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People's Republic of China
  • 中华人民共和国
  • Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó
Flag National Emblem
Area controlled by the People's Republic of China shown in dark green; claimed but uncontrolled regions shown in light green.
Area controlled by the People's Republic of China shown in dark green; claimed but uncontrolled regions shown in light green.
Capital Beijing[a]
39°55′N 116°23′E / 39.917°N 116.383°E / 39.917; 116.383
Largest city Shanghai[1][2]
Official languages Standard Chinese[3]
Recognised regional languages
Official written language Vernacular Chinese
Official script Simplified Chinese[3]
Ethnic groups
Demonym Chinese
Government Single-party socialist state
 -  President Xi Jinping[c]
 -  Premier Li Keqiang
 -  Congress Chairman Zhang Dejiang
 -  Conference Chairman Yu Zhengsheng
Legislature National People's Congress
 -  Unification of China under the Qin Dynasty 221 BCE 
 -  Republic established 1 January 1912 
 -  People's Republic proclaimed 1 October 1949 
 -  Total 9,706,961 km2[d] (3rd/4th)
3,747,879 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 2.8
 -  2012 estimate 1,353,821,000[4][8] (1st)
 -  2010 census 1,339,724,852[9] (1st)
 -  Density 139.6/km2 (81st)
363.3/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2012 estimate
 -  Total $12.405 trillion[10] (2nd)
 -  Per capita $9,161[10] (91st)
GDP (nominal) 2012 estimate
 -  Total $8.227 trillion[10] (2nd)
 -  Per capita $6,075[10] (90th)
Gini (2012) 47.4[11]
HDI (2012) Increase 0.699[12]
medium · 101st
Currency Renminbi (yuan) (¥) (CNY)
Time zone China Standard Time (UTC+8)
Date format
  • yyyy-mm-dd
  • or yyyymd
  • (CE; CE-1949)
Drives on the right[e]
Calling code +86
ISO 3166 code CN
Internet TLD

China (Listeni/ˈnə/; Chinese: 中国; pinyin: Zhōngguó), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a sovereign state located in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population of over 1.35 billion. The PRC is a single-party state governed by the Communist Party, with its seat of government in the capital city of Beijing.[14] It exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing), and two mostly self-governing special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau).[15] The PRC also claims Taiwan – which is controlled by the Republic of China (ROC), a separate political entity – as its 23rd province, a claim controversial due to the complex political status of Taiwan and the unresolved Chinese Civil War.[16]

Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometres, China is the world's second-largest country by land area,[17] but only the third or fourth-largest by total area, if the surface areas of various inland bodies of water such as the Great Lakes are included in the total area of a country. [f] China's landscape is vast and diverse, ranging from forest steppes and the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts in the arid north to subtropical forests in the wetter south. The Himalaya, Karakoram, Pamir and Tian Shan mountain ranges separate China from South and Central Asia. The Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, the third- and sixth-longest in the world, run from the Tibetan Plateau to the densely populated eastern seaboard. China's coastline along the Pacific Ocean is 14,500 kilometres (9,000 mi) long, and is bounded by the Bohai, Yellow, East and South China Seas.

The ancient Chinese civilization – one of the world's earliest – flourished in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. For millennia, China's political system was based on hereditary monarchies, known as dynasties, beginning with the semi-mythological Xia of the Yellow River basin (c. 2000 BCE). Since 221 BCE, when the Qin Dynasty first conquered several states to form a Chinese empire, the country has expanded, fractured and been reformed numerous times. The Republic of China overthrew the last dynasty in 1911, and ruled the Chinese mainland until 1949. After the defeat of the Empire of Japan in World War II, the Communist Party defeated the nationalist Kuomintang in mainland China and established the People's Republic of China in Beijing on 1 October 1949, while the Kuomintang relocated the ROC government to its present capital of Taipei.

