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Location of China within the continent of Asia
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Map of China
Flag Description of China:The flag of China was officially adopted on October 1, 1949.

The red of the Chinese flag symbolizes the communist revolution, and it's also the traditional color of the people. The large gold star represents communism, while the four smaller stars represent the social classes of the people. In addition, the five stars together reflect the importance placed on the number five in Chinese thought and history.

Barangay anim 4500.gif
A Barangay Clearance is NEEDED in order to get a Business License.
So why is the barangay name not in most business addresses?
Ask your Barangay Captain/Chairman to create a Resolution to make it mandatory to put the barangay name in all Business addresses.

OFFICIAL NAME: People's Republic of China
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Communist state
HEAD OF STATE President: Xi Jinping
HEAD OF GOVERNMENT Premier: Li Keqiang
CAPITAL: Beijing (Peking)
POPULATION: 1,355,692,576
OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: Standard Chinese, Mandarin
MONEY: Yuan (or renminbi)
AREA: 3,705,405 square miles (9,596,960 square kilometers)
MAJOR RIVERS: Yangtze, Yellow

Urban: (2013) 52.6%
Rural: (2013) 47.4%


Male: (2009) 72.4 years
Female: (2009) 76.6 years


Male: (2010) 97.1%
Female: (2010) 91.3%

GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 6,560

1Statutory number; includes 36 seats allotted to Hong Kong and 12 to Macau.


There are seven major Chinese dialects and many subdialects. Mandarin (or Putonghua), the predominant dialect, is spoken by over 70% of the population. It is taught in all schools and is the medium of government.

China, Chinese (Pinyin) Zhonghua or (Wade-Giles romanization) Chung-hua, also spelled (Pinyin) Zhongguo or (Wade-Giles romanization) Chung-kuo, officially People’s Republic of China, Chinese (Pinyin) Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo or (Wade-Giles romanization) Chung-hua Jen-min Kung-ho-kuo, country of East Asia. It is the largest of all Asian countries and has the largest population of any country in the world. Occupying nearly the entire East Asian landmass, it occupies approximately one-fourteenth of the land area of Earth. Among the major countries of the world, China is surpassed in area by only Russia and Canada, and it is almost as large as the whole of Europe.

China has 33 administrative units directly under the central government; these consist of 22 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, 4 municipalities (Chongqing, Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin), and 2 special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau). The island province of Taiwan, which has been under separate administration since 1949, is discussed in the article Taiwan. Beijing (Peking), the capital of the People’s Republic, is also the cultural, economic, and communications centre of the country. Shanghai is the main industrial city; Hong Kong is the leading commercial centre and port.

Within China’s boundaries exists a highly diverse and complex country. Its topography encompasses the highest and one of the lowest places on Earth, and its relief varies from nearly impenetrable mountainous terrain to vast coastal lowlands. Its climate ranges from extremely dry, desertlike conditions in the northwest to tropical monsoon in the southeast, and China has the greatest contrast in temperature between its northern and southern borders of any country in the world.

The diversity of both China’s relief and its climate has resulted in one of the world’s widest arrays of ecological niches, and these niches have been filled by a vast number of plant and animal species. Indeed, practically all types of Northern Hemisphere plants, except those of the polar tundra, are found in China, and, despite the continuous inroads of humans over the millennia, China still is home to some of the world’s most exotic animals.

Probably the single most identifiable characteristic of China to the people of the rest of the world is the size of its population. Some one-fifth of humanity is of Chinese nationality. The great majority of the population is Chinese (Han), and thus China is often characterized as an ethnically homogeneous country, but few countries have as wide a variety of indigenous peoples as does China. Even among the Han there are cultural and linguistic differences between regions; for example, the only point of linguistic commonality between two individuals from different parts of China may be the written Chinese language. Because China’s population is so enormous, the population density of the country is also often thought to be uniformly high, but vast areas of China are either uninhabited or sparsely populated.

With more than 4,000 years of recorded history, China is one of the few existing countries that also flourished economically and culturally in the earliest stages of world civilization. Indeed, despite the political and social upheavals that frequently have ravaged the country, China is unique among nations in its longevity and resilience as a discrete politico-cultural unit. Much of China’s cultural development has been accomplished with relatively little outside influence, the introduction of Buddhism from India constituting a major exception. Even when the country was penetrated by such “barbarian” peoples as the Manchu, these groups soon became largely absorbed into the fabric of Han Chinese culture.

This relative isolation from the outside world made possible over the centuries the flowering and refinement of the Chinese culture, but it also left China ill prepared to cope with that world when, from the mid-19th century, it was confronted by technologically superior foreign nations. There followed a century of decline and decrepitude, as China found itself relatively helpless in the face of a foreign onslaught. The trauma of this external challenge became the catalyst for a revolution that began in the early 20th century against the old regime and culminated in the establishment of a communist government in 1949. This event reshaped global political geography, and China has since come to rank among the most influential countries in the world.

Central to China’s long-enduring identity as a unitary country is the province, or sheng (“secretariat”). The provinces are traceable in their current form to the Tang dynasty (ad 618–907). Over the centuries, provinces gained in importance as centres of political and economic authority and increasingly became the focus of regional identification and loyalty. Provincial power reached its peak in the first two decades of the 20th century, but, since the establishment of the People’s Republic, that power has been curtailed by a strong central leadership in Beijing. Nonetheless, while the Chinese state has remained unitary in form, the vast size and population of China’s provinces—which are comparable to large and midsize nations—dictate their continuing importance as a level of subnational administration.


Stretching 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) from east to west and 3,400 miles (5,500 kilometers) from north to south, China is a large country with widely varying landscapes. Its territory includes mountains, high plateaus, sandy deserts, and dense forests.

One-third of China's land area is made up of mountains. The tallest mountain on Earth, Mount Everest, sits on the border between China and Nepal.

China has thousands of rivers. The Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers are the most important. At 3,915 miles (6,300 kilometers) long, the Yangtze is the world's third largest river.

The Land

China stretches for about 3,250 miles (5,250 km) from east to west and 3,400 miles (5,500 km) from north to south. Its land frontier is about 12,400 miles (20,000 km) in length, and its coastline extends for some 8,700 miles (14,000 km). The country is bounded by Mongolia to the north; Russia and North Korea to the northeast; the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea to the east; the South China Sea to the southeast; Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), India, Bhutan, and Nepal to the south; Pakistan to the southwest; and Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan to the west. In addition to the 14 countries that border directly on it, China also faces South Korea and Japan, across the Yellow Sea, and the Philippines, which lie beyond the South China Sea.

  • Relief

Broadly speaking, the relief of China is high in the west and low in the east; consequently, the direction of flow of the major rivers is generally eastward. The surface may be divided into three steps, or levels. The first level is represented by the Plateau of Tibet, which is located in both the Tibet Autonomous Region and the province of Qinghai and which, with an average elevation of well over 13,000 feet (4,000 metres) above sea level, is the loftiest highland area in the world. The western part of this region, the Qiangtang, has an average height of 16,500 feet (5,000 metres) and is known as the “roof of the world.”

The second step lies to the north of the Kunlun and Qilian mountains and (farther south) to the east of the Qionglai and Daliang ranges. There the mountains descend sharply to heights of between 6,000 and 3,000 feet (1,800 and 900 metres), after which basins intermingle with plateaus. This step includes the Mongolian Plateau, the Tarim Basin, the Loess Plateau (loess is a yellow-gray dust deposited by the wind), the Sichuan Basin, and the Yunnan-Guizhou (Yungui) Plateau.

The third step extends from the east of the Dalou, Taihang, and Wu mountain ranges and from the eastern perimeter of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau to the China Sea. Almost all of this area is made up of hills and plains lying below 1,500 feet (450 metres).

The most remarkable feature of China’s relief is the vast extent of its mountain chains; the mountains, indeed, have exerted a tremendous influence on the country’s political, economic, and cultural development. By rough estimate, about one-third of the total area of China consists of mountains. China has the world’s tallest mountain and the world’s highest and largest plateau, in addition to possessing extensive coastal plains. The five major landforms—mountain, plateau, hill, plain, and basin—are all well represented. China’s complex natural environment and rich natural resources are closely connected with the varied nature of its relief.

The topography of China is marked by many splendours. Mount Everest (Qomolangma Feng), situated on the border between China and Nepal, is the highest peak in the world, at an elevation of 29,035 feet (8,850 metres; see Researcher’s Note: Height of Mount Everest). By contrast, the lowest part of the Turfan Depression in the Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang—Lake Ayding—is 508 feet (155 metres) below sea level. The coast of China contrasts greatly between South and North. To the south of the bay of Hangzhou, the coast is rocky and indented with many harbours and offshore islands. To the north, except along the Shandong and Liaodong peninsulas, the coast is sandy and flat.

China is prone to intense seismic activity throughout much of the country. The main source of this geologic instability is the result of the constant northward movement of the Indian tectonic plate beneath southern Asia, which has thrust up the towering mountains and high plateaus of the Chinese southwest. Throughout its history China has experienced hundreds of massive earthquakes that collectively have killed millions of people. Two in the 20th century alone—in eastern Gansu province (1920) and in the city of Tangshan, eastern Hebei province (1976)—caused some 250,000 deaths each, and a quake in east-central Sichuan province in 2008 killed tens of thousands and devastated a wide area.

China’s physical relief has dictated its development in many respects. The civilization of Han Chinese originated in the southern part of the Loess Plateau, and from there it extended outward until it encountered the combined barriers of relief and climate. The long, protruding corridor, commonly known as the Gansu, or Hexi, Corridor, illustrates this fact. South of the corridor is the Plateau of Tibet, which was too high and too cold for the Chinese to gain a foothold. North of the corridor is the Gobi Desert, which also formed a barrier. Consequently, Chinese civilization was forced to spread along the corridor, where melting snow and ice in the Qilian Mountains provided water for oasis farming. The westward extremities of the corridor became the meeting place of the ancient East and West.

Thus, for a long time the ancient political centre of China was located along the lower reaches of the Huang He (Yellow River). Because of topographical barriers, however, it was difficult for the central government to gain complete control over the entire country, except when an unusually strong dynasty was in power. In many instances the Sichuan Basin—an isolated region in southwestern China, about twice the size of Scotland, that is well protected by high mountains and is self-sufficient in agricultural products—became an independent kingdom. A comparable situation often arose in the Tarim Basin in the northwest. Linked to the rest of China only by the Gansu Corridor, this basin is even remoter than the Sichuan, and, when the central government was unable to exert its influ�QL�, oasis states were established; only the three strong dynasties—the Han (206 bc–ad 220), the Tang (ad 618–907), and the Qing, or Manchu (1644–1911/12)—were capable of controlling the region.

Apart from the three elevation zones already mentioned, it is possible—on the basis of geologic structure, climatic conditions, and differences in geomorphologic development—to divide China into three major topographic regions: the eastern, northwestern, and southwestern zones. The eastern zone is shaped by the rivers, which have eroded landforms in some parts and have deposited alluvial plains in others; its climate is monsoonal (characterized by seasonal rain-bearing winds). The northwestern region is arid and eroded by the wind; it forms an inland drainage basin. The southwest is a cold, lofty, and mountainous region containing intermontane plateaus and inland lakes.

The three basic regions may be further subdivided into second-order geographic divisions. The eastern region contains 10 of these, the southwest contains two, and the northwest contains three. Below is a brief description of each division.


The Northeast Plain (also known as the Manchurian Plain and the Sung-liao Plain) is located in China’s Northeast, the region formerly known as Manchuria. It is bordered to the west and north by the Da Hinggan (Greater Khingan) Range and to the east by the Xiao Hinggan (Lesser Khingan) Range. An undulating plain split into northern and southern halves by a low divide rising from 500 to 850 feet (150 to 260 metres), it is drained in its northern part by the Sungari River and tributaries and in its southern part by the Liao River. Most of the area has an erosional rather than a depositional surface, but it is covered with a deep soil. The plain has an area of about 135,000 square miles (350,000 square km). Its basic landscapes are forest-steppe, steppe, meadow-steppe, and cultivated land; its soils are rich and black, and it is a famous agricultural region. The river valleys are wide and flat with a series of terraces formed by deposits of silt. During the flood season the rivers inundate extensive areas.


To the southeast of the Northeast Plain is a series of ranges comprising the Changbai, Zhangguangcai, and Wanda mountains, which in Chinese are collectively known as the Changbai Shan, or “Forever White Mountains”; broken by occasional open valleys, they reach elevations mostly between 1,500 and 3,000 feet (450 and 900 metres). In some parts the scenery is characterized by rugged peaks and precipitous cliffs. The highest peak is the volcanic cone of Mount Baitou (9,003 feet [2,744 metres]), which has a beautiful crater lake at its snow-covered summit. As one of the major forest areas of China, the region is the source of many valuable furs and famous medicinal herbs. Cultivation is generally limited to the valley floors.


Comparable in size to the Northeast Plain, most of the North China Plain lies at elevations below 160 feet (50 metres), and the relief is monotonously flat. It was formed by enormous sedimentary deposits brought down by the Huang He and Huai River from the Loess Plateau; the Quaternary deposits alone (i.e., those from the past 2.6 million years) reach thicknesses of 2,500 to 3,000 feet (760 to 900 metres). The river channels, which are higher than the surrounding locality, form local water divides, and the areas between the channels are depressions in which lakes and swamps are found. In particularly low and flat areas, the underground water table often fluctuates from 5 to 6.5 feet (1.5 to 2 metres), forming meadow swamps and, in some places, resulting in saline soils. A densely populated area that has long been under settlement, the North China Plain has the highest proportion of land under cultivation of any region in China.


