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Geography of the People's Republic of China

China is the 3rd or 4th largest country in the world (depending on whether all PRC-administered areas are included or not - see List of countries and outlying territories by total area) and the one with the most people. It stretches about 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) from east to west, and about 5,500 km (3,400 miles) from north to south. Its land borders 14 countries. There are some 4,345 km (2,700 miles) of coastline along the China Seas. China is divided into twenty-three provinces, five autonomous regions, four municipalities and two special administrative regions. The autonomous regions have traditionally been referred to as "Outer China" because they are located beyond the Great Wall of China. (See Political divisions of China.)

China is bordered in the north, west and south by deserts and high mountains forming natural barriers. The North China Plain in eastern China is the largest area of lowland in the world. Tibet, which is in the west, is a plateau, or tableland, more than 4,000 meters (13,000 ft) high and surrounded by the highest mountains in the world. It is known as the "rooftop of the world". To the south are the Himalayas, while to the northwest are the Kunlun, Tian Shan and Altai mountains. Eastern China alo has mountains and hills, but much more level land than western China.

Eastern China is divided north-south into two very different geographical areas. The boundary between the two is formed by the Qinling Mountains which stretch from east to west and separate the basins of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. These mountains also form a major climatic divide. Four rivers and their tributaries provide China with its main plains. In the northeast the north-flowing Songhua and south flowing Liao rivers form a lowland, which is surrounded by mountains. The Yellow River and the Yangtze River (the 3rd longest in the world), both flowing out of Tibet, have built up a wide plain stretching from Tianjin south to Shanghai.

Northern China has wet summers and dry winters. On the northern plain it is colder in winter than anywhere else in the world at the same latitude, and for at least a month the temperature is constantly below freezing. Further south it is warmer and in the valley of the Yangtze River the winter is milder with a little rain. In the far south conditions are hot all year round. June to September are the wettest months when the summer monsoon blowing in from the south and southeast brings much rain.

Location

Usually described as part of East Asia, China is south of Mongolia and the Siberian landmass, west of the Korean Peninsula and Japan, north of Southeast Asia, and east of Central and South Asia.

Size

China has a total area of nearly 9,596,960 square kilometers. Included in this total are 9,326,410 square kilometers of land and 270,550 square kilometers of inland lakes and rivers. From east to west, the distance is about 5,000 kilometers from the Heilong Jiang (Amur River) to the Pamir Mountains in Central Asia; from north to south, the distance is approximately 4,050 kilometers from Heilongjiang Province to Hainan Province in the south and another 1,450 kilometers farther south to Zengmu Shoal, a territorial claim off the north coast of Malaysia.

Land boundaries

China has a total of 22,117 kilometers of land boundaries with 14 other nations.

These borders include: Afghanistan (76 kilometers), Bhutan (470 kilometers), Burma (2,185 kilometers), India (3,380 kilometers), Kazakhstan (1,533 kilometers), North Korea (1,416 kilometers), Kyrgyzstan (858 kilometers), Laos (423 kilometers), Mongolia (4,677 kilometers), Nepal (1,236 kilometers), Pakistan (523 kilometers), Russia (4,300 kilometers), Tajikistan (414 kilometers), and Vietnam (1,281 kilometers).

Regional borders include: Hong Kong (30 km)

Coastline

China’s coastline extends 14,500 kilometers from the border with North Korea in the north to Vietnam in the south. China’s coasts are on the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea.

Maritime claims

China claims a territorial sea, a contiguous zone, a exclusive economic zone, and a continental shelf or the distance to the edge of the continental shelf.

Boundary disputes

China's borders have more than 20,000 km of land frontier shared with nearly all the nations of mainland East Asia, were disputed at a number of points. In the western sector, China claimed portions of the 41,000 km² Pamir Mountains area, a region of soaring mountain peaks and glacial valleys where the borders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Soviet Union, and China meet in Central Asia. North and east of this region, some sections of the border remained undemarcated in 1987. The 6,542 km frontier with the Soviet Union has been a source of continual friction. In 1954 China published maps showing substantial portions of Soviet Siberian territory as its own. In the northeast, border friction with the Soviet Union produced a tense situation in remote regions of Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang along segments of the Argun River, Amur River, and Ussuri River. Each side had massed troops and had exchanged charges of border provocation in this area. In a September 1986 speech in Vladivostok, Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev offered the Chinese a more conciliatory position on Sino-Soviet border rivers. In 1987 the two sides resumed border talks that had been broken off after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (see Sino-Soviet relations). Although the border issue remained unresolved as of late 1987, China and the Soviet Union agreed to consider the northeastern sector first. In October 2004, China signed an agreement with Russia on the delimitation of their entire 4,300-kilometer-long border, which had long been in dispute.

