China (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo),
country in East Asia, the world’s third largest country by area (after Russia
and Canada) and the largest by population. Officially the People’s Republic of
China, it is bounded on the north by the Republic of Mongolia and Russia; on
the northeast by Russia and North Korea; on the east by the Yellow Sea and the
East China Sea; on the south by the South China Sea, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar
(formerly known as Burma), India, Bhutan, and Nepal; on the west by Pakistan,
Afghanistan, and Tajikistan; and on the northwest by Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
includes more than 3400 offshore islands. The total area of China is 9,571,300 sq km (3,695,500 sq mi), not
including Hong Kong, Macau, and land under the control of the Republic of China
on Taiwan, which mainland China considers
a renegade province. In 1971 the United Nations (UN) admitted the People’s
Republic of China (mainland China) and expelled the Republic of China
from its membership. Although most world governments do not recognize Taiwan, the
island maintains a distinct government and economy. Information in this
article, unless otherwise indicated, refers only to mainland China. Hong
Kong, formerly a British territory, reverted to China in 1997. Unless otherwise
specified, the statistics in this article do not include Hong
Kong, which maintains a separate economy and has considerable
political autonomy. The statistics also do not include Macau, located near Hong
Kong on China’s southern
coast, which is a Chinese territory administered by Portugal. Macau
is scheduled to return to Chinese administration in 1999. The capital of China is Beijing;
the country’s most populous urban center is Shanghai. More than one-fifth of the world’s total population lives within China’s
gave birth to one of the world’s earliest civilizations and has a recorded
history that dates from some 3500 years ago. Zhongguo, the Chinese name for the
country, means 'central land,' a reference to the Chinese belief that
their country was the geographical center of the earth and the only true
civilization. By the 19th century China had become a politically and
economically weak nation, dominated by foreign powers. China
underwent many changes in the first half of the 20th century. The imperial
government was overthrown and in the chaotic years that followed, two
groups—the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Communists—struggled for control of the
country. In 1949 the Communists won control of China. The government of the
Republic of China, led by the KMT, fled to Taiwan. The
accession of the Communist government in 1949 stands as one of the most
important events in Chinese history; in a remarkably short period of time
radical changes were effected in both the Chinese economy and society. Since
the 1970s China
has cast off its self-imposed isolation from the international community and
has sought to modernize its economic structure.
LAND AND RESOURCES China
encompasses a great diversity of landscapes and a corresponding variety of
natural resources. Generally speaking, China’s higher elevations are found
in the west, where some of the world’s highest mountain ranges are located.
Three of these, the Tien Shan, Kunlun Mountains, and Qin Ling, date from an
episode of Paleozoic mountain building (orogeny) that began late in the
Carboniferous period and ended in the Permian period, when all of the world’s
landmasses had drawn together to form a single supercontinent, Pangaea (see
Geology: The Geologic Time Scale). A fourth, the Himalayas,
is of more recent origin. It formed when sediments that had been deposited in a
Mesozoic sea, the Tethys, were squeezed together and lifted up by the collision
of India with Eurasia, an event that began during the Oligocene epoch
of the Tertiary period, some 40 million years ago. In the present or Recent
epoch of the Quaternary period, tectonic activity has taken the form of
devastating earthquakes that tend to occur in a broad arc extending from the
western edge of the Sichuan Basin northeast toward Bo Hai, the gulf on the
northern shore of the Yellow Sea. The country’s numerous mountain ranges
enclose a series of plateaus and basins and furnish a notable wealth of water
and mineral resources. A broad range of climatic types, from the subarctic to
tropical, and including large areas of alpine and desert habitats, supports a
magnificent array of plant and animal life.
Mountains occupy about 43 percent of China’s land surface; mountainous
plateaus account for another 26 percent; and basins, predominantly hilly in
terrain and located mainly in arid regions, cover approximately 19 percent of
the area. Only 12 percent of the total area may be classed as plains.