Since the introduction of economic reforms in 1978, China has become the world's fastest-growing major economy. As of 2013, it is the world's second-largest economy by both nominal total GDP and purchasing power parity (PPP), and is also the world's largest exporter and importer of goods.[18] China is a recognized nuclear weapons state and has the world's largest standing army, with the second-largest defense budget.[19] The PRC has been a United Nations member since 1971, when it replaced the ROC as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. China is also a member of numerous formal and informal multilateral organizations, including the WTO, APEC, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the BCIM and the G-20. China has been characterized as a potential superpower by a number of academics,[20] military analysts,[21][22] and public policy and economics analysts.[23][24]


The word "China" is derived from Persian Cin (چین), which is from Sanskrit Cīna (चीन).[27] It is first recorded in 1516 in the journal of the Portuguese explorer Duarte Barbosa.[28] It first appears in English in a translation published by Richard Eden in 1555.[29] It is commonly thought that the word is derived from the name of the Qin () Dynasty.[30] In China, common names for the present country include Zhōngguó (Chinese: 中国) and Zhōnghuá (Chinese: 中华), although the country's official name has been changed numerous times by successive dynasties and modern governments. The term Zhongguo appeared in various ancient texts, such as the Classic of History of the 6th century BCE,[31] and in pre-imperial times it was often used as a cultural concept to distinguish the Huaxia tribes from perceived "barbarians". The term, which can be either singular or plural, referred to the group of states or provinces in the central plain, but was not used as a name for the country as a whole until the nineteenth century. The Chinese were not unique in regarding their country as "central", since other civilizations had the same view of themselves.[32]


Jade deer ornament dating from the Shang Dynasty (17th–11th centuries BCE).
Some of the thousands of life-size Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty, ca. 210 BCE.


Archaeological evidence suggests that early hominids inhabited China between 250,000 and 2.24 million years ago.[33] A cave in Zhoukoudian (near present-day Beijing) exhibits fossils dated at between 300,000 and 780,000 BCE.[34][35][36] The fossils are of Peking Man, an example of Homo erectus who used fire.[37] The Peking Man site has also yielded remains of Homo sapiens dating back to 18,000–11,000 BCE.[38] Some scholars assert that a form of proto-writing existed in China as early as 3000 BCE.[39]

According to Chinese tradition, the first imperial dynasty was the Xia, who emerged around 2000 BCE.[40] However, the dynasty was considered mythical by historians until scientific excavations found early Bronze Age sites at Erlitou, Henan in 1959.[41] Archaeologists have since uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs in locations cited as Xia in ancient historical texts, but it is impossible to verify that these remains are of the Xia without written records from the period.

Early dynastic rule

The first Chinese dynasty that left historical records, the loosely feudal Shang (Yin),[42] settled along the Yellow River in eastern China from the 17th to the 11th century BCE.[43] The oracle bone script of the Shang Dynasty represents the oldest form of Chinese writing yet found,[44] and is a direct ancestor of modern Chinese characters.[45] The Shang were conquered by the Zhou, who ruled between the 12th and 5th centuries BCE, until its centralized authority was slowly eroded by feudal warlords. Many independent states eventually emerged out of the weakened Zhou state, and continually waged war with each other in the 300-year-long Spring and Autumn Period, only occasionally deferring to the Zhou king. By the time of the Warring States period of the 5th–3rd centuries BCE, there were seven powerful sovereign states in what is now China, each with its own king, ministry and army.

Imperial China

The Warring States period ended in 221 BCE, after the state of Qin conquered the other six kingdoms and established the first unified Chinese state. Qin Shi Huang, the emperor of Qin, proclaimed himself the "First Emperor" (始皇帝), and imposed many reforms throughout China, notably the forced standardization of the Chinese language, measurements, length of cart axles, and currency. The Qin Dynasty lasted only fifteen years, falling soon after Qin Shi Huang's death, as its harsh legalist and authoritarian policies led to widespread rebellion.[46][47]

The Great Wall of China was built by several dynasties over two thousand years to protect the sedentary agricultural regions of the Chinese interior from incursions by nomadic pastoralists of the northern steppes.