A major dispute between China and India focuses on the northern edge of their shared border, where the Aksai Chin area of northeastern Jammu and Kashmir is under Chinese de facto administration but claimed by India and Pakistan. Eastward from Bhutan and north of the Brahmaputra River (Yarlung Zangbo Jiang) lies a large area controlled and administered by India but claimed by the Chinese. The area was demarcated by the British McMahon Line, drawn along the Himalayas in 1914 as the Sino-Indian border; India accepts and China rejects this boundary. In June 1980 China made its first move in twenty years to settle the border disputes with India, proposing that India cede the Aksai Chin area in Jammu and Kashmir to China in return for China's recognition of the McMahon Line; India did not accept the offer, however, preferring a sector-by-sector approach to the problem. In July 1986 China and India held their seventh round of border talks, but they made little headway toward resolving the dispute. Each side, but primarily India, continued to make allegations of incursions into its territory by the other. Most of the mountainous and militarized boundary with India is still in dispute, but Beijing and New Delhi have committed to begin resolution with discussions on the least disputed middle sector. India does not recognize Pakistan’s ceding lands to China in a 1964 boundary agreement.

The China-Burma border issue was settled October 1, 1960, by the signing of the Sino-Burmese Boundary Treaty. The first joint inspection of the border was completed successfully in June 1986.

China is involved in a complex dispute with Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, and possibly Brunei over the Spratly (Nansha) Islands in the South China Sea. The 2002 "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea" eased tensions but fell short of a legally binding code of conduct desired by several of the disputants. China also occupies the Paracel (Xisha) Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam, and asserts a claim to the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Tai) in the Pacific Ocean.

Topography

China stretches some 5,000 km across the East Asian landmass in an erratically changing configuration of broad plains, expansive deserts, and lofty mountain ranges, including vast areas of inhospitable terrain. The eastern half of the country, its seacoast fringed with offshore islands, is a region of fertile lowlands, foothills and mountains, desert, steppes, and subtropical areas. The western half of China is a region of sunken basins, rolling plateaus, and towering massifs, including a portion of the highest tableland on earth. The vastness of the country and the barrenness of the western hinterland have important implications for defense strategy (see Military history of China). In spite of many good harbors along the approximately 18,000 km coastline, the nation has traditionally oriented itself not toward the sea but inland, developing as an imperial power whose center lay in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River on the northern plains.

Terrain and vegetation vary greatly in China. Mountains, hills, and highlands cover about 66 percent of the nation's territory, impeding communication and leaving limited level land for agriculture. Mountains cover 33 percent of China’s landmass, plateaus 26 percent, basins 19 percent, plains 12 percent, and hills 10 percent. Thus, 69 percent of China’s land is mountains, hills, and highlands.

Most ranges, including all the major ones, trend eastwest. China has five main mountain ranges, and seven of its mountain peaks are higher than 8,000 meters above sea level. The main topographic features include the Qingzang (Qinghai-Tibet) Plateau at 4,000 m above sea level and the Kunlun, Qin Ling, and Greater Hinggan ranges.

In the southwest, the Himalayas and the Kunlun Mountains enclose the Qingzang Plateau, which encompasses most of Xizang Autonomous Region and part of Qinghai Province. The Qingzang Plateau the most extensive plateau in the world, where elevations average more than 4,000 m above sea level and the loftiest summits rise to more than 7,200 m. From the Qingzang Plateau, other less-elevated highlands, rugged east-west trending mountains, and plateaus interrupted by deep depressions fan out to the north and east. A continental scarp marks the eastern margin of this territory extending from the Greater Hinggan Range in northeastern China, through the Taihang Shan (a range of mountains overlooking the North China Plain) to the eastern edge of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau in the south. Virtually all of the low-lying areas of China -- the regions of dense population and intensive cultivation -- are found east of this scarp line.