This vast plateau of some 154,000 square miles (400,000 square km) forms a unique region of loess-clad hills and barren mountains between the North China Plain and the deserts of the west. In the north the Great Wall of China forms the boundary, while the southern limit is the Qin Mountains in Shaanxi province. The average surface elevation is roughly 4,000 feet (1,200 metres), but individual ranges of bedrock are higher, reaching 9,825 feet (2,995 metres) in the Liupan Mountains. Most of the plateau is covered with loess to thicknesses of 165 to 260 feet (50 to 80 metres). In northern Shaanxi and eastern Gansu provinces, the loess may reach much greater thicknesses. The loess is particularly susceptible to erosion by water, and ravines and gorges crisscross the plateau. It has been estimated that ravines cover approximately half the entire region, with erosion reaching depths of 300 to 650 feet (90 to 200 metres).


These hills are basically composed of extremely ancient crystalline shales and granites of early Precambrian age (i.e., older than about 2.5 billion years) and of somewhat younger sedimentary rocks dating to about 540–420 million years ago. Faults have played a major role in creating the present relief, and, as a result, many hills are horsts (blocks of the Earth’s crust uplifted along faults), while the valleys have been formed by grabens (blocks of the Earth’s crust that have been thrust down along faults). The Jiaolai Plain divides this region into two parts. The eastern part is lower, lying at elevations averaging below 1,500 feet (450 metres), with only certain peaks and ridges rising to 2,500 feet and (rarely) to 3,000 feet (900 metres); the highest point, Mount Lao, reaches 3,714 feet (1,132 metres). The western part is slightly higher, rising to 5,000 feet (1,524 metres) at Mount Tai, one of China’s most sacred mountains. The Shandong Hills meet the sea along a rocky and indented shoreline.


The Qin (conventional Tsinling) Mountains in Shaanxi province are the greatest chain of mountains east of the Plateau of Tibet. The mountain chain consists of a high and rugged barrier extending from Gansu to Henan; geographers use a line between the chain and the Huai River to divide China proper into two parts—North and South. The elevation of the mountains varies from 3,000 to 10,000 feet (900 to 3,000 metres). The western part is higher, with the highest peak, Mount Taibai, rising to 12,359 feet (3,767 metres). The Qin Mountains consist of a series of parallel ridges, all running roughly west-east, separated by a maze of ramifying valleys whose canyon walls often rise sheer to a height of 1,000 feet (300 metres) above the valley streams.


This is one of the most attractive geographical regions of China. The Sichuan Basin is surrounded by mountains, which are higher in the west and north. Protected against the penetration of cold northern winds, the basin is much warmer in the winter than are the more southerly plains of southeast China. Except for the Chengdu Plain, the region is hilly. The relief of the basin’s eastern half consists of numerous folds, forming a series of ridges and valleys that trend northeast to southwest. The lack of arable land has obliged farmers to cultivate the slopes of the hills, on which they have built terraces that frequently cover the slopes from top to bottom. The terracing has slowed down the process of erosion and has made it possible to cultivate additional areas by using the steeper slopes—some of which have grades up to 45° or more.


Southeastern China is bordered by a rocky shoreline backed by picturesque mountains. In general, there is a distinct structural and topographic trend from northeast to southwest. The higher peaks may reach elevations of some 5,000 to 6,500 feet (1,500 to 2,000 metres). The rivers are short and fast-flowing and have cut steep-sided valleys. The chief areas of settlement are on narrow strips of coastal plain where rice is produced. Along the coast there are numerous islands, where the fishing industry is well developed.


East of Yichang, in Hubei province, a series of plains of uneven width are found along the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang). The plains are particularly wide in the delta area and in places where the Yangtze receives its major tributaries—including large areas of lowlands around Dongting, Poyang, Tai, and Hongze lakes, which are all hydrologically linked with the Yangtze. The region is an alluvial plain, the accumulation of sediment laid down by the rivers throughout long ages. There are a few isolated hills, but in general the land is level, lying mostly below 160 feet (50 metres). Rivers, canals, and lakes form a dense network of waterways. The surface of the plain has been converted into a system of flat terraces, which descend in steps along the slopes of the valleys.


The Nan Mountains (Nan Ling) are composed of many ranges of mountains running from northeast to southwest. These ranges form the watershed between the Yangtze to the north and the Pearl (Zhu) River to the south. The main peaks along the watershed are above 5,000 feet, and some are more than 6,500 feet. But a large part of the land to the south of the Nan Mountains is also hilly; flatland does not exceed 10 percent of the total area. The Pearl River Delta is the only extensive plain in this region and is also the richest part of South China. The coastline is rugged and irregular, and there are many promontories and protected bays, including those of Hong Kong and Macau. The principal river is the Xi River, which rises in the highlands of eastern Yunnan and southern Guizhou.


This region comprises the northern part of Yunnan and the western part of Guizhou; its edge is highly dissected. Yunnan is more distinctly a plateau and contains larger areas of rolling uplands than Guizhou, but both parts are distinguished by canyonlike valleys and precipitous mountains. The highest elevations lie in the west, where Mount Diancang (also called Cang Shan) rises to 13,524 feet (4,122 metres). In the valleys of the major rivers, elevations drop to about 1,300 to 1,600 feet (400 to 490 metres). Particularly sharp differences in elevation and the greatest ruggedness of relief occur in the western part of the region, in the gorges of the large rivers. In the eastern part, karst processes (creating sinks, ravines, and underground streams in the limestone landscape) have developed very strongly. Scattered throughout the highlands are small lake basins, separated by mountains.


This great upland massif occupies about one-fourth of the country’s area. A large part of the plateau lies at elevations above 13,000 to 16,500 feet (4,000 to 5,000 metres). The border ranges of the plateau (the Kunlun Mountains and the Himalayas) are even higher, with individual peaks rising to heights of 23,000 to 26,000 feet (7,000 to 8,000 metres) and higher. As a rule, the interior (i.e., Tibet-side) slopes of these border mountains are gentle, while the exterior slopes are precipitous. The plateau’s eastern and southern periphery is the source of many of the world’s great rivers, including the Yangtze, Huang He, Mekong, Salween, Indus, and Brahmaputra. Only in the low valleys, chiefly along the Brahmaputra valley, are there centres of human settlement.

The Qaidam (Tsaidam) Basin, occupying the northwestern portion of the Plateau of Tibet, is the largest, as well as the lowest, depression in the plateau. The broad northwestern part of the basin lies at elevations between approximately 8,800 and 10,000 feet (2,700 and 3,000 metres), and the narrow southeastern part is slightly lower. Gravel, sandy and clay deserts, semideserts, and salt wastes predominate within the basin.


North of the Plateau of Tibet and at the much lower elevation of about 3,000 feet (900 metres) lies the Tarim Basin. It is hemmed in by great mountain ranges: the Tien Shan (Tian Shan; “Celestial Mountains”) on the north, the Pamirs on the west, and the Kunlun Mountains on the south. Glacier-fed streams descend from these heights only to lose themselves in the loose sands and gravels of the Takla Makan Desert, which occupies the centre of the basin. The Takla Makan is one of the most barren of the world’s deserts; only a few of the largest rivers—such as the Tarim and Hotan (Khotan)—cross the desert, but even their flow is not constant, and they have water throughout their entire courses only during the flood period. The area of the basin is about 215,000 square miles (557,000 square km), and its elevations range from 2,500 to 4,600 feet (750 to 1,400 metres) above sea level. Its surface slants to the southeast, where Lop Nur (a salt-encrusted lake bed) is situated.


North of the Tarim Basin is another large depression, the Junggar (Dzungarian) Basin. It is enclosed by the Tien Shan on the south, while to the northeast it is cut off from Mongolia by the Altai Mountains. The surface of the basin is flat, with a gentle slope to the southwest. The larger portion of the land lies at elevations between about 1,000 and 1,500 feet (300 and 450 metres), and in the lowest part the elevation drops to just below 650 feet (200 metres). In general the main part of the basin is covered by a broad desert with barchans (crescent-shaped sand dunes that move); only in certain parts are dunes retained by vegetation.


The Chinese (eastern) part of the Tien Shan consists of a complex system of ranges and depressions divided into two major groups of ranges: the northern and the southern. The groups are separated by a strip of intermontane depressions that itself is broken up by the interior ranges. Ancient metamorphic rock constitutes the larger portion of the ranges in the interior zone; Paleozoic (i.e., about 250 to 540 million years old) sedimentary and igneous sedimentary beds form its northern and southern chains, while Mesozoic (about 65 to 250 million years old) sandstones and conglomerates fill the intermontane depressions in the interior zone and constitute the foothill ridges. The height of the main Chinese chains of the Tien Shan is between 13,000 and 15,000 feet (4,000 and 4,600 metres), with individual peaks exceeding 16,000 feet (4,900 metres); the interior chains reach 14,500 feet (4,400 metres). In the western part, where precipitation is adequate, large glaciers are formed, reaching a length of more than 20 miles (32 km). Large rivers with heavy flows, such as the Ili (Yili) River and its tributaries, begin their courses there, and the predominantly alpine meadow steppe is one of the best grazing lands of China.

  • Drainage

China has more than 50,000 rivers with individual drainage areas exceeding 40 square miles (100 square km). Of the total annual runoff, about 95 percent drains directly into the sea (more than 80 percent into the Pacific Ocean, 12 percent into the Indian Ocean, and less than 1 percent into the Arctic Ocean) and 5 percent disappears inland.

The three principal rivers of China, all of which flow generally from west to east, draining into the China Sea, are the Huang He, the Yangtze, and the Xi. The Huang He, which rises in the Kunlun Mountains, is the northernmost of the three; it drains into the Bo Hai (Gulf of Chihli), north of the Shandong Peninsula. The Yangtze, the longest river in the country, rises in the Tibetan Highlands and flows across central China, draining into the East China Sea north of Shanghai. The Xi River, the southernmost of the three, rises in the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau and empties into the South China Sea via the Pearl River Delta at Guangzhou (Canton).

The distribution of surface water in China is extremely uneven. Only a small part of the country has sufficient quantities year-round. Much of the country has abundant runoff but only during the rainy summer, when enormous surpluses of water are received. From the southeast to the northwest, the surface water decreases as the relief becomes more mountainous. A vast area of the northwest lacks water throughout the year. North China (north of the Qin Mountains–Huai River line), with its flat relief and long history of agriculture, contains almost two-thirds of China’s cultivated land; paradoxically, because of scanty and erratic precipitation, the average annual runoff in the North accounts for only about one-sixth of the total for the country as a whole.

The mountains of the southeast and the mountainous Hainan Island have the most abundant surface water. Over the year they receive more than 60 inches (1,500 mm) of precipitation (in some places even more than 80 inches [2,000 mm]), of which almost two-thirds constitutes the runoff, so that a dense drainage network has developed. The amount of runoff is highest in the southeast, exceeding 40 inches (1,000 mm). It gradually diminishes toward the west and north, so that in the true deserts of the northwest it is usually less than 0.4 of an inch (10 mm). The arid climate of the northwest is reflected in the landscape of the dry steppes, which is characterized by richer grasses in the east, while in the west the landscape gradually changes to bare deserts.

In the lower reaches of the Yangtze, the Pearl River Delta, and the Chengdu Plain a dense network of waterways has been developed. In the North China Plain and the Northeast Plain most of the rivers have a linear flow, and tributaries are few and unconnected. In the inland drainage area there are very few rivers because of scanty precipitation. Extensive areas such as the Tarim Basin and northeastern Gansu province are often completely devoid of runoff. In those regions the rivers depend on melted snow and ice; in consequence, they are mostly small and are found only in mountains and mountain foothills. As they drain increasingly farther away from the mountains, most of them eventually disappear in the desert, while some form inland lakes. Because the northern part of the Plateau of Tibet is a cold desert, the rate of evaporation is slow, so that a denser network of rivers has developed; most of these, however, run into glaciated depressions, forming numerous lakes.

  • Soils

China, with its vast and diverse climatic conditions, has a wide variety of soils. Indeed, all the soil types of the Eurasian continent, except the soils of the tundra and the highly leached podzolic-gley soils of the northern taiga (boreal forest), are found in China. As a result of the climatic differences between the drier and cooler North and the wetter and hotter South, soils may be grouped into two classifications. Generally speaking, the soils north of the Qin Mountains–Huai River line are pedocals (calcareous) and are neutral to alkaline in reaction; those south of this line are pedalfers (leached noncalcareous soils), which are neutral to acid.

Apart from the great plateaus and high mountains to the southwest, marked soil zones are formed in China according to differences in climate, vegetation, and distance from the sea. The east and southeast coastal region is covered by the forest zone associated with a humid and semihumid climate, while the north and northwest inland regions belong mostly to the steppe zone, as well as to the semidesert and desert zone associated with a semiarid and arid climate. Between these two broad soil zones lies a transitional zone—the forest-steppe zone, where forest soils merge gradually with steppe soils.

