 华人): a descendant of Zhongguo ren, including people of any nationality (e.g., Chinese Americans). This not only refers to ethnic Han but also to any descendant of China's minorities (Zhonghua minzu). See overseas Chinese.
- See also: List of Chinese ethnic groups, List of Chinese people
- The terms Hua ren and Zhongguo ren are generally used interchangeably within the People's Republic of China and among overseas Chinese in North America. Overseas Chinese in southeast Asia (particularly in Malaysia and Singapore) and supporters of Taiwanese independence within Taiwan make a clear distinction between Hua ren (Chinese in the ethnic sense) and Zhongguo ren (Chinese in the political sense).
- When used by non-Chinese, the term has also been used synonymously with the Han Chinese, which is the majority ethnicity (>92%) within China. Some Chinese reject this usage, and conflicts over this particular usage tend to come up in discussions about ethnic minorities.