China's east-west ranges include some of Asia's greatest mountains. In addition to the Himalayas and the Kunlun Mountains, there are the Gangdise Shan (Kailas) and the Tian Shan ranges. The latter stands between two great basins, the massive Tarim Basin to the south and the Junggar Basin to the north. Rich deposits of coal, oil, and metallic ores lie in the Tian Shan area. The largest inland basin in China, the Tarim Basin measures 1,500 km from east to west and 600 km from north to south at its widest parts.

In the Himalaya Mountains, the world’s highest, are Mount Everest (known in China as Qomolangma) at 8,844.4 m (based on new official measurements) and K2 at 8,611 m, shared with Nepal and Pakistan, respectively. The Himalayas form a natural boundary on the southwest as the Altai Mountains do on the northwest. Lesser ranges branch out, some at sharp angles from the major ranges. The mountains give rise to all the principal rivers.

The spine of the Kunlun Mountains separates into several branches as it runs eastward from the Pamir Mountains. The northernmost branches, the Altun Shan and the Qilian Shan, rim the Qing Zang Plateau in west-central China and overlook the Qaidam Basin, a sandy and swampy region containing many salt lakes. A southern branch of the Kunlun Mountains divides the watersheds of the Huang He and the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River). The Gansu Corridor, west of the great bend in the Huang He, was traditionally an important communications link with Central Asia.

North of the 3,300 km-long Great Wall, between Gansu Province on the west and the Greater Hinggan Range on the east, lies the Inner Mongolian Plateau, at an average elevation of 1,000 m above sea level. The Yin Shan, a system of mountains with average elevations of 1,400 m, extends east-west through the center of this vast desert steppe peneplain. To the south is the largest loess plateau in the world, covering 600,000 km² in Shaanxi, parts of Gansu and Shanxi provinces, and some of Ningxia-Hui Autonomous Region. Loess is a yellowish soil blown in from the Inner Mongolian deserts. The loose, loamy material travels easily in the wind, and through the centuries it has veneered the plateau and choked the Yellow River with silt.

The lowest inland point in China—the second lowest place in the world after the Dead Sea—is at Turpan Pendi, 140 km southeast of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, at 154 m below sea level. With temperatures that have reached 49.6 C, it also ranks as one the hottest places in China.

Principal rivers and drainage

China has 50,000 rivers totaling some 420,000 kilometers in length and each having a catchment area of more than 100 square kilometers. Some 1,500 of these rivers each have catchment areas exceeding 1,000 square kilometers. Most rivers flow from west to east and empty into the Pacific Ocean. The Yangzi (Changjiang or Yangtze River), which rises in Tibet, flows through Central China, and, having traveled 6,300 kilometers, enters the Yellow Sea near Shanghai. The Yangzi has a catchment area of 1.8 million square kilometers and is the third longest river in the world after the Amazon and the Nile. The second longest river in China is the Huanghe (Yellow River), which also rises in Tibet and travels circuitously for 5,464 kilometers through North China before reaching the Bo Hai Gulf on the north coast of Shandong Province. It has a catchment area of 752,000 square kilometers. The Heilongjiang (Heilong or Black Dragon River) flows for 3,101 kilometers in Northeast China and an additional 1,249 in Russia, where it is known as the Amur. The longest river in South China is the Zhujiang (Pearl River), which is 2,214 kilometers long. Along with its three tributaries, the Xi, Dong, and Bei—West, East, and North—rivers, it forms the rich Pearl River Delta near Guangzhou, Zhuhai, Macau, and Hong Kong. Other major rivers are the Liaohe in the northeast, Haihe in the north, Qiantang in the east, and Lancang in the southwest.

Because the river level drops precipitously toward the North China Plain, where it continues a sluggish course across the delta, it transports a heavy load of sand and mud from the upper reaches, much of which is deposited on the flat plain. The flow is channeled mainly by constantly repaired manmade embankments; as a result the river flows on a raised ridge fifty meters or more above the plain, and waterlogging, floods, and course changes have recurred over the centuries. Traditionally, rulers were judged by their concern for or indifference to preservation of the embankments. In the modern era, China has undertaken extensive flood control and conservation measures.

Flowing from its source in the Qingzang highlands, the Yellow River courses toward the sea through the North China Plain, the historic center of Chinese expansion and influence. Han Chinese people have farmed the rich alluvial soils of the plain since ancient times, constructing the Grand Canal for north-south transport (see History of China - Imperial era). The plain itself is actually a continuation of the Dongbei (Manchurian) Plain to the northeast but is separated from it by the Bohai Gulf, an extension of the Yellow Sea.