Between the pedocals of the North and the pedalfers of the South lie the neutral soils. The floodplain of the Yangtze below the Three Gorges (the point where the river cuts through the Wu Mountains to empty onto the Hubei Plain) is overlain with a thick cover of noncalcareous alluvium. These soils, sometimes classified as paddy (rice-growing) soils, for the most part are exceedingly fertile and of good texture. The paddy soil is a unique type of cultivated soil, formed over a long period of time under the specific conditions of intensive rice cultivation.

Along the coast of North China are belts of saline and alkaline soil. They are associated with a combination of poor drainage and aridity, where precipitation is insufficient either to dissolve or to carry away the salts in solution.

The adverse effects of nature on the soil have been further intensified by centuries of concentrated cultivation, which has resulted in an almost universal deficiency of nitrogen and organic matter. The shortage of organic matter is primarily because farmers habitually remove crop stalks and leaves for livestock feed and fuel. The animal and human waste used for fertilizer contains too small an amount of organic matter to compensate for the loss of nutrients in the soil. The soils are also often deficient in phosphorus and potassium, but these deficiencies are neither so widespread nor so severe as that of nitrogen.

At one time, half of the territory of present-day China may have been covered by forests, but now less than one-tenth of the country is forested. Extensive forests in central and southern China were cleared for farmlands, resulting in the inevitable erosion of soils from the hillsides and their deposition in the valleys. Farmers have constructed level terraces, supported by walls, in order to hold back water for rice fields, thus effectively controlling erosion. Wherever elaborate terraces have been built, soil erosion is virtually absent, and stepped terraces have become one of the characteristic features of the rural landscape.

Excessive grazing and other practices that destroy the grass cover have also produced soil loss. When its valuable crumb structure is broken down and its porosity is lost, the topsoil is easily washed away through erosion in the rainy season; the wind produces the same effect in dry regions. The Loess Plateau, constantly buffeted by rain and wind, is especially vulnerable to soil erosion, which results in a distinctive landscape. Deep, steep-sided gullies cut the plateau into fantastic relief. The damage done by heavy rain in summer includes not only topsoil loss but also frequent flooding by silt-laden rivers.

  • Climate

The vast and topographically varied landmass of China lies in Asia, the world’s largest continent, and faces the Pacific, the world’s largest ocean, along an extensive shoreline. The country’s climate is thus heavily influenced by the seasonal movement of large air masses between the Pacific and the Chinese mainland. The polar continental air mass, originating to the north in Siberia, dominates a large part of China during the winter; likewise, the tropical Pacific air mass exerts its influence during the summer. The sharply varied climatic conditions prevailing in summer and in winter are a direct result of the interaction of these two air masses, which are entirely different in nature.

The Siberian air mass, which is quite stable, is extremely cold and dry and often has marked layers of temperature inversion. After crossing the Mongolian Plateau, the air mass spreads southward and begins to invade North China, where it undergoes a series of rapid changes; its temperature rises slightly, and its stability decreases. During the day the air there may be quite warm, but at night or in shaded places the cold is often unbearable. In general, the diurnal (daily) range of temperature is more than 18 °F (10 °C); in extreme cases it may exceed 45 °F (25 °C). Because North China is affected by this air mass most of the time, it is dry, with clear weather and an abundance of sunshine during the winter months.

The prevailing winter wind blows from November through March, but it changes direction as it moves to the south. In northern and northeastern China its direction is from the northwest, in eastern China it comes from the north, and on the southeastern coasts it is from the northeast. The height of the winter wind belt usually does not exceed 13,000 feet (4,000 metres). As it moves to the south, the height decreases; in Nanjing it is about 6,500 feet (2,000 metres), and in South China it is less than 5,000 feet (1,500 metres). The Qin Mountains become an effective barrier to the advance of the cold waves to the south, particularly in the western section, where the average elevation of the mountains is mainly between 6,500 and 9,000 feet (2,000 and 2,700 metres).

In China the tropical Pacific air mass is the chief source of summer rainfall. When it predominates, it may cover the eastern half of China and penetrate deep into the border areas of the Mongolian Plateau and onto the eastern edge of the Plateau of Tibet. In summer the Siberian air mass retreats to the western end of Mongolia, although it occasionally penetrates southward and sometimes may reach the Huai River valley, which constitutes a summertime battleground between the tropical Pacific and Siberian air masses.

The movement of the two air masses is of immense significance to the climate of central and North China. In summer, when the tropical air mass predominates, the frontal zone between the two shifts northward; as a result, North China receives heavier rainfall. When the southeastern monsoon slackens, however, the frontal zone moves southward, and central China receives more rainfall, which can cause flooding. The activity of the tropical Pacific air mass in winter is confined to the southeast coastal areas; during that season, therefore, it frequently drizzles in the hilly areas south of the Nan Mountains, and morning fog is common.

Besides these two air masses, three other air masses also influence China’s climate: the equatorial continental air mass (a highly unstable southwest monsoon), the polar maritime air mass, and the equatorial maritime air mass. Furthermore, because China is so vast and has such complex topography, the interaction between the air masses and relief produces a wide range of climatic conditions.


Temperatures generally decrease from south to north. The mean annual temperature is above 68 °F (20 °C) in the Pearl River valley. It decreases to between 59 and 68 °F (15 and 20 °C) in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze, to about 50 °F (10 °C) in North China and the southern part of Xinjiang, and to 41 °F (5 °C) in the southern area of the Northeast, the northern part of Xinjiang, and places near the Great Wall. It drops below 32 °F (0 °C; i.e., freezing) in the northern part of Heilongjiang. The annual range of temperature between the extreme south and north is about 86 °F (48 °C). With few exceptions, January is the coldest month and July is the hottest.

South of the Qin Mountains–Huai River line, the mean January temperature increases progressively, rising from freezing to 72 °F (22 °C) on the southern coast of Hainan Island. Snow rarely falls, and the rivers do not freeze. North of this line, the temperature drops from freezing to −18 °F (−28 °C) in the northern part of Heilongjiang.

In April the mean temperature is above freezing for the whole of China, with the exception of extreme northern Heilongjiang. During that time the mean temperature for the Northeast Plain is between 36 and 46 °F (2 and 8 °C), and for the extensive plain between Beijing and Shanghai it is between 54 and 59 °F (12 and 15 °C). South of the Nan Mountains the mean temperature is considerably higher than 68 °F (20 °C). Along the coast of southern Guangdong, willows start to bud in late January, but in Beijing the budding of willows comes as late as early April.

In summer the temperature range between North and South China is quite small. In July the difference in temperature between Guangzhou and Beijing is only about 5 °F (3 °C), and the isotherms in July are roughly parallel to the coastline. In July the isotherm of 82 °F (28 °C) marks an extensive area. The hottest places in China are found along the valleys of the middle and lower Yangtze. The mean July temperature of Nanchang and Changsha is well above 84 °F (29 °C), and in many years it exceeds 86 °F (30 °C).

In North China autumn is generally cooler than spring. The mean October temperature in Beijing is about 55 °F (13 °C), and in April it is about 57 °F (14 °C). In South China the reverse is true. The mean October temperature in Guangzhou is 75 °F (24 °C), but in April it is only about 70 °F (21 °C).

The middle and lower reaches of the Huang He are where China’s civilization and agriculture first developed. There the seasonal rhythm is well marked, and the duration of each season is evenly spaced. In other parts of China, however, the duration as well as the starting and closing dates of each season vary among different regions. Summer is nonexistent in northern Heilongjiang, while there is no winter in southern Guangdong. At Kunming, in the Yunnan uplands, the climate is mild throughout the year, with only brief summer and winter periods.

In general, south of the Qin Mountains–Huai River line the mean daily temperature seldom falls below freezing, so that farming can be practiced year-round. In the Yangtze valley two crops are usually grown annually, but north of the Great Wall only one crop per year is possible.


The profusion of vegetation types and a variety of relief have allowed a great diversity of animal life to develop and have permitted animals to survive there that elsewhere are extinct. Notable among such survivals are the great paddlefish of the Yangtze, the species of small alligator in eastern and central China, and the giant salamander (related to the Japanese giant salamander and the American hellbender) in western China. The diversity of animal life is perhaps greatest in the ranges and valleys of Tibet and Sichuan, the latter province being renowned as the home of the giant panda. The takin (a type of goat antelope), numerous species of pheasants, and a variety of laughing thrushes are found in all Chinese mountain ranges. China seems to be one of the chief centres of dispersal of the carp family and also of old-world catfishes.

The regional affinities of Chinese animal life are complex. Resemblances in the Northeast are to the fauna of the Siberian forests. Animals from Central Asia inhabit suitable steppe areas in northern China. The life of the great mountain ranges is Palearctic (relating to a biogeographic region that includes Europe, Asia north of the Himalayas, northern Arabia, and Africa north of the Sahara) but with distinctively Chinese species or genera. To the southeast the lowlands and mountains alike permit direct access to the eastern region. This part of China presents a complete transition from temperate-zone Palearctic life to the wealth of tropical forms distinctive of southeastern Asia. Tropical types of reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals predominate in the southernmost Chinese provinces.

Economy of China

  • General considerations

Despite China’s size, the wealth of its resources, and the fact that about one-fifth of the world’s population lives within its borders, its role in the world economy was relatively small until late in the 20th century. However, since the late 1970s China has dramatically increased its interaction with the international economy, and it has become a dominant figure in world trade. Both China’s foreign trade and its gross national product (GNP) have experienced sustained and rapid growth, especially since foreign-owned firms began using China as an export platform for goods manufactured there.

The Chinese economy thus has been in a state of transition since the late 1970s as the country has moved away from a Soviet-type economic system. Agriculture has been decollectivized, the nonagricultural private sector has grown rapidly, and government priorities have shifted toward light and high-technology, rather than heavy, industries. Nevertheless, key bottlenecks have continued to constrain growth. Available energy has not been sufficient to run all of the country’s installed industrial capacity, the transport system has remained inadequate to move sufficient quantities of such critical commodities as coal, and the communications system has not been able to meet the needs of a centrally planned economy of China’s size and complexity.

China’s underdeveloped transport system—combined with important differences in the availability of natural and human resources and in industrial infrastructure—has produced significant variations in the regional economies of China. The three wealthiest regions are along the southeast coast, centred on the Pearl (Zhu) River Delta; along the east coast, centred on the lower Yangtze River; and near the Bo Hai (Gulf of Chihli), in the Beijing-Tianjin-Liaoning region. It is the rapid development of these areas that is having the most significant effect on the Asian regional economy as a whole, and Chinese government policy is designed to remove the obstacles to accelerated growth in these wealthier regions. At the same time, a major priority of the government is the economic development of the interior of the country to help it catch up with the more-prosperous coastal regions.

China is the world’s largest producer of rice and is among the principal sources of wheat, corn (maize), tobacco, soybeans, peanuts (groundnuts), and cotton. The country is one of the world’s largest producers of a number of industrial and mineral products—including cotton cloth, tungsten, and antimony—and is an important producer of cotton yarn, coal, crude oil, and a number of other products. Its mineral resources are probably among the richest in the world but are only partially developed. China has acquired some highly sophisticated production facilities through foreign investment and joint ventures with foreign partners. The technological level and quality standards of many of its industries have improved rapidly and dramatically.

The labour force and the pricing system are still areas of concern. Underemployment is common in both urban and rural areas, and there is a strong fear of the disruptive effects that widespread unemployment could cause. The prices of some key commodities, especially of industrial raw materials and major industrial products, are still determined by the state, although the proportion of these commodities under state control continues to decline. A major exception is energy, which the government continues to regulate. China’s increasing contact with the international economy and its growing use of market forces to govern the domestic allocation of goods have exacerbated this problem. Over the years, large subsidies were built into the price structure, and these subsidies grew substantially from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, when subsidies began to be eliminated. A significant factor was China’s acceptance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, which carried with it stipulations about further economic liberalization and government deregulation.


China has been a socialist country since 1949, and, for nearly all of that time, the government has played a predominant role in the economy. In the industrial sector, for example, the state long owned outright nearly all of the firms producing China’s manufacturing output. The proportion of overall industrial capacity controlled by the government has gradually declined, although heavy industries have remained largely state owned. In the urban sector the government has set the prices for key commodities, determined the level and general distribution of investment funds, prescribed output targets for major enterprises and branches, allocated energy resources, set wage levels and employment targets, run the wholesale and retail networks, and controlled financial policy and the banking system. The foreign trade system became a government monopoly in the early 1950s. In the countryside from the mid-1950s, the government prescribed cropping patterns, set the level of prices, and fixed output targets for all major crops.

By the early 21st century much of the above system was in the process of changing, as the role of the central government in managing the economy was reduced and the role of both private initiative and market forces increased. Nevertheless, the government continued to play a dominant role in the urban economy, and its policies on such issues as agricultural procurement still exerted a major influence on performance in the rural sector.

The effective exercise of control over the economy requires an army of bureaucrats and a highly complicated chain of command, stretching from the top down to the level of individual enterprise. The Chinese Communist Party reserves the right to make broad decisions on economic priorities and policies, but the government apparatus headed by the State Council assumes the major burden of running the economy. The State Planning Commission and the Ministry of Finance also are concerned with the functioning of virtually the entire economy.