Rivers and Lakes All the
major river systems of China,
including the three longest—the Yangtze, Huang He, and Xi Jiang—flow in a
generally western to eastern direction to the Pacific
Ocean. In all, about 50 percent of the total land area drains to
the Pacific. Only about 10 percent of the country’s area drains to the Indian
and Arctic oceans. The remaining 40 percent
has no outlet to the sea and drains to the arid basins of the west and north,
where the streams evaporate or percolate to form deep underground water
reserves; principal among these streams is the Tarim.
The northernmost major stream of China is the Amur River (Heilong
Jiang), which forms most of the northeastern boundary with Russia. The Songhua and Liao rivers and their tributaries drain most
of the Manchurian Plain and its surrounding highlands.
The major river of North China
is the Huang He. It is traditionally referred
to as 'China’s
Sorrow' because, throughout Chinese history, it has periodically
devastated large areas by flooding. The river is diked in its lower course, and
its bed is elevated above the surrounding plain as a result of the accumulation
of silt. The river rises in the marginal highlands of the Tibetan Plateau and
follows a circuitous course to the Bo Hai (an arm of the Yellow Sea), draining
an area more than twice the size of France. The Yangtze River of
central China has a discharge
more than ten times that of the Huang He. The
longest river in Asia, it has a vast drainage
basin. The Yangtze rises near the source of the Huang He and enters the sea at Shanghai. It is a major
Serving the major port of
are the estuarine lower reaches of the Xi Jiang, the most important river
system of southern China.
The river, which has numerous tributaries and distributaries, has a discharge
three times as great as that of the Huang He.
Most of the important lakes (hu) of China lie along the middle and lower Yangtze Valley. The two largest in the middle
portion are Dongting Hu and Poyang Hu. In summer these lakes increase their
areas by two to three times and serve as reservoirs for excess water. Tai Hu is the largest of several lakes in the Yangtze
delta, and Hongze Hu and Gaoyou Hu lie just to the north of the delta.
Saline lakes, many of considerable size, abound in the Tibetan
Plateau. The largest is the marshy Qinghai Hu
in the less elevated northeast, but several others nearly as large occur on the
high plateau. In the arid northwest and in the Mongolian Steppe are a number of
large lakes, most of which are also saline; principal among these are Lop Nur
and Bosten Hu east of the Tarim Pendi. Ulansuhai Nur, which is fed by the Huang
He, is in Inner Mongolia; Hulun Nur lies west of the Da Hinggan Ling in Manchuria.
More than 2000 reservoirs have been constructed throughout the
nation, primarily for irrigation and flood control. Most are small, but the
largest, the Longmen reservoir on the Huang He,
has a capacity of 35.4 billion cu m (1250 billion cu ft).
Plant Life As a
result of the wide range of climates and topography, China is rich in plant species.
Most of the original vegetation has been removed, however, during centuries of
settlement and intensive cultivation. Natural forests are generally preserved
only in the more remote mountain areas.
Dense tropical rain forests are found in the region south of the Xi Jiang valley. These forests consist of broadleaf evergreens, some more than 50 m (more than 160 ft) tall,
intermixed with palms. An extensive region of subtropical vegetation extends
north to the Yangtze
Valley and west to the
Tibetan Plateau. This zone is especially rich in species, including evergreen
oak, ginkgo, bamboo, pine, azalea, and camellia. Also found are forests with
laurel and magnolia and a dense undergrowth of smaller shrubs and bamboo
thickets. Conifers and mountain grasses dominate at higher elevations.
To the north of the Yangtze
Valley a broadleaf deciduous forest,
similar to that of the eastern United
States originally prevailed. The principal species remaining here
are various oaks, ash, elm, and maple; linden and birch flourish to the north
in Manchuria. China’s
most important timber reserves are found in the mountains of northern Manchuria, where extensive tracts of a larch-dominated
coniferous forest remain. The Manchurian Plain, now under cultivation, was once
dominated by a forest steppe—grasses interspersed with trees.