Like other densely populated areas of China, the plain is subject not only to floods but to earthquakes. For example, the mining and industrial center of Tangshan, about 165 km east of Beijing, was leveled by an earthquake in July 1976 that was believed to be the largest earthquake of the 20th century by death toll.

The Qinling Mountains, a continuation of the Kunlun Mountains, divides the North China Plain from the Yangtze River Delta and is the major physiographic boundary between the two great parts of China Proper. It is in a sense a cultural boundary as well, influencing the distribution of custom and language. South of the Qinling mountain range divide are the densely populated and highly developed areas of the lower and middle plains of the Yangtze River and, on its upper reaches, the Sichuan Basin, an area encircled by a high barrier of mountain ranges.

The country's longest and most important waterway, the Yangtze River is navigable over much of its length and has a vast hydroelectric potential. Rising on the Qingzang Plateau, the Yangtze River traverses 6,300 km through the heart of the country, draining an area of 1.8 million km² before emptying into the East China Sea. The roughly 300 million people who live along its middle and lower reaches cultivate a great rice- and wheat-producing area. The Sichuan Basin, favored by a mild, humid climate and a long growing season, produces a rich variety of crops; it is also a leading silk-producing area and an important industrial region with substantial mineral resources.

Second only to the Qinling range as an internal boundary is the Nanling, the southernmost of the east-west mountain ranges. The Nanling overlooks the part of China where a tropical climate permits two crops of rice to be grown each year. Southeast of the mountains lies a coastal, hilly region of small deltas and narrow valley plains; the drainage area of the Pearl River and its associated network of rivers occupies much of the region to the south. West of the Nanling, the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau rises in two steps, averaging 1,200 and 1,800 m in elevation, respectively, toward the precipitous mountain regions of the eastern Qingzang Plateau.

The Hai River, like the Pearl River and other major waterways, flows from west to east. Its upper course consists of five rivers that converge near Tianjin, then flow seventy kilometers before emptying into the Bohai Gulf. Another major river, the Huai River, rises in Henan Province and flows through several lakes before joining the Pearl River near Yangzhou.

Inland drainage involving a number of upland basins in the north and northeast accounts for about 40 percent of the country's total drainage area. Many rivers and streams flow into lakes or diminish in the desert. Some are useful for irrigation.

China's extensive territorial waters are principally marginal seas of the western Pacific Ocean; these waters wash the shores of a long and much-indented coastline and approximately 5,000 islands. The Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea, too, are marginal seas of the Pacific Ocean. More than half the coastline (predominantly in the south) is rocky; most of the remainder is sandy. The Bay of Hangzhou roughly divides the two kinds of shoreline.

Climate

Most of the country is in the northern temperate zone. There are complex climatic patterns ranging from the cold-temperate north to the tropical south, with subarctic-like temperatures in the Himalaya Mountains, resulting in a temperature difference of some 40°C from north to south. Temperatures range from –30°C in the north in January to 28°C in the south in July. Annual precipitation varies significantly from region to region, with a high of 1,500 millimeters annually along the southeastern coast and a low of fewer than 50 millimeters in the northwest.

Monsoon winds, caused by differences in the heat-absorbing capacity of the continent and the ocean, dominate the climate. Alternating seasonal air-mass movements and accompanying winds are moist in summer and dry in winter. There is an alternating wet monsoon in the summer and a dry monsoon in winter. Summer monsoon winds bring warm and wet currents into South China and northward. The advance and retreat of the monsoons account in large degree for the timing of the rainy season and the amount of rainfall throughout the country. North China and southward are affected by the seasonal cold, dry winds from Siberia and the Mongolia Plateau between September/October and March/April. Tremendous differences in latitude, longitude, and altitude give rise to sharp variations in precipitation and temperature within China. Although most of the country lies in the temperate belt, its climatic patterns are complex.

China's northernmost point lies along the Amur River in Heilongjiang province in the cold-temperate zone; its southernmost point, Hainan island province, has a tropical climate. Temperature differences in winter are great, but in summer the diversity is considerably less. For example, the northern portions of Heilongjiang experience an average January mean temperature of below 0°C, and the reading may drop to minus 30°C; the average July mean in the same area may exceed 20°C. By contrast, the central and southern parts of Guangdong Province experience an average January temperature of above 10°C, while the July mean is about 28°C.