The entire planning process involves considerable consultation and negotiation. The main advantage of including a project in an annual plan is that the raw materials, labour, financial resources, and markets are guaranteed by directives that have the force of law. In fact, however, a great deal of economic activity goes on outside the scope of the detailed plan, and the tendency has been for the plan to become narrower rather than broader in scope.

There are three types of economic activity in China: those stipulated by mandatory planning, those done according to indicative planning (in which central planning of economic outcomes is indirectly implemented), and those governed by market forces. The second and third categories have grown at the expense of the first, but goods of national importance and almost all large-scale construction have remained under the mandatory planning system. The market economy generally involves small-scale or highly perishable items that circulate within local market areas only. Almost every year brings additional changes in the lists of goods that fall under each of the three categories.

Operational supervision over economic projects has devolved primarily to provincial, municipal, and county governments. In addition, enterprises themselves are gaining increased independence in a range of activity. Overall, therefore, the Chinese industrial system contains a complex mixture of relationships. In general, the State Council exercises relatively tight control over resources deemed to be of core importance for the performance of the entire economy. Less-important aspects of the system are devolved to lower levels for detailed decisions and management. In all spheres, moreover, the need to coordinate units that are in different bureaucratic hierarchies produces a great deal of informal bargaining and consensus building.

Although the state controlled agriculture in the 1950s and ’60s, rapid changes were made in the system from the late 1970s. The major vehicles for dictating state priorities—the people’s communes and their subordinate teams and brigades—have been either abolished or vastly weakened. Peasant incentives have been raised both by price increases for state-purchased agricultural products and by permission to sell excess production on a free market. Greater freedom is permitted in the choice of what crops to grow, and peasants are allowed to contract for land that they will work, rather than simply working most of the land collectively. The system of procurement quotas (fixed in the form of contracts) is being phased out, although the state can still buy farm products and control surpluses in order to affect market conditions.

'ECONOMIC POLICIES The First Five-Year Plan (1953–57) emphasized rapid industrial development, partly at the expense of other sectors of the economy. The bulk of the state’s investment was channeled into the industrial sector, while agriculture, which occupied more than four-fifths of the economically active population, was forced to rely on its own meagre capital resources for a substantial part of its fund requirements. Within industry, iron and steel, electric power, coal, heavy engineering, building materials, and basic chemicals were given first priority; in accordance with Soviet practice, the aim was to construct large, sophisticated, and highly capital-intensive plants. A great many of the new plants were built with Soviet technical and financial assistance, and heavy industry grew rapidly.

As the Second Five-Year Plan—which resembled its predecessor—got under way in 1958, the policy of the Great Leap Forward was announced. In agriculture this involved forming communes, abolishing private plots, and increasing output through greater cooperation and greater physical effort. In industry the construction of large plants was to continue, but it was to be supplemented by a huge drive to develop small industry, making use of a large number of small, simple, locally built and locally run plants. A spectacular drop in agricultural production ensued. Meanwhile, the indiscriminate backyard production drive failed to achieve the desired effects and yielded large quantities of expensively produced substandard goods. These difficulties were aggravated when Soviet aid and technicians were withdrawn. By late 1960 the country faced an economic crisis of the first order.

The authorities responded with a complete about-face in policy. Private plots were restored, the size of the communes was reduced, and greater independence was given to the production team. There was also a mass transfer of the unemployed industrial workers to the countryside, and industrial investment was temporarily slashed in order to free resources for farm production. The agricultural situation improved immediately, and by 1963 some resources were being redirected to the capital goods industry.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution began in 1966, but, unlike the Great Leap, it did not have an explicit economic philosophy. Nevertheless, industrial production was badly affected by the ensuing decade of confusion and strife, which also left some difficult legacies for the Chinese economy. In industry, wages were frozen and bonuses canceled. Combined with the policies of employing more workers than necessary to soak up unemployment and of never firing workers once hired, this action essentially eliminated incentives to work hard. In addition, technicians and many managers lost their authority and could not play an effective role in production in the wake of the movement. Overall output continued to grow, but capital-to-output ratios declined. In agriculture, per capita output in 1977 was no higher than in 1957.

Rural economic reform initiated after Mao Zedong began with major price increases for agricultural products in 1979. By 1981 the emphasis had shifted to breaking up collectively tilled fields into land that was contracted out to private families to work. During that time the size of private plots (land actually owned by individuals) was increased, and most restrictions on selling agricultural products in free markets were lifted. In 1984 much longer-term contracts for land were encouraged (generally 15 years or more), and the concentration of land through subleasing of parcels was made legal. In 1985 the government announced that it would dismantle the system of planned procurements with state-allocated production quotas in agriculture. Peasants who had stopped working the land were encouraged to find private employment in the countryside or in small towns. They did not obtain permission to move to major cities, however.

The basic thrusts of urban economic reform were toward integrating China more fully with the international economy; making enterprises responsible for their profits and losses; reducing the state’s role in directing, as opposed to guiding, the allocation of resources; shifting investment away from the metallurgical and machine-building industries and toward light and high-technology industries, while retaining an emphasis on resolving the energy, transportation, and communications bottlenecks; creating material incentives for individual effort and a consumer ethos to spur people to work harder; rationalizing the pricing structure; and putting individuals into jobs for which they have specialized training, skills, or talents. At the same time, the state has permitted a private sector to develop and has allowed it to compete with state firms in a number of service areas and, increasingly, in such larger-scale operations as construction.

A number of related measures were established to enhance the incentives for enterprise managers to increase the efficiency of their firms. Replacement of the profit-remission system with tax and contracting systems was designed to reward managers by permitting firms to retain a significant portion of increases in production. Managerial authority within firms was strengthened, and bonuses were restored and allowed to grow to substantial proportions. Managers also were given enhanced authority to hire, fire, and promote workers. Reductions in central government planning were accompanied by permission for enterprises to buy and sell surplus goods on essentially a free-market basis, and the prices thus obtained often were far higher than for goods produced to meet plan quotas. The state plan was also used to redirect some resources into the light industrial sector. The state, for example, has given priority in energy consumption to some light industrial enterprises that produce high-quality goods.

The reduction in the scope of mandatory planning is based on the assumption that market forces can more efficiently allocate many resources. This assumption in turn requires a rational pricing system that takes into account any and all extant technologies and scarcities. Because extensive subsidies were built into the economic system, however, price reform became an extremely sensitive issue. The fear of inflation also served as a constraint on price reform. Nevertheless, the fact that products produced in excess of amounts targeted in the plan can be sold, in most cases, at essentially free-market prices has created a two-tiered price system that is designed to wean the economy from the administratively fixed prices of an earlier era.

Efforts to create a freer labour market are also part of the overall stress on achieving greater efficiency. As with price reform, tampering with a system that keeps many citizens living more comfortably and securely than would an economically more rational system risks serious repercussions in relations with the public. Changes have proceeded slowly in this sensitive area.

A decision was made in 1978 to permit direct foreign investment in several small “special economic zones” along the coast. These zones were later increased to 14 coastal cities and three coastal regions. All of these places provided favoured tax treatment and other advantages for the foreign investor. Laws on contracts, patents, and other matters of concern to foreign businesses were also passed in an effort to attract international capital to aid China’s development. The largely bureaucratic nature of China’s economy, however, has posed inherent problems for foreign firms that want to operate in the Chinese environment, and China gradually has had to add more incentives to attract foreign capital.

The changes in China’s economic thinking and strategy since 1978 have been so great—with the potential repercussions for important vested interests so strong—that actual practice inevitably has lagged considerably behind declaratory policy. Notable during this period have been the swings in economic policy between an emphasis on market-oriented reforms and a return to at least partial reliance on centralized planning.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing FARMING AND LIVESTOCK

As a result of topographic and climatic features, the area suitable for cultivation is small: only about 10 percent of China’s total land area. Of this, slightly more than half is unirrigated, and the remainder is divided roughly equally between paddy fields and irrigated areas; good progress has been made in improving water conservancy. In addition, the quality of the soil in cultivated regions varies around the country, and environmental problems such as floods, drought, and erosion pose serious threats in many areas. Nevertheless, about two-thirds of the population lives in the countryside, and until the 1980s a large proportion of them made their living directly from farming. Since then many have been encouraged to leave the fields and pursue other activities, such as handicrafts, commerce, factory work, and transport; and by the mid-1980s farming had dropped to less than half of the value of rural output. Although the use of farm machinery has been increasing, for the most part the Chinese peasant depends on simple, nonmechanized farming implements.

Western China, comprising Tibet, Xinjiang, and Qinghai, has little agricultural significance except for areas of oasis farming and cattle raising. Rice, China’s most important crop, is dominant in the southern provinces, many of which yield two harvests per year. In North China wheat is of the greatest importance, while in the central provinces wheat and rice vie with each other for the top place. Millet and kaoliang (a variety of grain sorghum) are grown mainly in the Northeast and some central provinces, which—together with some northern areas—also produce considerable quantities of barley. Most of the soybean crop is derived from the North and the Northeast, and corn (maize) is grown in the centre and the North. Tea comes mainly from the hilly areas of the southeast. Cotton is grown extensively in the central provinces, but it is also found to a lesser extent in the southeast and in the North. Tobacco comes from the centre and parts of the South. Other important crops are potatoes, sugar beets, and oilseeds.

Animal husbandry constitutes the second most important component of agricultural production. China is the world’s leading producer of pigs, chickens, and eggs, and it also has sizable herds of sheep and cattle. Since the mid-1970s, greater emphasis has been placed on increasing the livestock output.

FORESTRY AND FISHING Wholesale destruction of China’s accessible forests over a long period of time gave way to an energetic reforestation program that has proved to be inadequate; forest resources are still fairly meagre. The principal forests are found in the Qin (Tsinling) Mountains and the central mountain ranges and in the uplands of Sichuan and Yunnan. Because they are inaccessible, the Qin forests are not worked extensively, and much of the country’s timber comes from Heilongjiang, Jilin, Sichuan, and Yunnan.

China has a long tradition of ocean and freshwater fishing and of aquaculture, and it is the world’s leading producer in both categories. The bulk of the catch comes from Pacific fisheries, with nearly all of the remainder from inland freshwater sources. Pond raising has always been important and has been increasingly emphasized to supplement coastal and inland fisheries threatened by overfishing and to provide valuable export commodities such as prawns. Aquaculture surpassed capture, in terms of overall tonnage, in the early 1990s.

Resources and power China is well endowed with mineral resources, and more than three dozen minerals have proven economically important reserves. The country has rich overall energy potential, but most of it remains to be developed. In addition, the geographical distribution of energy places most of these resources far from their major industrial users. Basically, the Northeast is rich in coal and petroleum, the central part of North China has abundant coal, and the southwest has great hydroelectric potential. However, the industrialized regions around Guangzhou (Canton) and the lower Yangtze region around Shanghai have too little energy, while there is little industry located near major energy resource areas other than in the southern part of the Northeast. Thus, although energy production has expanded rapidly, it has continued to fall short of demand, and China has been purchasing increasing quantities of foreign petroleum and natural gas.

Mining accounts for a small portion of China’s overall gross domestic product (GDP) and employs only a tiny fraction of the country’s workforce. It likewise represents a small—though significant—part of the annual value of industrial output. However, several problems have also emerged regarding mineral extraction. One concern is that finds of new proven reserves have fallen short of the country’s long-term development needs. In addition, productivity has been low in a great majority of mining operations through mismanagement and the use of obsolete equipment, and the recovery ratio of commodity to ore has been low in many cases, resulting in considerable waste. The environment has been adversely affected both by the vast accumulations of waste rock and other mining debris that have been left on huge tracts of land and by the great volume of polluted wastewater produced by mining operations, which has fouled rivers and farm fields.


China’s most important mineral resources are hydrocarbons, of which coal is the most abundant. Although deposits are widely scattered (some coal is found in every province), most of the total is located in the northern part of the country. The province of Shanxi is thought to contain about half of the total; other important coal-bearing provinces include Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Jilin, Hebei, and Shandong. Apart from these northern provinces, significant quantities of coal are present in Sichuan, and there are some deposits of importance in Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, and Guizhou. A large part of the country’s reserves consists of good bituminous coal, but there are also large deposits of lignite. Anthracite is present in several places (especially Liaoning, Guizhou, and Henan), but overall it is not significant.

At the government’s instigation, hundreds of small, locally run mines have been developed throughout China in order to ensure a more even distribution of coal supplies and to reduce the strain on the country’s inadequate transport network. These operations produce about two-fifths of the country’s coal, although their output typically is expensive and used largely for local consumption.

China’s onshore petroleum resources are located mainly in the Northeast—notably at the Daqing oil field— and in the northwestern provinces of Xinjiang (particularly in the Tarim Basin), Gansu, and Qinghai; there are also reserves in Sichuan, Shandong, and Henan provinces. Shale oil is found in a number of places, especially at Fushun in Liaoning, where the deposits overlie the coal reserves, as well as in Guangdong. Light oil of high quality has been found in the Pearl River estuary of the South China Sea, the Qaidam Basin in Qinghai, and the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang. China contracted with Western oil companies to jointly explore and develop oil deposits in the China Sea, Yellow Sea, Gulf of Tonkin, and Bo Hai. The country consumes the bulk of its oil output and imports but does export some crude oil and oil products.