The subsequent Han Dynasty ruled China between 206 BCE and 220 CE, and created a lasting Han cultural identity among its populace that has endured to the present day.[46][47] The Han Dynasty expanded the empire's territory considerably with military campaigns reaching Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia and Central Asia, and also helped establish the Silk Road in Central Asia. Han China gradually became the largest economy of the ancient world.[48] The Han Dynasty adopted Confucianism, a philosophy developed in the Spring and Autumn period, as its official state ideology. Despite the Han's official abandonment of Legalism, the official ideology of the Qin, Legalist institutions and policies remained and formed the basis of the Han government.[49]

After the collapse of Han, another period of disunion followed, including the highly chivalric period of the Three Kingdoms.[50] Independent Chinese states of this period such as Wu opened diplomatic relations with Japan,[51] introducing the Chinese writing system there. In 580 CE, China was reunited under the Sui.[52] However, the Sui Dynasty declined following its defeat in the Goguryeo–Sui War (598–614).[53][54]

Under the succeeding Tang and Song dynasties, Chinese technology and culture entered a golden age.[55] The Tang Empire was at its height of power until the middle of the 8th century, when the An Shi Rebellion destroyed the prosperity of the empire.[56] The Song Dynasty was the first government in world history to issue paper money and the first Chinese polity to establish a permanent standing navy.[57] Between the 10th and 11th centuries, the population of China doubled in size to around 100 million people, mostly due to the expansion of rice cultivation in central and southern China, and the production of abundant food surpluses. The Song Dynasty also saw a flourishing of philosophy and the arts, as landscape art and portrait painting were brought to new levels of maturity and complexity, and social elites gathered to view art, share their own and trade precious artworks. Philosophers such as Cheng Yi and Chu Hsi reinvigorated Confucianism with new commentary, infused Buddhist ideals, and emphasized a new organization of classic texts that brought about the core doctrine of Neo-Confucianism.

In 1271, the Mongol leader Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty; the Yuan conquered the last remnant of the Song Dynasty in 1279. Before the Mongol invasion, Song China reportedly had approximately 120 million citizens; the 1300 census which followed the invasion reported roughly 60 million people.[58]

Detail from Along the River During the Qingming Festival, a 12th-century painting showing everyday life in the Song Dynasty's capital city, Bianjing (today's Kaifeng).

A peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang overthrew the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 and founded the Ming Dynasty.[59] Under the Ming Dynasty, China enjoyed another golden age, developing one of the strongest navies in the world and a rich and prosperous economy amid a flourishing of art and culture. It was during this period that Zheng He led explorations throughout the world, reaching as far as Africa.[60] In the early years of the Ming Dynasty, China's capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing.

During the Ming Dynasty, thinkers such as Wang Yangming further critiqued and expanded Neo-Confucianism with concepts of individualism and innate morality that would have tremendous impact on later Japanese thought. Chosun Korea also became a nominal vassal state of Ming China, and adopted much of its Neo-Confucian bureaucratic structure.

In 1644, Beijing was sacked by a coalition of rebel forces led by Li Zicheng, a minor Ming official who led the peasant revolt. The last Ming Chongzhen Emperor committed suicide when the city fell. The Manchu Qing Dynasty then allied with Ming Dynasty general Wu Sangui and overthrew Li's short-lived Shun Dynasty, and subsequently seized control of Beijing, which became the new capital of the Qing Dynasty. In total, the Manchu conquest of China cost as many as 25 million lives.[61]

End of dynastic rule

A 19th-century painting depicting the Taiping Rebellion of 1850–1864.