Precipitation varies regionally even more than temperature. China south of the Qinling experiences abundant rainfall, most of it coming with the summer monsoons. To the north and west of the range, however, rainfall is uncertain. The farther north and west one moves, the scantier and more uncertain it becomes. The northwest has the lowest annual rainfall in the country and no precipitation at all in its desert areas.

Natural resources

China has substantial mineral reserves and is the world’s largest producer of antimony, natural graphite, tungsten, and zinc. Other major minerals are aluminum, bauxite, coal, crude petroleum, diamonds, gold, iron ore, lead, magnetite, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, natural gas, phosphate rock, tin, uranium, and vanadium. With its vast mountain ranges, China’s hydropower potential is the largest in the world.

Land use

Based on 2005 estimates, 14.86% (about 1.4 million km²) of China’s total land area is arable. About 1.3% (some 116,580 km²) is planted to permanent crops and the rest planted to temporary crops. With comparatively little land planted to permanent crops, intensive agricultural techniques are used to reap harvests that are sufficient to feed the world’s largest population and still have surplus for export. An estimated 544,784 km² of land were irrigated in 2004. 42.9% of total land area was used as pasture, and 17.5% was forest.

Water resources

Environmental factors

The major current environmental issues in China are air pollution (greenhouse gases and sulfur dioxide particulates) from overreliance on coal, which produces acid rain; water shortages, particularly in the north; water pollution from untreated wastes; deforestation; an estimated loss of 20 percent of agricultural land since 1949 to soil erosion and economic development; desertification; and illegal trade in endangered species.

China’s national carbon dioxide emissions are among the highest in the world and increasing annually. The emissions in 1991 were estimated at 2.4 billion tons; by 2000 that level, according to United Nations (UN) statistics, had increased by 16 percent to nearly 2.8 billion tons. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), between 1990 and 2002 the increase was closer to 45 percent. These amounts cited by the UN are more than double those of India and Japan but still less than half those of the United States (comparable figures for Russia are unavailable but estimated at probably half the level of China’s). China’s ozone depleting potential also is high but was decreasing in the early twenty-first century. The emissions are mostly produced by coal-burning energy plants and other coal-burning operations. Better pollution control and billion-dollar cleanup programs have helped reduced the growth rate of industrial pollution.

International agreements

International environmental agreements that China is a party to and has signed but not ratified, include: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling.

Natural disasters

Deforestation has been a major contributor to China’s most significant natural disaster: flooding. In 1998 some 3,656 people died and 230 million people were affected by flooding. Major natural hazards include frequent typhoons (about five per year along southern and eastern coasts), damaging floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, droughts, and land subsidence.

Time zone

The time difference is UTC+8

Although China crosses all or part of five international time zones, the whole country operates on a single uniform time, China Standard Time (CST; Greenwich Mean Time plus eight hours), using Beijing (Latitude: 39° 55' 44 N, Longitude: 116° 23' 18 E) as the base. China does not employ a daylight savings time system.

Wildlife

China lies in two of the world's major zoogeographic regions, the Palearctic ecozone and the Indomalaya ecozone. The Qingzang Plateau, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia autonomous regions, northeastern China, and all areas north of the Yellow River are in the Palearctic region. Central, southern, and southwest China lie in the Indomalaya region. In the Palearctic zone are found such important mammals as the river fox, horse, camel, tapir, mouse hare, hamster, and jerboa. Among the species found in the Indomalaya region are the civet cat, Chinese pangolin, bamboo rat, tree shrew, and also gibbon and various other species of monkeys and apes. Some overlap exists between the two regions because of natural dispersal and migration, and deer or antelope, bears, wolves, pigs, and rodents are found in all of the diverse climatic and geological environments. The famous giant panda is found only in a limited area along the Pearl River. In the south there are tigers, monkeys, and salamanders, while in the remote southwest are animals which are no longer found in any other part of the world, such as the giant panda, the cat bear, and the takin or goat antelope. Some of the most beautiful pheasants are found in this western part of China. Here also live small alligators, which are found in the Yangtze basin, and are the only survivors of their kind from prehistoric times.

In such a vast country with its high mountains, flat plains, swampy deltas and great barren deserts there are naturally very many different plants. In the south there are subtropical forests, with bamboos, and brilliantly colored flowering plants, while in the northeastern mountains spruce and pine grow. Over the centuries most of the natural vegetation in the densely settled areas has been cleared.