The true extent of China’s natural gas reserves is unknown. It has proven reserves of some 42 trillion cubic feet (1.2 trillion cubic metres), but estimates have ranged as high as 187 trillion cubic feet (5.3 trillion cubic metres). Exploration for natural gas, long at only modest levels, has been increasing. Sichuan province accounts for almost half of the known reserves and production. Most of the rest of China’s natural gas is associated gas produced in the Northeast’s major oil fields, especially Daqing. Other gas deposits have been found in Inner Mongolia, the Qaidam Basin, Shaanxi, Hebei, Jiangsu, Shanghai, and Zhejiang and offshore to the southwest of Hainan Island.

Iron ore reserves are also extensive and are found in most provinces, with Hainan, Gansu, Guizhou, southern Sichuan, and Guangdong having the richest deposits. The largest mined reserves are located north of the Yangtze River and supply neighbouring iron and steel enterprises. With the exception of nickel, chromium, and cobalt, China is well supplied with ferroalloys and manganese. Reserves of tungsten are also known to be fairly large. Copper resources are moderate, and high-quality ore is present only in a few deposits. Discoveries have been reported from the Hui Autonomous Region of Ningxia. Lead and zinc are available, and bauxite resources are thought to be plentiful. China’s antimony reserves are the largest in the world. Tin resources are plentiful, and there are fairly rich deposits of gold. There are important deposits of phosphate rock in a number of areas. Pyrites occur in several places, the most important of which are found in Liaoning, Hebei, Shandong, and Shanxi. China also has large resources of fluorite (fluorspar), gypsum, asbestos, and cement.

In addition, China produces a fairly wide range of nonmetallic minerals. One of the most important of these is salt, which is derived from coastal evaporation sites in Jiangsu, Hebei, Shandong, and Liaoning, as well as from extensive salt fields in Sichuan, Ningxia, and the Qaidam Basin.

HYDROELECTRIC POTENTIAL China’s extensive river network and mountainous terrain provide ample potential for the production of hydroelectric power. Most of the total hydroelectric capacity is in the southwest—notably in Sichuan, Yunnan, Tibet, and Hubei—where coal supplies are poor but demand for energy is rapidly growing. The potential in the Northeast is fairly small; however, it was there that the first hydroelectric stations were built (by the Japanese). As a result of considerable seasonal fluctuations in rainfall, the flow of rivers tends to drop during the winter, forcing many power stations to operate at less than normal capacity, while in the summer, on the other hand, floods often interfere with production. The massive Three Gorges project on the Yangtze River east of Chongqing, involving the construction of a dam and reservoir (underway since 1994), began limited hydroelectric production in 2003.

ENERGY PRODUCTION China’s energy production has grown rapidly since 1980, but it has continued to fall considerably short of demand. This is partly because energy prices were long held so low that industries had few incentives to conserve. Increasingly, however, demand has outstripped supply. In addition, it has often been necessary to transport fuels (notably coal) great distances from points of production to consumption. Coal provides about two-thirds of China’s energy consumption, although its proportion is slowly declining. Petroleum production, which grew rapidly from an extremely low base in the early 1960s, has increased much more gradually from 1980. Natural gas production still constitutes only a small (though increasing) fraction of overall energy production, but gas is supplanting coal as a domestic fuel in the major cities.

China’s electric-generating capacity has expanded dramatically since 1980, and the proportion allocated to domestic consumption also has grown considerably. Some four-fifths of all power generated is at thermal plants, with nearly all the rest at hydroelectric installations; only a tiny proportion is from nuclear energy, from plants located near Shanghai and Guangzhou.


The development of industry has been given considerable attention since the advent of the communist regime. Overall industrial output often has grown at an annual rate of more than 10 percent, and China’s industrial workforce probably exceeds the combined total for all other developing countries. Industry has surpassed all other sectors in economic growth and degree of modernization. Most heavy industries and products deemed to be of national strategic importance remain state-owned, but an increasing proportion of lighter and consumer-oriented manufacturing firms are privately held or are private-state joint ventures.

Among the various manufacturing branches, the metallurgical and machine-building industries have received high priority. These two branches alone now account for about two-fifths of the total gross value of industrial output. In these, as in most other areas of state-owned industry, however, innovation has generally suffered at the hands of a system that has rewarded increases in gross output rather than improvements in variety and quality. China, therefore, still imports significant quantities of specialized steels. Much of the country’s steel output comes from a small number of producing centres, the largest being Anshan in Liaoning.

The principal preoccupation of authorities in chemical and petrochemical manufacturing is to expand the output of chemical fertilizers, plastics, and synthetic fibres. The growth of this industry has placed China among the world’s leading producers of nitrogenous fertilizers. In the consumer goods sector the main emphasis is on textiles, clothing, shoes, processed foods, and toys, all of which also form an important part of China’s exports. Textile production, a rapidly growing proportion of which consists of synthetics, continues to be important, but less so than before. The industry tends to be scattered throughout the country, but there are a number of important textile centres, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Harbin.

The pace of industrialization quickened and diversified after 1990. Notable were the development of automobile, aircraft, and aerospace manufacturing. In addition, China expanded rapidly into the production of electronics, semiconductors, software, and precision equipment, often in conjunction with foreign firms.

Overall, the distribution of industry has remained uneven, despite serious efforts from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s to build up manufacturing in the interior at the cost of the major cities on the east coast. While percentage growth of industry in the interior provinces generally greatly exceeded that of the coastal areas, the far larger initial industrial base of the latter meant that a few coastal regions have continued to dominate China’s industrial economy. The establishment of special economic zones in coastal areas only enhanced this disparity. Thus, Shanghai alone produces about 10 percent of China’s gross value of industrial output, and the east coast accounts for about 60 percent of the national manufacturing output.

Finance China’s financial institutions are owned by the state. The principal instruments of fiscal and financial control are the People’s Bank of China and the Ministry of Finance, both subject to the authority of the State Council. The People’s Bank, which replaced the Central Bank of China in 1950 and gradually took over private banks, fulfills many of the functions of Western central and commercial banks. It issues the renminbi (yuan; the national currency), controls circulation, and plays an important role in disbursing budgetary expenditures. Furthermore, it handles the accounts, payments, and receipts of government organizations and other bodies, which enables it to exercise detailed supervision over their financial and general performance in the light of the state’s economic plans.

The People’s Bank is also responsible for foreign trade and other overseas transactions (including remittances by overseas Chinese), but these functions are exercised through the Bank of China, which maintains branch offices in a number of European and Asian countries.

Other important financial institutions include the China Construction Bank (formerly People’s Construction Bank of China), responsible for capitalizing a portion of overall investment and for providing capital funds for certain industrial and construction enterprises; the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which conducts ordinary commercial transactions and acts as a savings bank for the public; the Agricultural Bank of China, which serves the agricultural sector; and the China Investment Bank, which handles foreign investment. Many foreign banks maintain offices in China’s larger cities and the special economic zones. In 2005 the China Construction Bank became the first of China’s “big four” banks to be publicly traded. The Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank followed in step soon thereafter. When the last of the four, the Agricultural Bank of China, went public in 2010, it was the world’s largest initial public offering (IPO) to date.

China’s economic reforms greatly increased the economic role of the banking system. Whereas virtually all investment capital was previously provided on a grant basis in the state plan, policy has shifted to a loan basis through the various state financial institutions. More generally, increasing amounts of funds are made available through the banks for economic purposes. Enterprises and individuals can go to the banks to obtain loans outside the state plan, and this has proved to be a major source of financing both for new firms and for the expansion and modernization of older enterprises.

Foreign sources of capital also have become increasingly important. China has received loans from the World Bank and several United Nations programs, as well as from several countries (particularly Japan) and from commercial banks. Hong Kong and Taiwan have become major conduits for—as well as sources of—this investment. Stock exchanges have been operating at Shanghai and Shenzhen since 1990, and the government began allowing the first foreign firms to trade in the market in 2003.

Trade Trade has become an increasingly important part of China’s overall economy, and it has been a significant tool used for economic modernization. The direction of China’s foreign trade has undergone marked changes since the early 1950s. In 1950 some three-fourths of the total was accounted for by trade with noncommunist countries, but by 1954—one year after the end of hostilities during the Korean War—the situation was completely reversed, and communist countries accounted for about three-fourths. During the next few years, the communist world lost some of its former importance, but it was only after the Sino-Soviet breach of 1960—which resulted in the cancellation of Soviet credits and the withdrawal of Soviet technicians—that the noncommunist world began to see a rapid improvement in its position. In 1965 China’s trade with other socialist countries made up only about one-third of the total.

A significant part of China’s trade with the developing countries has been financed through credits, grants, and other forms of assistance. At first, from 1953 to 1955, aid went mainly to North Korea and North Vietnam and some other communist states; but from the mid-1950s large amounts—mainly grants and long-term interest-free loans—were promised to politically uncommitted developing countries. The principal efforts were made in Asia—especially to Indonesia, Burma (Myanmar), Pakistan, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka)—but large loans were also granted in Africa (Ghana, Algeria, Tanzania) and in the Middle East (Egypt). After Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, however, the Chinese scaled back such efforts.

During the 1980s and ’90s, China’s foreign trade came full cycle. Trade with all communist countries diminished to insignificance, especially with the demise of most socialist states. By contrast, trade with noncommunist developed and developing countries became predominant. In general, China has had a positive balance of trade with its trading partners since 1990. Hong Kong became one of China’s major partners prior to its reincorporation into the country; it remains prominent in domestic trade, notably in its reliance on the mainland for agricultural products. Taiwan also has become an important trading partner.

Most of China’s imports consist of machinery and apparatus (including semiconductors, computers, and office machines), chemicals, and fuels. The main import sources are Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, the countries of the European Union (EU), and the United States. Regionally, almost half of China’s imports come from East and Southeast Asia, and some one-fourth of its exports go to the same countries.

The great bulk of China’s exports consists of manufactured goods, of which electrical and electronic machinery and equipment and clothing, textiles, and footwear are by far the most important. Agricultural products, chemicals, and fuels are also significant exports. The United States, Japan, EU countries, and South Korea are the principal export destinations.

Services The service sector constitutes about one-third of China’s annual GDP, second only to manufacturing; likewise, only agriculture employs a larger share of the workforce than services. However, its proportion of GDP is still low compared with the ratio in more-developed countries. Public administration has long been a main component of the sector, as has wholesale and retail trade. Tourism has become a significant factor in employment and as a source of foreign exchange.

Labour and taxation Agriculture has remained the largest employer, though its proportion of the workforce has steadily declined; between 1991 and 2001 it dropped from three-fifths to two-fifths of the total. The manufacturing labour force has also shrunk at a slower rate, in part because of reforms implemented at many of the state-run enterprises. Such reforms and other factors have increased unemployment and underemployment in both urban and rural areas. Women have been a major labour presence in China since the People’s Republic was established. Some two-fifths of all women over age 15 are employed.

Chinese trade unions are organized on a broad industrial basis. Membership is open to those who rely on wages for the whole or a large part of their income—a qualification that excludes most agricultural workers. In theory, membership is not compulsory, but in view of the unions’ longtime role in distributing social benefits, the economic pressure to join is considerable. The lowest unit is the enterprise union committee. Individual trade unions also operate at the provincial level, and there are trade union councils that coordinate all union activities within a particular area and operate at county, municipal, and provincial levels. At the top of the movement is the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, which discharges its functions through a number of regional federations.

In theory the appropriate trade union organizations have been consulted on the level of wages as well as on wage differentials, but in practice their role in these and similar matters has been insignificant. They have not engaged in collective bargaining—not at all surprising, since their principal duties have included assisting the party and promoting production. In fulfilling these tasks, they have had a role in enforcing labour discipline. From the point of view of the membership, the most important activities have concerned the social and welfare services. Thus, the unions have looked after industrial safety; organized social and cultural activities; provided services such as clinics, rest and holiday homes, hostels, libraries, and clubs; and administered old-age pensions, workers’ insurance, disability benefits, and other welfare schemes. More recently, however, reforms of the social security system have involved moving the responsibility for pensions and other welfare to the provinces.

From the 1950s to the ’80s, the central government’s revenues derived chiefly from the profits of the state enterprises, which were remitted to the state. Some government revenues also came from taxes, of which the most important was the general industrial and commercial tax. The trend, however, has been for remitted profits of the state enterprises to be replaced with taxes on those profits. Initially, this tax system was adjusted so as to allow for differences in the capitalization and pricing situations of various firms, but more-uniform tax schedules were introduced in the early 1990s. In addition, personal income and value-added taxes were implemented at that time.

Transportation and telecommunications Great emphasis has been placed on developing the country’s transport infrastructure because it is so closely related to developing the national economy, consolidating the national defense system, and strengthening national unification. Nevertheless, China’s domestic transport system continues to constitute a major constraint on economic growth and the efficient movement of goods and people. Railroads, some still employing steam locomotives, provide the major means for freight haulage, but their capacity cannot meet demand for the shipment of coal and other goods. In addition, roads and waterways are providing an increasing proportion of China’s overall transport.