The Qing Dynasty, which lasted from 1644 until 1912, was the last imperial dynasty of China. In the 19th century, the Qing Dynasty experienced Western imperialism following two Opium Wars with Britain. China was forced to sign unequal treaties, pay compensation, allow extraterritoriality for foreign nationals, and cede Hong Kong to the British.[62]

The weakening of the Qing regime led to increasing domestic disorder. In late 1850, southern China erupted in the Taiping Rebellion, a violent civil war which lasted until 1864. The rebellion was led by Hong Xiuquan, who was partly influenced by an idiosyncratic interpretation of Christianity. Although the Qing regime was eventually victorious, the civil war was one of the bloodiest in human history, costing at least 20 million lives, with some estimates of up to 40 million. Other costly rebellions followed the Taiping Rebellion, such as the Punti–Hakka Clan Wars (1855–67), Nien Rebellion (1851–1868), Miao Rebellion (1854–73), Panthay Rebellion (1856–1873) and the Dungan revolt (1862–1877).[63][64]

These rebellions each resulted in an estimated loss of several million lives, and had a devastating impact on the fragile economy.[65][66][67] In the 19th century, the age of colonialism was at its height and the great Chinese Diaspora began; today, over 40 million Chinese live abroad.[68] Emigration rates were strengthened by domestic catastrophes such as the Northern Chinese Famine of 1876–1879, which claimed between 9 and 13 million lives in northern China.[69]

An 1895 painting depicting a battle in the First Sino-Japanese War

At the request of the Korean emperor, the Qing government sent troops to aid in suppressing the Tonghak Rebellion in 1894. However, Japan, which had rapidly modernized its military, also sent forces to Korea. This led to the First Sino-Japanese War, which resulted in Qing China's loss of influence in the Korean Peninsula, as well as the cession of Taiwan (including the Pescadores) to Japan in 1895.[70] Following this series of defeats, the Guangxu Emperor drafted a a reform plan to establish a modern constitutional monarchy in 1898, but he was overthrown by the Empress Dowager Cixi in a coup d'état. The ill-fated anti-Western Boxer Rebellion of 1897–1901 resulted in as many as 115,000 deaths.[71]

By the early 20th century, mass civil disorder had begun, and advocates for reform and revolution emerged across the country. The Guangxu Emperor died under house arrest on 14 November 1908, and was succeeded by Cixi's handpicked heir Puyi, who became the Xuantong Emperor. Guangxu's consort became the Empress Dowager Longyu, who signed Puyi's abdication in 1911.[72]

Republic of China (1912–1949)

Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China (seated on right), and Chiang Kai-shek, later President of the Republic of China.

On 1 January 1912, the Republic of China was established, heralding the end of Imperial China.[73] Sun Yat-sen of the Kuomintang (the KMT or Nationalist Party) was proclaimed provisional president of the republic.[74] However, the presidency was later given to Yuan Shikai, a former Qing general, who had ensured the defection of the entire Beiyang Army from the Qing Empire to the revolution. In 1915, Yuan proclaimed himself Emperor of China, but was forced to abdicate and reestablish the republic in the face of popular condemnation and opposition from his own Beiyang Army.[75]

After Yuan Shikai's death in 1916, China was politically fragmented. Its Beijing-based government was internationally recognized but virtually powerless; regional warlords controlled most of its territory.[76][77] In the late 1920s, the Kuomintang, under Chiang Kai-shek, was able to reunify the country under its own control with a series of deft military and political maneuverings, known collectively as the Northern Expedition.[78][79] The Kuomintang moved the nation's capital to Nanjing and implemented "political tutelage", an intermediate stage of political development outlined in Sun Yat-sen's San-min program for transforming China into a modern democratic state. Effectively, political tutelage meant one-party rule by the Kuomintang, but the party was politically divided into competing cliques.[80][81] This political division made it difficult for Chiang to battle the Communists, which the Kuomintang had been warring against since 1927 in the Chinese Civil War. This war continued successfully for the Kuomintang, especially after the Communists retreated in the Long March, until the Xi'an Incident and Japanese aggression forced Chiang to confront Imperial Japan.[82][83]