A great number of the flowers, shrubs, trees, and ornamental plants now grown in gardens around the world came originally from China.

Human settlement and life

Remarkably varied landscapes suggest the disparate climate and broad reach of China, with its climate ranging from subarctic to tropical. Its topography includes the world's highest peaks, tortuous but picturesque river valleys, and vast plains subject to lifethreatening but soil-enriching flooding. These characteristics have dictated where the Chinese people live and how they have made their livelihood.

Around 1,300 million people, or approximately a fifth of the world's population live in China. The Han Chinese that is, native Chinese-speaking people, make up at least 90% of the population. Most of them live in the cultivated areas and cities of eastern China, which is very densely populated. The remaining 10% or so is made up of about 50 different ethnic groups, including the Uighurs, Mongols, and Tibetans. They are called the "national minorities" and have their own languages. About 40 million Han Chinese (60 million if Taiwan is included) live outside China in many different countries of the world, the majority in Southeast Asia ("Nanyang").

The largest of China's cities, Shanghai, stands near the mouth of the Yangtze River. Large ships can sail far up the Yangtze, to the cities of Nanjing, Wuhan, and Chongqing, which all have populations over 8 million. China's second most populous city is the capital, Beijing, which lies in the northern part of the Yellow River plain. Southeast of Beijing is the port city of Tianjin, which lies along the Hai River. It is the main port for the Yellow River plain. The most famous port of south China is Guangzhou, which is situated on the bank of the Pearl River and in the delta of the Xijiang River. Other large cities in China are important as the capitals of provinces or centers of industry and commerce: they include Harbin and Shenyang in the northeast, Chengdu in Sichuan province, and Kunming in Yunnan province.

However, most of China' people live in small farming towns and villages in the countryside and work on the land. Villages are often only a few miles apart and are connected to each other by footpaths and cart tracks. They are usually centered around a market town, where farmers can sell their produce. In the cities many people live in small flats in multi-storey blocks made of concrete. There is a shortage of housing in China, and most people have to live in overcrowded conditions. Floating on the lakes, rivers and bays of all the ports are thousands of sampans or house-boats, which are small, flat boats with a canopy or roof of woven straw or canvas. For many Chinese such are boats are home. Keeping warm is always a problem in the winter in north China and farmhouses there have a "kang", which is a brick ledge with an oven underneath, on which a bed can be made. Throughout China animal dung and straw are used as fuel. Oiled paper is sometimes used instead of glass for windows.

Temples and pagodas with elegant, tiled roofs that curve up at the corners are found in all Chinese cities. Many ancient buildings are found in courtyards surrounded by new houses, flats and factories. For more than 2,000 years, Chinese life has been influenced by the teachings of Confucianism, China's major belief system. It was founded by Confucius in the 6th century BCE. Buddhism and Taoism are also important religions in China.

China has more than 50 languages. The most widely spoken are the dialects used by the Han Chinese. However the local dialect used by one Han speaker is often not understood in another region. In order to help people in different parts of the country to communicate with each other, the Chinese adopted Standard Mandarin, which is based on the spoken Beijing area dialect, as their "common language". Mandarin Chinese is the language used for Written Chinese. Most Chinese people who have completed their primary education can speak Standard Mandarin. The Chinese have traditionally used symbols for writing their language, each symbol representing a word or idea. To write the language using the Roman alphabet, the sounds of Chinese must be given particular letters or combinations of letters. Several systems have been worked out of this. The official Chinese system is known as Pinyin (Chinese Phonetic Alphabet) and has been used in China since 1956. The system is now taught in Chinese schools and is widely used outside the country.

In accordance with the teachings of Confucius, the Chinese tradition was to live in extended families. He stressed the importance of the family and to respect their parents and ancestors. All members of one family, from great-grandparents to the youngest grandchild, lived in the same house, and shared the job of earning a living. The oldest man was usually the head of the family. Since the Communists took over in 1949, the traditional Confucian family has become far less common, particularly in the cities. Divorce and remarriage are now more common. The power of the family has also been weakened by government measures to control China's enormous population.