Since 1949 China’s transport and communications policies, influenced by political, military, and economic considerations, have experienced changes of emphasis in different periods. Thus, just after 1949 the primary concern was to repair existing lines of communication, to give priority to military transport needs, and to strengthen political control. During most of the 1950s, new lines were built, while at the same time old lines were improved. During the Great Leap Forward much of the improvement of regional transportation became the responsibility of the general population, and many small railways were constructed. After 1963, emphasis was placed on developing transportation in rural, mountainous, and, especially, forested areas in order to help promote agricultural production; simultaneously the development of international communications was energetically pursued, and the scope of ocean transport was broadened considerably.

Initially, as China’s railways and highways were mostly concentrated in the coastal regions, access to the interior was difficult. This situation has been improved considerably, as railways and highways have been built in the remote border areas of the northwest and southwest. All parts of China, except certain remote areas of Tibet, are accessible by rail, road, water, or air.

RAILWAYS Railway construction began in China in 1876. Because railways can conveniently carry a large volume of goods over long distances, they are of especial importance in China’s transportation system. All trunk railways in China are under the administration of the Ministry of Railways. The central government operates a major rail network in the Northeast built on a base constructed by the Russians and Japanese during the decades before 1949 and an additional large system inside (that is, to the south or east of) the Great Wall. The framework for the railways inside the wall consists of several north-south and east-west lines.

Apart from those operated by the central government, there is also a network of small, state-owned local railways that link mines, factories, farms, and forested areas. The construction of these smaller railways is encouraged by the central government, and technical assistance is provided by the state railway system when it is thought that the smaller railways can stimulate regional economic development.

Coal has long been the principal railway cargo. The rather uneven distribution of coalfields in China makes it necessary to transport coal over long distances, especially between the North and South. The increase in the production of petroleum and natural gas has made necessary the construction of both pipelines and additional railways.

Since the late 1950s there has been a change in railway-construction policy. Prior to that time, most attention was paid to the needs of the eastern half of China, where most of the coal network is found; but since then, more emphasis has been given to extending the rail system into the western provinces and improving the original railway system, including such measures as building bridges, laying double tracks, and using continuous welded rail. In addition, certain important rail links have been electrified.

Since 1960 hundreds of thousands of workers have been mobilized to construct major lines in the northwest and southwest. In the 1970s new lines were extended into previously unopened parts of the country. In the 1980s new regions in the northwest were linked to the national market and opened up for development. The best example was the line built from Lanzhou in Gansu province westward into the oil fields of the Qaidam Basin. These projects, which were coordinated on a national level, contrast to the pattern prevailing before World War II, when foreign-financed railroads were built in different places without any attempt to coordinate or standardize the transport and communications system.

Even greater effort has been made since 1990 to speed up new railway construction and improve the existing network. A major new line runs southward from Beijing to Kowloon (Hong Kong) via Fuyang and Nanchang and eases strain on the other north-south trunk lines. The main east-west trunk line from Lianyungang on the east coast to Lanzhou now extends northwestward through Ürümqi (Urumchi) to the Xinjiang-Kazakhstan border, linking China to Central Asia and Russia. A third line, constructed southeastward from Kunming in Yunnan to the port of Beihai in Guangxi, greatly improves southwestern China’s access to the sea, as does a new line that connects Lhasa in Tibet with Qinghai province. In addition, upgrades to track and equipment have facilitated high-speed passenger rail service between Beijing and Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Harbin.

ROAD NETWORKS The first modern highway in China was built in 1913 in Hunan province. The highways of China may be divided into three categories: state, provincial, or regional highways of political, economic, or military importance; local highways of secondary importance, operated by counties or communes; and special-purpose highways, mostly managed by factories, mines, state farms, forestry units, or the military forces.

The most striking achievement in highway construction has been the road system built on the cold and high Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. Workers, after overcoming various physical obstacles, within a few years built three of the highest and longest highways in the world, thus markedly changing the transport pattern in the western border regions of China and strengthening the national defense system. Of the three highways, one runs westward across Sichuan into Tibet; another extends southwestward from Qinghai to Tibet; and the third runs southward from Xinjiang to Tibet.

Another early objective was to build a rural road network in order to open up commercial routes to the villages and to facilitate the transport of locally produced goods. The wide dispersion and seasonal and variable nature of agricultural production, as well as the large numbers of relatively small shipments involved, explain why trucks are preferred for shipping. Similarly, trucks best bring consumer goods, fertilizers, and farm machinery and equipment to rural areas.

From the 1980s and especially since 1990, the emphasis has shifted to creating a nationwide network of major highways. Thousands of miles of multilane express highways have been constructed in and around the largest cities, and older two-lane roads have been widened to accommodate multiple lanes of traffic. Overall road mileage has roughly doubled since the early 1980s. Nonetheless, motor vehicle use has expanded much more rapidly than road construction, particularly in the major cities. In addition, a large proportion of China’s road network is either unpaved or badly in need of reconstruction.

Large-scale highway construction spurred China to develop its motor vehicle industry. The first vehicle manufacturing plant dates to the mid-1950s, and by 1970 localized production was widespread in the country. The basis of the early industry was generally simple, usually an extension of repair shops in which vehicles of various types were produced to serve the needs of the locality. Vehicles produced by large state automotive factories generally were distributed only to state enterprises and military units. By the 1980s many vehicles, especially automobiles, were imported. Domestic automobile manufacture grew rapidly after 1990 as individual car ownership became increasingly possible, and it emerged as one of China’s major industries. Several foreign companies have established joint ventures with Chinese firms.


Since ancient times, inland water transport has played a major role in moving goods and commodities from production sources to consumption destinations. Railways and roads, though increasingly important to modern China’s transport network, cannot entirely supplant waterways. The high cost of construction prevents railways from being built extensively, and rail transport conditions are often congested. Freight volume carried by highways is limited, and highways are not suitable for moving bulk goods. China’s water transport potential is great, but it is still far from being fully developed. Nonetheless, China has more than 75,000 miles (some 125,000 km) of navigable inland waterways, the most extensive system of any country in the world. The distribution of waterways is chiefly within central and South China, except for a few navigable streams in the Northeast.

One of the first goals of the communist government after it took power in 1949 was to establish a national network of waterways. It also initiated a program to build and refurbish port facilities and to dredge river channels. By 1961 some 15 principal waterways had been opened to navigation, focused on the Yangtze, Pearl (Zhu), Huai, and Han rivers, the Huang He (Yellow River), and the Grand Canal. Water transport development has subsequently received considerable emphasis. Dredging and other improvements to inland waterways have been important to economic reconstruction, while capital and maintenance costs for water transport have been much lower than those for railway transport.

The Yangtze, the most important artery in China’s waterway network, is also one of the most economically significant rivers in the world. Together with its tributaries, it accounts for almost half of the country’s waterway mileage, while the volume of the freight it carries represents about one-third of the total volume carried by river transport. Work undertaken in the mid-1950s to improve the middle course of the Yangtze allowed it to become navigable throughout the year from its mouth to Yibin in Sichuan. When the Yangtze is high in summer, it is navigable from its mouth to as far as Chongqing for ships of up to 5,000 tons. Many cable-hauling stations had been established at rapids on the upper course of the Yangtze and of its major tributaries, such as the Wu River. Boats sailing against the current are hauled over the rapids with strong steel cables attached to fixed winches, thus augmenting their loading capacity, increasing speed, and saving time. Such improvements have permitted regular passenger and cargo services to be operated on the Yangtze.

The Xi River is second in importance only to the Yangtze, being the major water transport artery of South China. Ships of 1,000 tons can sail up the Xi to Wuzhou, while smaller craft can sail up its middle and upper courses as well as up the Bei and Dong rivers and the tributaries of all these streams. The Yangtze and the Xi are not icebound in winter. The Sungari (Songhua) River, flowing across the Manchurian Plain, is navigable for half of its course; it is icebound from November through March and crowded with traffic the other months of the year. The Amur (Heilong), Sungari, and Ussuri (Wusuli) rivers with their tributaries form a network of waterways totaling about 12,500 miles (20,100 km) in length. In the past the Huang He was little navigated, especially on its middle and lower courses, but mechanized junks now operate along the middle course in Henan.

The Grand Canal, the only major Chinese waterway running from north to south, passes through the basins of the Hai, Huang, Huai, Yangtze, and Qiantang rivers in its 1,100-mile (1,800-km) course from Beijing to Hangzhou. One of the greatest engineering projects in China, equal in fame to the Great Wall, it is the world’s longest artificial waterway; some of its sections follow the natural course of a river, while other parts are hand-dug. Work on the canal began as early as the 4th century bc and was completed by the end of the 13th century ad. It forms a north-south communications and transport link between the most densely populated areas in China. From the latter part of the 19th century, however, because of political corruption, mismanagement, and flooding from the Huang He, the canal gradually became silted up, and the higher section in Shandong became blocked. Since 1958, efforts have been made to reopen the Grand Canal to navigation, this time also by larger modern craft. The canal is important in the north-south transport of bulk cargoes, thus facilitating the nationwide distribution of coal and foodstuffs.


China’s 8,700-mile- (14,000-km-) long coastline is indented by some 100 large and small bays and has some 20 deepwater harbours, most of which are ice-free throughout the year. Coastal shipping is divided into two principal navigation zones, the northern and southern marine districts. The northern district extends north from Amoy to the North Korean border, with Shanghai as its administrative centre. The southern district extends south from Amoy to the Vietnamese border, with Guangzhou as the administrative centre. Most of the oceangoing routes begin from the ports of Dalian, Qinghuangdao, Tanggu, Qingdao (Tsingtao), Shanghai, Huangpu, Zhanjiang, or Hong Kong. Shanghai, the leading port of China from the early 19th century, was eclipsed by Hong Kong when the latter was reincorporated into the country in 1997.

In 1961 China established a state-run marine shipping company and subsequently signed shipping agreements with many countries, laying the foundation for developing the country’s ocean transport. That organization developed into the present-day China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company (COSCO), one of the world’s largest shipping corporations. The Chinese government also invested heavily in water transport infrastructure, constructing new ports and rebuilding and enlarging older facilities. A major effort has also been made to increase mechanization and containerization at major international ports. In addition, China has become one of the world’s premier shipbuilding countries, satisfying domestic demand and exporting ships and oil-drilling platforms worldwide.

AVIATION Air travel is particularly suited to China, with its vast territory and varied terrain. Chinese civil aviation has two major categories: air transport, which mainly handles passengers, cargoes, and mail, traveling on both scheduled and nonscheduled routes; and special-purpose aviation, which mainly serves industrial and agricultural production, national defense, and scientific and technological research. The aims of civil aviation in China have been primarily to extend air routes; to strengthen the link between Beijing and other important cities, as well as remote border and interior areas; to develop special-purpose flights serving the needs of agriculture, forestry, and geologic prospecting; and to increase the number of large transport airplanes.

In the 1950s international aviation depended mainly on Soviet support, and all principal international air routes originally passed through Moscow using Soviet planes. As Sino-Soviet relations deteriorated in the late 1950s, China began to open direct air routes to other places as well. Thus, in addition to the original routes between China and the Soviet Union, North Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Burma (now Myanmar), air routes were opened to several of China’s neighbouring countries, the United States, western Asia, Europe, and Africa. After 1980 the number of air routes grew markedly; the addition of Hong Kong’s international air traffic in 1997 constituted another significant increase.

Chinese civil air efforts were carried out solely by the state-run General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) from 1949 until the mid-1980s. In an effort to improve efficiency and service, regional airlines were then introduced in competition with the airlines operated by the CAAC. In the early 21st century the CAAC’s airline-operating responsibilities were being shifted to semiprivate companies.

Airport construction has increased greatly since Beijing’s first modern civilian airport was built in 1958; that facility was replaced in 1980 by Capital Airport. Major projects since 1990 include new facilities at Macau (1995), Hong Kong (1998), Shanghai (2000), and Guangzhou (2004) . The Chinese Air Force controls a large number of airfields; retired Air Force personnel have been the major source of civilian pilots. Airplanes, including various types of military aircraft, have long been made by China. Civil airliners for long-distance flights, however, are still mostly purchased abroad.

POSTS AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS Posts and telecommunications were established rapidly in the 1950s and ’60s. By 1952 the principal posts and telecommunications network centred on Beijing, and links to all large cities had been established. Great progress was made in improving the postal service under the First Five-Year Plan. Postal service was also developed in the rural areas. Besides extending rural postal routes, the problem of delivering mail to places below the county level was solved by enlisting the aid of the population. From 1954 onward a system of mail delivery by rural postal workers was tried in agricultural cooperatives, and in 1956 this system was extended throughout the country. By 1959 the national postal network was complete. Express postal service was introduced in 1980.

When the People’s Republic was established in 1949, China had only a rudimentary telecommunications system, limited largely to the eastern coastal cities, the Nanjing region, and a few interior cities. Work quickly got under way to repair and expand the system, and from 1956 telecommunications routes were extended more rapidly. The same lines were used for both telegraphic and telephone service to increase the efficiency of the communication system, and Teletype and television broadcast services were also added. By 1963 telephone wire linked Beijing to the large cities and the capitals of all provinces and autonomous regions, and capitals in turn were connected to the administrative seats of the counties, smaller municipalities, and larger market towns.