The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), a part of World War II, forced an uneasy alliance between the Kuomintang and the Communists. The Japanese "three-all policy" in northern China – "kill all, burn all and destroy all" – led to numerous war atrocities being committed against the civilian population; in all, as many as 20 million Chinese civilians died.[84][85] An estimated 200,000 Chinese were massacred in the city of Nanjing alone during the Japanese occupation.[86] Japan unconditionally surrendered to China in 1945. Taiwan, including the Pescadores, was put under the administrative control of the Republic of China, which immediately claimed sovereignty. China emerged victorious but war-ravaged and financially drained. The continued distrust between the Kuomintang and the Communists led to the resumption of civil war. In 1947, constitutional rule was established, but because of the ongoing unrest many provisions of the ROC constitution were never implemented in mainland China.[87][88][89]

People's Republic of China (1949–present)

Mao Zedong proclaiming the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Major combat in the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949 with the Communist Party in control of mainland China, and the Kuomintang retreating offshore, reducing the ROC's territory to only Taiwan, Hainan, and their surrounding islands. On 1 October 1949, Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People's Republic of China.[90] In 1950, the People's Liberation Army succeeded in capturing Hainan from the ROC,[91] occupying Tibet,[92] and defeating the majority of the remaining Kuomintang forces in mainland China.[93][94]

Mao encouraged population growth, and under his leadership the Chinese population almost doubled from around 550 million to over 900 million.[95] However, Mao's Great Leap Forward, a large-scale economic and social reform project, resulted in an estimated 45 million deaths between 1958 and 1961, mostly from starvation.[96] Between 1 and 2 million landlords were executed as "counterrevolutionaries."[97] In 1966, Mao and his allies launched the Cultural Revolution, sparking a period of political recrimination and social upheaval which lasted until Mao's death in 1976. In October 1971, the PRC replaced the Republic of China in the United Nations, and took its seat as a permanent member of the Security Council.[98]

After Mao's death in 1976 and the arrest of the faction known as the Gang of Four, who were blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping took power and led the country to significant economic reforms. The Communist Party subsequently loosened governmental control over citizens' personal lives and the communes were disbanded in favor of private land leases. This turn of events marked China's transition from a planned economy to a mixed economy with an increasingly open market environment.[99] China adopted its current constitution on 4 December 1982. In 1989, the violent suppression of student protests in Tiananmen Square brought worldwide condemnation and sanctions against the Chinese government.[100][101][102]

The city of Shanghai has become a symbol of China's rapid economic expansion since the 1990s.

President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji led the nation in the 1990s. Under their administration, China's economic performance pulled an estimated 150 million peasants out of poverty and sustained an average annual gross domestic product growth rate of 11.2%.[103][104] The country formally joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, and maintained its high rate of economic growth under Hu Jintao's presidency in the 2000s. However, rapid growth also severely impacted the country's resources and environment,[105][106] and caused major social displacement.[107][108] Living standards continued to improve rapidly despite the late-2000s recession, but centralized political control remained tight.[109]

Preparations for a decadal Communist Party leadership change in 2012 were marked by factional disputes and political scandals.[110] During China's 18th National Communist Party Congress in November 2012, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao were replaced as President and Premier by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, who formally took office in 2013.[111][112] Under Xi, the Chinese government began large-scale efforts to reform its economy,[113][114] which has suffered from structural instabilities and slowing growth.[115][116][117][118]


A composite satellite image showing the topography of China.
The Li River in Guangxi.