Food is one of life's greatest pleasures for Chinese people. They were eating with chopsticks centuries before knives and forks were invented. Peking duck, pork cooked in various savoury ways, and soup made from bird's nests or shark's fin are famous dishes. Most Chinese in the rural areas live on rice and noodles with vegetables and cooking has been traditionally done in an open, rounded saucepan (wok) and stir-fried over a wood or charcoal fire.

Agriculture and industries

Most Chinese live by farming. Only about 15% of China's total land area is suitable for farming, so the available land must be sed to its maximum in order to feed the huge population. Terraces are cut into the hillsides to increase the area for growing crops, and in southern China, two or sometimes three crops a year are grown on the same plot of land.Crops The most important food crops in China are rice and wheat. Rice needs a hot climate and flooded fields, which in turn need a plentiful supply of water. Both of these are found in south China and nearly all the level land there is planted with rice. Because rice must be planted in water, fields are banked up into "paddies" which are like small ponds. Chinese farmers wade barefoot into these paddies to plant rice seedlings. The fields must be kept flooded for some weeks after planting. Water buffalo pulling primitive ploughs are still used to plough the fields.

In the warm south, in addition to rice the Chinese cultivate tea, which used to be the most important crop export, as well as cotton, sugar-cane, sweet potatoes, fruit, and vegetables. In order to give as much level land as possible to rice, which has to be irrigated, the farmers in the grow these other crops mainly on the terraced hillsides. A special crop of south China is the mulberry tree, the leaves of which are fed to silk worms. Silk is one of the great traditional Chinese industries.

In the north, wheat is the chief crop. Other crops grown in north China are millet, maize, kaoliang (sorghum), soya beans, fruit, and vegetables. In a few areas cotton and peanuts are grown.Livestock Farmers on the whole do not raise many cattle, for land needed to grow cattle feed can better be used to grow food for human beings, but they breed the water buffalo which is most useful in farming. The grasslands of Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet are well suited to the raising of animals, however, and from there come nearly all of China's sheep, cattle and horses. Most farmers keep chickens, ducks, and pigs.Droughts and floods Chinese farmers have had a constant struggle to feed the large population. Too little rain brings drought and too much rain brings floods, and both have often caused terrible famines, costing many millions of lives. Some of the worst floods were caused by the Yellow River. This river which is around 4,800 km (3,000 miles) long, is shallow and carries huge quantities of sediment or mud in its waters as it flows to the sea. Because the current is slow, the river leaves much of this sediment on the river bed, in this way continually raising its level. To prevent the river from flooding, the Chinese built dykes, or other long ridges of earth, but when these broke the waters from the river flooded the countryside. When this happened millions of farmers had to leave their land and flee sometimes hundreds of kilometers to safety, their food gone and the land for next year's crop ruined. For this reason the Yellow River was often called "Chinas Sorrow". Several times the river, after breaking its dykes, has taken an entirely new course over the plain. In the "Three Bitter Years" of 1959-61, when there were both floods and droughts, 20 million people died. China also suffers from severe earthquakes. In 1976, one earthquake destroyed the city of Tangshan, killing at least 700,000 people.Industry The Chinese government sees the development of industry as the most important means of changing China from a poor to a developed country. Industry has expanded since 1949, but still lags behind that of most Western countries. For many years the government owned all the factories, but since 1978 private ownership had been permitted, and since the early 1990s output increased as the country moved towards what it called a "socialist market economy".

China is rich in some minerals, but poor in others. There are large coal deposits, especially in the north, and iron ore is found in many provinces. The major iron and steel industries are in the northeast. Petroleum reserves have been discovered in many areas and some have been developed.

China's port cities are centers of light industry. China's main exports include machinery and equipment, textiles and clothing, footwear, toys, mineral fuels, plastics, optical and medical equipment, iron and steel. Main imports include machinery and equipment, oil and mineral fuels, plastics, optical and medical equipment, organic chemicals, iron and steel.Crafts China is famous for its finely crafted pottery, jade, gold, silver, cloisonné, textiles, and lacquer work. It was the Chinese who discovered in the second century BCE, that by using fine materials such as white china clay they could produce an article that was much finer than earthenware. This chinaware, often called porcelain, was named after China. Silk weaving is another centuries-old craft.Transport

See also

References

  • China country study from the Library of Congress
  • Zhao Songqiao. Physical Geography of China - a thorough, scholarly study of China's geography which contains a number of detailed maps and charts, as well as interesting photographs and Landsat images.

External links

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