By the 1970s, radio telecommunications equipment was beginning to replace wire lines, and microwave and satellite transmissions were soon introduced; China launched its first television-broadcast satellite in 1986. The pace of telecommunications growth and technology upgrading increased even more rapidly after 1990, especially as fibre-optics systems and digital technology were installed. China’s telecommunications services were further enhanced from 1997, when Hong Kong’s highly advanced systems were acquired. In the late 1990s, foreign companies were allowed to invest in the country’s telecommunications sector, further encouraging growth. Notable has been the tremendous increase in cellular phone use; China became the world leader in the early 21st century, in terms of number of subscribers.

Despite these advances, China’s telecommunications infrastructure has not been able to keep up with demand. A large proportion of the country’s population still has little or no access even to basic telephone service. Although the number of cellular phones has grown enormously, surpassing that for standard (i.e., landline) telephones in 2003, the overall ratio of phones per capita has nonetheless remained much smaller than it is for the developed countries. Internet use has also increased dramatically.


China's diverse habitats are home to hundreds of species of animals and plants. More than 3,800 species of fish and hundreds of amphibians and reptile species live in the rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.

China's forest wildlife is threatened by logging and clear-cutting (clearing the land of all trees) for farmland. Expanding deserts in the north also shrink animal habitats. The Chinese government has created more than 1,200 reserves to protect plant and animal species.

The giant panda lives in the misty mountains of southwest China and nowhere else on Earth. They eat bamboo and usually live near stands of the woody evergreen plant. Pandas have been hunted and only about 1,600 remain in the wild.


With a population of 1.3 billion, China has more people than any other country on Earth. About a third of the population lives in cities. The rest of the people live in the country.

Arts and crafts have a long history in China. Thousands of years ago the Chinese were some of the first people to use silk, jade, bronze, wood, and paper to make art. The artistic writing called calligraphy was invented in China.

Much of China's modern beliefs and philosophies are based on the teachings of a government official who lived nearly 3,000 years ago. Kongfuzi, also known as Confucius, taught people the value of such things as morality, kindness, and education

  • Ethnic groups

China is a multinational country, with a population composed of a large number of ethnic and linguistic groups. The Han (Chinese), the largest group, outnumber the minority groups or minority nationalities in every province or autonomous region except Tibet and Xinjiang. The Han, therefore, form the great homogeneous mass of the Chinese people, sharing the same culture, the same traditions, and the same written language. For this reason, the general basis for classifying the country’s population is largely linguistic rather than ethnic. Some 55 minority groups are spread over approximately three-fifths of the country’s total area. Where these minority groups are found in large numbers, they have been given some semblance of autonomy and self-government; autonomous regions of several types have been established on the basis of the geographic distribution of nationalities.

The government takes great credit for its treatment of these minorities; it has advanced their economic well-being, raised their living standards, provided educational facilities, promoted their national languages and cultures, and raised their literacy levels, as well as introduced a written language where none existed previously. It must be noted, however, that some minorities (e.g., Tibetans) have been subject to varying degrees of repression. Still, of the 50-odd minority languages, only 20 had written forms before the coming of the communist regime in 1949; and only relatively few written languages—e.g., Mongolian, Tibetan, Uighur, Kazakh (Hasake), Dai, and Korean (Chaoxian)—were in everyday use. Other written languages were used chiefly for religious purposes and by a limited number of people. Educational institutions for national minorities are a feature of many large cities, notably Beijing, Wuhan, Chengdu, and Lanzhou.

  • Languages

Several major language families are represented in China. By far the largest groups are speakers of Sino-Tibetan and Altaic languages, with considerably smaller numbers speaking Indo-European, Austroasiatic, and Tai languages.


The Sino-Tibetan family, both numerically and in the extent of its distribution, is by far the most prominent; within this family, Han Chinese is the most widely spoken language. Although unified by their tradition—the written ideographic characters of their language as well as many other cultural traits—the Han speak several mutually unintelligible dialects and display marked regional differences. By far the most important Chinese tongue is Mandarin, or putonghua, meaning “ordinary language” or “common language.” There are three variants of Mandarin. The first of these is the northern variant, of which the Beijing dialect, or Beijing hua, is typical and which is spoken to the north of the Qin Mountains–Huai River line; as the most widespread Chinese tongue, it has officially been adopted as the basis for a national language. The second is the western variant, also known as the Chengdu or Upper Yangtze variant; this is spoken in the Sichuan Basin and in adjoining parts of southwestern China. The third is the southern variant, also known as the Nanjing or Lower Yangtze variant, which is spoken in northern Jiangsu and in southern and central Anhui. Some authorities also recognize a fourth variant, Northwestern, which is used in most of northwestern China. Related to Mandarin are the Hunan, or Xiang, language, spoken by people in central and southern Hunan, and the Gan dialect. The Huizhou language, spoken in southern Anhui, forms an enclave within the southern Mandarin area.

Less intelligible to Mandarin speakers are the dialects of the southeast coastal region, stretching from Shanghai to Guangzhou (Canton). The most important of these is the Wu language, spoken in southern Jiangsu and in Zhejiang. This is followed, to the south, by the Fuzhou, or Northern Min, language of northern and central Fujian and by the Xiamen-Shantou (Amoy-Swatow), or Southern Min, language of southern Fujian and easternmost Guangdong. The Hakka language of southernmost Jiangxi and northeastern Guangdong has a rather scattered pattern of distribution. Probably the best known of these southern dialects is Yue, particularly Cantonese, which is spoken in central and western Guangdong, Hong Kong, and in southern Guangxi—a dialect area in which a large proportion of overseas Chinese originated.

In addition to the Han, the Manchu and the Hui (Chinese Muslims) also speak Mandarin and use the Chinese writing system. The Hui, firm adherents of Islam, are descendants of Persian and Central Asian Muslims who traveled to China as merchants, soldiers, and scholars and intermarried with several Chinese nationalities. They are intermingled with the Han throughout much of the country and are distinguished as Hui only in the area of their heaviest concentration, the Hui Autonomous Region of Ningxia. Other Hui communities are organized as autonomous prefectures (zizhizhou) in Xinjiang and as autonomous counties (zizhixian) in Qinghai, Hebei, Guizhou, and Yunnan. Increasingly, the Hui have been moving from their scattered settlements into the area of major concentration, possibly in order to facilitate intermarriage with other Muslims.

The Manchu claim that they are descendants of the Manchu warriors who invaded China in the 17th century and founded the Qing dynasty (1644–1911/12). Manchu is virtually a dead language—though it is closely related to Sibo (or Xibe), which is still vital—and the Manchu have been completely assimilated into Han Chinese culture. They are found mainly in North China and the Northeast, but they form no separate autonomous areas above the commune level.

The Zhuang (Zhuangjia) are China’s largest minority group. Most of them live in the Zhuang Autonomous Region of Guangxi. They are also found in national autonomous areas in neighbouring Yunnan and Guangdong. They depend mainly on rice cultivation for their livelihood. In religion the Zhuang are animists, worshipping particularly the spirits of their ancestors. Members of the Buyi (Zhongjia) group are concentrated in southern Guizhou, where they share an autonomous prefecture with the Miao (Hmong) group. The Dong people are settled in small communities in Guangxi and Guizhou; they share with the Miao group an autonomous prefecture set up in southeast Guizhou in 1956.

Tibetans are distributed over the entire Qinghai-Tibetan highland region. Outside Tibet, Tibetan minorities are found in five Tibetan autonomous prefectures in Qinghai, two in Sichuan, and one each in Yunnan and Gansu. The Tibetans still maintain their tribal characteristics, but few of them are nomadic. Though essentially farmers, they also raise livestock and, like other tribal peoples in the Chinese far west, hunt to supplement their food supply. The major religion of Tibet has been Tibetan Buddhism since about the 17th century; before 1959 the social and political institutions of this region were still based largely on that faith. Many of the Yi (Lolo) are concentrated in two autonomous prefectures—one in southern Sichuan and another in northern Yunnan. They raise crops and sometimes keep flocks and herds.

The Miao-Yao (Hmong-Mien) peoples, with their major concentration in Guizhou, are distributed throughout the central south and southwestern provinces and are found also in some small areas in eastern China. They are subdivided into many rather distinct groupings. Most of them have now lost their traditional tribal practices through the influence of the Han, and it is only their language that serves to distinguish them. Two-thirds of the Miao are settled in Guizhou, where they share two autonomous prefectures with the Dong and Buyi groups. The Yao people are concentrated in the Guangxi-Guangdong-Hunan border area.

In some areas of China, especially in the southwest, many different ethnic groups are geographically intermixed. Because of language barriers and different economic structures, these peoples all maintain their own cultural traits and live in relative isolation from one another. The Han are active in the towns and fertile river valleys of some of these locales, while the minority peoples continue to base their livelihood on more-traditional forms of agriculture or on grazing their livestock on hillsides and mountains. The vertical distribution of these peoples is in zones—usually the higher they live, the less complex their way of life. In former times they did not mix well with one another, but now, with highways penetrating deep into their settlements, they have better opportunities to communicate with other groups and have benefited from improved living conditions.


While the minorities of the Sino-Tibetan language family are thus concentrated in the south and southwest, the second major language family—the Altaic—is represented entirely by minorities in northwestern and northern China. The Altaic family falls into three branches: Turkic, Mongolian, and Manchu-Tungus. The Turkic language branch is by far the most numerous of the three Altaic branches. The Uighur, who are Muslims, form the largest Turkic-speaking minority. They are distributed over chains of oases in the Tarim and Junggar basins of Xinjiang and mainly depend on irrigated agriculture for a livelihood. Other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang are splinter groups of nationalities living in neighbouring countries of Central Asia, including the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz, all being adherents of Islam. The Kazakhs and Kyrgyz are pastoral nomadic peoples who still show traces of tribal organization. The Kazakhs live mainly as herders in northwestern and northern Xinjiang (notably in the Ili River region), tending flocks in summer pastures and retiring to camps in the valleys during the winter. The Kyrgyz are high-mountain pastoralists and are concentrated mainly in the westernmost part of Xinjiang.

The Mongolians, who are by nature a nomadic people, are the most widely dispersed of the minority nationalities of China. Most of them are inhabitants of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Small Mongolian and Mongolian-related groups of people are scattered throughout the vast area from Xinjiang through Qinghai and Gansu and into the provinces of the Northeast (Jilin, Heilongjiang, and Liaoning). In addition to the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Mongolians are established in two autonomous prefectures in Xinjiang, a joint autonomous prefecture with Tibetans and Kazakhs in Qinhai, and several autonomous counties in the western area of the Northeast. Some Mongolians retain their tribal divisions and are pastoralists, but large numbers practice sedentary agriculture, and others combine crop growing with herding. Those who depend on animal husbandry travel each year around the pastureland—grazing sheep, goats, horses, cattle, and camels—and then return to their point of departure. A few engage in hunting and fur trapping to supplement their income. Mongolian languages are sometimes divided into a western group (including Oirat and Kalmyk) and an eastern group (including Buryat and Mongol), but their subclassification is controversial. Religion is the main unifying force, and most Mongolians profess Tibetan Buddhism.


A few linguistic minorities in China belong to neither the Sino-Tibetan nor the Altaic language family. The Tajiks of westernmost Xinjiang are related to the people of Tajikistan, and their language belongs to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European family. The Kawa people of the border area adjacent to Myanmar (Burma) speak a tongue of the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic family. Speakers of languages in the Tai family are concentrated in southern Yunnan, notably in two autonomous prefectures—one whose population is related most closely to the Thai of northern Thailand and another whose Tai speakers are related to the Shan people of Myanmar. The Li of Hainan Island form a separate group whose dialects are related to the Tai and Austronesian languages. They share with the Miao people a district in the southern part of the island. A significant number of Koreans are concentrated in an autonomous prefecture in eastern Jilin along the North Korean border.

  • Religion

China is one of great centres of world religious thought and practices. It is known especially as the birthplace of the religio-philosophical schools of Confucianism and Daoism (Taoism), belief systems that formed the basis of Chinese society and governance for centuries. Buddhism came to China perhaps as early as the 3rd century bc and was a recognized presence there by the 1st century ad. The country became an incubator for many of the great present-day Buddhist sects, including Zen (Chan) and Pure Land, and, by its extension into Tibet, the source of Tibetan Buddhism. In addition, hundreds of animist, folk, and syncretic religious practices developed in China, including the movement that spawned the Taiping Rebellion of the mid-19th century.

The political and social upheavals in China during the first half of the 20th century had a disintegrating effect on Confucianism, Daoism, and (outside Tibet) Buddhism, and traditional observances of these were greatly weakened. From 1949 the country became officially atheist, although state-monitored religious practices continued to be allowed. However, some religions were persecuted, notably Tibetan Buddhism after China assumed military control of Tibet in 1959. The Chinese government has gradually relaxed many of its earlier restrictions on religious institutions and practices, but it still curtails those it considers threats to the social and political order (e.g., the spiritual exercise discipline called Falun Gong, or Falun Dafa).

About two-fifths of China’s people claim they are nonreligious or atheist. Adherents to various indigenous folk religions, collectively more than one-fourth of the total population, comprise the largest group of those professing a belief. Members of non-Han minorities constitute the bulk of those following Buddhism and Islam. Christians are a small but significant and growing minority, many of them converts to Evangelical Protestant denominations.