Political geography

The People's Republic of China is the second-largest country in the world by land area after Russia[17] and is either the third- or fourth-largest by total area, after Russia, Canada and, depending on the definition of total area, the United States.[119][120] China's total area is generally stated as being approximately 9,600,000 km2 (3,700,000 sq mi).[121] Specific area figures range from 9,572,900 km2 (3,696,100 sq mi) according to the Encyclopædia Britannica,[122] 9,596,961 km2 (3,705,407 sq mi) according to the UN Demographic Yearbook,[6] to 9,596,961 km2 (3,705,407 sq mi) according to the CIA World Factbook,[123] and 9,640,011 km2 (3,722,029 sq mi) including Aksai Chin and the Trans-Karakoram Tract, which are controlled by China and claimed by India.[124] None of these figures include the 1,000 square kilometres (386.1 sq mi) of territory ceded to China by Tajikistan following the ratification of a Sino-Tajik border agreement in January 2011.[125]

China has the longest combined land border in the world, measuring 22,117 km (13,743 mi) from the mouth of the Yalu River to the Gulf of Tonkin. China borders 14 nations, more than any other country except Russia, which also borders 14. China extends across much of East Asia, bordering Vietnam, Laos, and Burma in Southeast Asia; India, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan[126] in South Asia; Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia; a small section of Russian Altai and Mongolia in Inner Asia; and the Russian Far East and North Korea in Northeast Asia. China's border with India is disputed, and was a key cause of the 1962 Sino-Indian War and the 1967 Chola Incident.

Additionally, China shares maritime boundaries with South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan. The PRC and the Republic of China (Taiwan) make mutual claims over each other's territory and the frontier between areas under their respective control is closest near the islands of Kinmen and Matsu, off the Fujian coast, but otherwise run through the Taiwan Strait. The PRC and ROC assert identical claims over the entirety of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and the southernmost extent of these claims reaches James Shoal, which would form a maritime frontier with Malaysia.

Landscape and climate

The South China Sea coast at Hainan.

The territory of China lies between latitudes 18° and 54° N, and longitudes 73° and 135° E. China's landscapes vary significantly across its vast width. In the east, along the shores of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, there are extensive and densely populated alluvial plains, while on the edges of the Inner Mongolian plateau in the north, broad grasslands predominate. Southern China is dominated by hills and low mountain ranges, while the central-east hosts the deltas of China's two major rivers, the Yellow River and the Yangtze River. Other major rivers include the Xi, Mekong, Brahmaputra and Amur. To the west, major mountain ranges, most notably the Himalayas, and high plateaus feature among the more arid landscapes of the north, such as the Taklamakan and the Gobi Desert. The world's highest point, Mount Everest (8,848m), lies on the Sino-Nepalese border. The country's lowest point, and the world's fourth-lowest, is the dried lake bed of Ayding Lake (−154m) in the Turpan Depression.

A major environmental issue in China is the continued expansion of its deserts, particularly the Gobi Desert, which is currently the world's fifth-largest desert.[127][128] Although barrier tree lines planted since the 1970s have reduced the frequency of sandstorms, prolonged drought and poor agricultural practices have resulted in dust storms plaguing northern China each spring, which then spread to other parts of East Asia, including Korea and Japan. According to China's environmental watchdog, Sepa, China is losing a million acres (4,000 km²) per year to desertification.[129] Water quality, erosion, and pollution control have become important issues in China's relations with other countries. Melting glaciers in the Himalayas could potentially lead to water shortages for hundreds of millions of people.[130]

China's climate is mainly dominated by dry seasons and wet monsoons, which lead to pronounced temperature differences between winter and summer. In the winter, northern winds coming from high-latitude areas are cold and dry; in summer, southern winds from coastal areas at lower latitudes are warm and moist. The climate in China differs from region to region because of the country's highly complex topography.


A giant panda, China's most famous endangered and endemic species, at the Wolong National Nature Reserve in Sichuan.