Prairie, or steppe, lands, covered with drought-resistant grasses,
are found in the eastern portion of the Mongolian Steppe. The vegetation of
this region has, however, been depleted by overgrazing and soil erosion. The
more arid regions of the northwest are characterized by clumps of herbaceous
plants and grasses separated by extensive barren areas; salt-tolerant species
dominate here. A somewhat lusher tundra vegetation,
consisting of grasses and flowers, is found on most of the high Tibetan
Plateau. In more favored locations throughout the arid regions, larger shrubs
and even trees may occur, and in many mountain areas, spruce and fir forests
Animal Life The
diverse habitats in China
support a wide range of fauna, from arctic species in Manchuria to many
tropical species in southern China.
Some species, extinct elsewhere, survive in China. Among these are the great
paddlefish of the Yangtze River, species of alligator and salamander, the giant
panda (found only in southwestern China), and the Chinese water deer (found
only in China and Korea).
Several types of primates, including gibbon and macaque as well as
several other species of apes and monkeys, are abundant in the tropical south.
Large carnivores, such as bear, tiger, and leopard, are few in number and
confined to remote areas. Members of the leopard family, for instance, are
distributed at the peripheries of the heavily populated areas; leopards are
found in northern Manchuria, the snow leopard in Tibet, and the clouded leopard in
the extreme south. Smaller carnivores, such as fox, wolf, raccoon dog, and
civet cat, are widespread and locally numerous. Antelope, gazelle, chamois,
wild horses, deer, and other hoofed animals inhabit the uplands and basins of
the west, and the Alaskan moose is found in northern Manchuria.
Birdlife is diverse and includes pheasant, peacock, parrot, heron, and crane.
Along with the common domesticated animals are found the water
buffalo, an important draft animal in the south; the camel, which is utilized
in the arid north and west; and the yak, a semidomesticated oxlike animal,
which is used in the highlands of Tibet.
Marine life is abundant, especially along the southeastern coast,
and includes flounder, cod, yellow croaker, pomfret, tuna, cuttlefish, sea
crabs, prawns, and dolphins. The rivers of China contain a variety of carp
species, as well as salmon, trout, sturgeon, catfish, and the Chinese river
dolphin. Much of China’s
inland water is devoted to fish farming.
Mineral Resources Because of its
geologic diversity, China
possesses an extremely wide array of mineral resources. The only minerals in
which the country appears to be deficient are vanadium, chrome, and cobalt.
Mineral deposits are distributed widely throughout the country; the principal
mining regions are southern Manchuria, especially the Liaodong
Peninsula, and the uplands of South China. Only in the Tibetan Plateau and the
surrounding high mountains have significant mineral deposits not yet been
particularly well endowed with energy resources. Coal reserves of up to 11
trillion metric tons are claimed, most of it in Manchuria and adjacent areas of
North China. Petroleum reserves are estimated
at more than 147 billion barrels, the bulk of which has been discovered
offshore. China now claims
to be second only to Saudi Arabia
in oil reserves; other deposits are located in Manchuria and in the
northwestern provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu, and Qinghai
and in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Oil-shale deposits are located
primarily in Liaoning and Guangdong.
Among metallic mineral ores, iron-ore reserves are estimated to be
more than 40 billion metric tons. The largest deposits, mainly in southern
Manchuria, northern Hebei, and Inner Mongolia (Nei Mongol), are mostly of low quality.
Some high-grade deposits of hematite occur in Liaoning
and Hubei in the Yangtze Valley.
Extensive deposits have also been discovered on Hainan.
Reserves of aluminum ores, occurring mainly in Liaoning
are estimated at more than 1 billion metric tons. Tin reserves, found primarily
in Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous
Region, are perhaps as much as 2 million metric tons; China’s
production of refined tin amounts to about one-quarter of the world’s output. China holds the
world’s largest reserves of both antimony and tungsten. Tungsten is found
mainly in the highlands north of the Xi Jiang, and the largest antimony
deposits are in Hunan.
holds abundant reserves of magnesite, molybdenum, mercury, and manganese.
Reserves of lead, zinc, and copper, however, are modest. Uranium has been
discovered in several localities, principally in Manchuria
and the northwest. Other resources occurring in considerable quantities are
phosphate rock, salt, talc, mica, quartz, silica, and fluorspar.