  • Settlement patterns

An overwhelming majority of rural settlements in China consist of sizable compact (nucleated) villages, except in mountainous and hilly terrain where such compaction is not possible. The formation of such rural settlements is related not only to the increasing population and to a long historical background but also to water supply (the practice of drilling deep wells, for instance) and to defense (especially, in former days, against attack by bandits). Many of the large villages have no urban atmosphere at all, even with populations of several thousand. Frequent markets may be held between such settlements to enable the peasants to barter their agricultural produce.

On the North China Plain, villages are fairly evenly distributed and are connected with one another by footpaths and cart tracks. Houses are built close together and are mostly made of sun-dried brick or pounded earth. Many of the market towns or even large villages are surrounded by walls. The number and length of the streets depend on the town’s size and the nature of the terrain; some streets are merely narrow lanes.

Rural landscapes of central and southern China are dominated by rice fields. The Yangtze River delta has almost every type of human settlement, from the single farmstead to the fairly large market town. Villages to the south and east of Lake Tai in Jiangsu province are generally located 1 to 2 miles (1.6 to 3 km) apart, and since the 1980s many of these have been developed into small towns. Villages in central China, particularly on the lower Yangtze, are larger than those of North China; many have a few shops that serve not only the villagers but also the dispersed residents nearby. In the centre of dozens of such villages is a market town, which collects rural produce and distributes manufactured goods. Communication among the villages is mainly by boat, along the dense net of waterways. The most elegant structures in the landscape are the numerous stone bridges that span streams and canals. In the Chengdu Plain of the Sichuan Basin, a large part of the population lives in isolated farmsteads or scattered hamlets, surrounded by thickets of bamboo and broad-leaved trees.

Cave dwellings are another distinctive feature of the Chinese rural landscape. They are common on the Loess Plateau and particularly in northern Shaanxi, western Shanxi, and southeastern Gansu, where the loess cover is thick and timber is scarce. A cave dwelling has the advantage of being naturally insulated, making it cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

The economic reforms initiated in China from the late 1970s had a profound impact on rural settlement. Improvements in agricultural productivity created a vast pool of surplus labour. Many of these rural workers went to the cities in search of factory jobs, but a large number stayed behind, where they engaged in a growing system of rural industrial production termed “township enterprise.” Usually engaged in light manufacturing for both domestic and export markets, these enterprises helped transform thousands of villages into partially urbanized towns and raised the standard of living for millions of peasants. The new towns thus served as a link between the city and the countryside and became a significant factor in the rapidly growing rural economy.


Urbanization and industrialization often have been closely related in China. The first major post-1949 urbanization push began in the mid-1950s, as the government intensified its efforts to convert the country into an industrial power. Urban growth accelerated even more rapidly from the mid-1980s, with China’s serious entry onto the global economic stage.

Thus, the rapid development of modern manufacturing industries and of communications in China produced a dramatic change in the urban landscape. Many new towns and cities have been built around manufacturing and mining centres. In the remoter areas of China, the first appearance of railways and highways contributed to the rapid growth of some entirely new towns, such as Shihezi in northern Xinjiang and Shiquanhe in western Tibet. Among larger cities, Ürümqi (Urumchi; capital of Xinjiang), Lanzhou (capital of Gansu), and Baotou (in Inner Mongolia) are examples where expansion has been extremely rapid. Lanzhou lies midway between southeastern and northwestern China. Baotou, formerly a bleak frontier town of traders, artisans, and immigrant farmers, has become one of the country’s largest steel centres.

Some two-fifths of China’s population is urban, up from less than one-fourth in 1975. While the urban-rural proportion is relatively low compared with more highly industrialized countries, it represents an enormous number of people—comparable to the total population of North America. Some four dozen cities have populations of more than 1,000,000, and the populations of several other dozen are between 500,000 and 1,000,000. The distribution of China’s large cities mirrors the national population distribution, with heavy concentrations in the eastern coastal provinces, lesser but still significant numbers in the central provinces, and considerably fewer in western regions.

  • Demographic trends

Historical records show that as long ago as 800 bc, in the early part of the Zhou dynasty, China was already inhabited by about 13.7 million people. Until the last years of the Xi (Western) Han dynasty, about ad 2, comparatively accurate and complete registers of population were kept, and the total population in that year was given as 59.6 million. This first Chinese census was intended mainly as a preparatory step toward the levy of a poll tax. Many people, aware that a census might work to their disadvantage, managed to avoid reporting, which explains why for centuries all subsequent population figures were unreliable. In 1712 the Qing emperor Kangxi declared that an increased population would not be subject to tax; population figures thereafter gradually became more accurate.

During the later years of the Bei (Northern) Song dynasty, in the early 12th century, when China was already in the heyday of its economic and cultural development, the total population began to exceed 100 million. Later, uninterrupted and large-scale invasions from the north reduced the country’s population. When national unification returned with the advent of the Ming dynasty, the census was at first strictly conducted. The population of China, according to a registration compiled in 1381, was quite close to the one registered in ad 2.

From the 15th century onward the population increased steadily, growth being interrupted by wars and natural disasters in the mid-17th century and slowed by the internal strife and foreign invasions in the century that preceded the communist takeover in 1949. During the 18th century China enjoyed a lengthy period of peace and prosperity, characterized by continual territorial expansion and an accelerating population increase. In 1762 China had a population of more than 200 million, and by 1834 that population had doubled. It should be noted that during that period the amount of cultivable land did not increase concomitantly, and land hunger became a growing problem from that time on.

After 1949, sanitation and medical care greatly improved, epidemics were brought under control, and subsequent generations enjoyed progressively better health. Public hygiene also improved, and, as a result, the death rate declined faster than the birth rate, and the population growth rate increased. China’s population reached 1 billion in the early 1980s and had surpassed 1.3 billion early in the 21st century.

The continually growing population has been a major problem for the government. In 1955–58, with the country struggling to obtain an adequate food supply and saddled with a generally low standard of living, the authorities sponsored a major birth-control drive. A second attempt at population control began in 1962, when the main initiatives were programs promoting late marriages and the use of contraceptives. The outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 interrupted this second family-planning drive, but in 1970 a third and much stricter program was initiated. The attempt this time was to make late marriage and family limitation obligatory, and it culminated in 1979 in efforts to implement a policy of one child per family.

Other developments affected the rate of population growth more than the first two official family-planning campaigns, notably the disastrous effects of Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward economic program of 1958–60. The policies of the Great Leap caused a massive famine in China, the death rate surpassed the birth rate, and by 1960 the overall population was declining. By 1963 the country was recovering from the famine, and, even though the second birth-control campaign had already begun, a soaring birth rate produced an annual population growth rate of more than 3 percent, the highest since 1949.

Since 1970, however, when the third family-planning program was launched, state efforts have been much more effective. China’s population growth rate is now among the lowest for a developing country, although, because its population is so huge, annual net population growth is still considerable.


China’s complex natural conditions have produced an unevenly distributed population. Population density varies strikingly, with the greatest contrast occurring between the eastern half of China and the lands of the west and the northwest. Exceptionally high population densities occur in the Yangtze delta, the Pearl River Delta, and on the Chengdu Plain of the western Sichuan Basin. Most of the high-density areas are coterminous with the alluvial plains on which intensive agriculture is centred.

In contrast, the isolated, extensive western and frontier regions, which are much larger than any European country, are sparsely populated. Extensive uninhabited areas include the extremely high northern part of Tibet, the sandy wastes of the central Tarim and eastern Junggar basins in Xinjiang, and the barren desert and mountains east of Lop Nur.

In the 1950s the government became increasingly aware of the importance of the frontier regions and initiated a drive for former members of the military and young intellectuals to settle there. New railways and highways were constructed to traverse the wasteland, and this has spurred population growth and the development of a number of small mining and industrial towns.


Great population movements have been a recurring theme throughout Chinese history. Typically, some disastrous event such as famine or political upheaval would depopulate an area already intensively cultivated, after which people in adjacent crowded regions would move in to occupy the deserted land. A peasant rebellion in Sichuan in the 1640s caused great loss of life there, and people from neighbouring Hubei and Shaanxi then entered Sichuan to fill the vacuum; this migration pattern continued until the 19th century. Three centuries later the Taiping Rebellion caused another large-scale disruption of population. Many people in the lower Yangtze valley were massacred by the opposing armies, and the survivors suffered from starvation. After the rebellion was defeated, people from Hubei, Hunan, and Henan moved into the depopulated areas of Jiangsu, Anhui, and Zhejiang, where farmland was lying abandoned and uncultivated. Similar examples include the Nian Rebellion in the Huai River region in the 1850s and ’60s, the Muslim rebellions in Shaanxi and Gansu in the 1860s and ’70s, and the great Shaanxi and Shanxi famine of 1877–78.

The most significant internal population movement in modern Chinese history was that of the Han to Manchuria (now known as the Northeast). Even before the Qing (Manchu) dynasty was established in 1644, Manchu soldiers had launched raids into North China and captured Han labourers, who were then obliged to settle in Manchuria. An imperial decree in 1668 closed the area to further Han migration, but this ban was never effectively enforced. By 1850, Han colonizing settlers had become dominant in Manchuria. The ban was later partially lifted, partly because the Manchu rulers were harassed by disturbances in China proper and partly because the Russian Empire continually tried to invade sparsely populated and thus weakly defended Manchuria. The ban was finally removed altogether in 1878, but settlement was encouraged only after 1900.

The influx of people into Manchuria was especially pronounced after 1923, and incoming farmers rapidly brought a vast area of virgin grassland under cultivation. About two-thirds of the immigrants entered Manchuria by sea, and one-third came overland. Because the region’s winter weather was so severe, migration in the early stage was highly seasonal, usually starting in February and continuing through the spring. After the autumn harvest a large proportion of the farmers returned south. As Manchuria developed into the principal industrial region of China, however, large urban centres arose there, and the nature of the migration changed. No longer was the movement primarily one of agricultural resettlement, and instead it became essentially a rural-to-urban movement of interregional magnitude.

After 1949 the new government’s efforts to foster planned migration into interior and border regions produced noticeable results. Although the total number of people involved in such migrations is not known, it has been estimated that by 1980 between one-fourth and one-third of the population of such regions and provinces as Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Heilongjiang, and Qinghai consisted of recent migrants, and migration had raised the proportion of Han in Xinjiang to about two-fifths of the total. Efforts to control the growth of large cities led to the resettlement in the countryside of some 20 million urbanites after the failure of the Great Leap Forward and of nearly the same number of urban-educated youths in the decade after 1968. However, most of these “rusticated youths” subsequently returned to the cities.

The economic reforms begun in the late 1970s have unleashed a tidal wave of both rural-to-urban and west-to-east migration, reversing trends of the previous three decades. This has further exacerbated the country’s uneven population distribution, bringing enormous influxes to the urban areas of the eastern provinces and further depleting the population in the western regions. However, tens of millions of rural people who go to the cities to find jobs also return home for periods of time during the year. These individuals have tended to group themselves according to their native area for mutual benefit, much as ethnic groups have done in other major world cities. However, the unregulated influx of so many migrants and the instability of their lives and work have put considerable strain on the host cities, notably the environment and public security.


China is an authoritarian state ruled by a very powerful central government. A huge workforce and lots of natural resources have driven economic change. This has forced the communist government to permit more economic and personal freedoms, but it has come at a huge cost to the environment.

Many experts predict that the 21st century will be the "Chinese century." Whether or not that proves to be true, there is no doubt that what happens in China will affect many other nations.


Government and society

  • Parallel structure

Despite its size, the People’s Republic of China is organized along unitary rather than federal principles. Both the government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP; Pinyin: Zhongguo Gongchan Dang; Wade-Giles romanization: Chung-kuo Kung-ch’an Tang), moreover, operate “from the top down,” arrogating to the “Centre” all powers that are not explicitly delegated to lower levels. To run the country, the government and the CCP have established roughly parallel national bureaucracies extending from Beijing down to local levels. These bureaucracies are assisted by various “mass organizations”—e.g., trade unions, a youth league, women’s associations, and writers’ and other professional associations—that encompass key sectors of the population. These organizations, with their extremely large memberships, have generally served as transmission lines for communicating and uniformly implementing policies affecting their members. No voluntary associations are permitted to function that are wholly independent of CCP and government leadership.


China is the home of one of the world's oldest civilizations, but it has only recently become a "modern" nation. In the last 20 years, China has changed faster than any other country in the world.

Chinese history is divided into dynasties, each of which marks the period when a line of emperors ruled. The first empire was the Qin dynasty and began in 221 B.C. The last emperor was overthrown in 1912, and China became a republic. The communist government began its rule in 1949 following a civil war with the Chinese Nationalists.

Ancient China was a land of invention. For centuries, China was way ahead of most other countries in science and technology, astronomy, and math. The Chinese invented paper, the magnetic compass, printing, porcelain, silk, and gunpowder, among other things.


This is not the official site of this country. Most of the information in this site were taken from the U.S. Department of State, The Central Intelligence Agency, The United Nations, [1],[2], [3], [4], [5],[6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14],[15], [16], [17], [18], [19], [20], [21], [22], [23], [24],[25], [26], [27], [28], [29], [30],[31], [32], [33], [34], and the [35].

Other sources of information will be mentioned as they are posted.