China is one of 17 megadiverse countries,[131] lying in two of the world's major ecozones: the Palearctic and the Indomalaya. By one measure, China has over 34,687 species of animals and vascular plants, making it the third-most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil and Colombia.[132] The country signed the Rio de Janeiro Convention on Biological Diversity on 11 June 1992, and became a party to the convention on 5 January 1993.[133] It later produced a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, with one revision which was received by the convention on 21 September 2010.[134]

China is home to at least 551 species of mammals (the third-highest such number in the world),[135] 1,221 species of birds (eighth),[136] 424 species of reptiles (seventh)[137] and 333 species of amphibians (seventh).[138] China is the most biodiverse country in each category outside of the tropics. Wildlife in China share habitat with and bear acute pressure from the world's largest population of homo sapiens. At least 840 animal species are threatened, vulnerable or in danger of local extinction in China, due mainly to human activity such as habitat destruction, pollution and poaching for food, fur and ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine.[139] Endangered wildlife is protect by law and the country has over 360 nature reserves.

China has over 32,000 species of vascular plants[140] and is home to a variety of forest types. Cold coniferous forests predominate in the north of the country, supporting animal species such as moose and the Asian black bear, along with over 120 bird species. Moist conifer forests can have thickets of bamboo as an understorey, replaced by rhododendrons in higher montane stands of juniper and yew. Subtropical forests, which dominate central and southern China, support as many as 146,000 species of flora. Tropical and seasonal rainforests, though confined to Yunnan and Hainan Island, contain a quarter of all the animal and plant species found in China.[141]

The number of species of fungi recorded in China, including lichen-forming species, is not known with precision, but probably exceeds 10,000. More than 2,400 species were listed by the mycologist S.C. Teng in the first modern treatment of Chinese fungi in the English language, which was published in 1996.[142] More than 5,000 species of "higher fungi" – mainly basidiomycetes with some ascomycetes – were reported in 2001 for tropical China alone,[143] and nearly 4,000 species of fungi were reported in 2005 for northwestern China.[144] The issue of fungal conservation, long overlooked in China, was first addressed in the early 2010s, with pioneer publications evaluating the conservation status of individual species.[145]

Environmental issues

Wind turbines in Xinjiang. The Dabancheng project is Asia's largest wind farm.

In recent decades, China has suffered from severe environmental deterioration and pollution.[146][147] While regulations such as the 1979 Environmental Protection Law are fairly stringent, they are poorly enforced, as they are frequently disregarded by local communities and government officials in favour of rapid economic development.[148] Urban air pollution is a severe health issue in the country; the World Bank estimates that 16 of the world's most-polluted cities are located in China.[149]

Environmental campaigners have warned that water pollution is becoming a severe threat to Chinese society.[150][151] According to the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources, roughly 300 million Chinese do not have access to safe drinking water, and 40% of China's rivers had been polluted by industrial and agricultural waste by late 2011.[152] This crisis is compounded by increasingly severe water shortages, particularly in the north-east of the country.[153][154][155]

However, China is the world's leading investor in renewable energy commercialisation, with US$52 billion invested in 2011 alone;[156][157][158] it is a major manufacturer of renewable energy technologies and invests heavily in local-scale renewable energy projects.[159][160] By 2009, over 17% of China's energy was derived from renewable sources – most notably hydroelectric power plants, of which China has a total installed capacity of 197 GW.[161] In 2011, the Chinese government announced plans to invest four trillion yuan (US$618.55 billion) in water infrastructure and desalination projects over a ten-year period, and to complete construction of a flood prevention and anti-drought system by 2020.[153][162] In 2013, China began a five-year, US$277 billion effort to reduce air pollution, particularly in the north of the country.[163]


The People's Republic of China, along with Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam, is one of the world's four remaining socialist states espousing communism.[164][165] The Chinese government has been variously described as communist and socialist, but also as authoritarian, with heavy restrictions remaining in many areas, most notably on the Internet, the press, freedom of assembly, reproductive rights, and freedom of religion.[166] Its current political/economic system has been termed by its leaders as "socialism with Chinese characteristics".

The country is ruled by the Communist Party of China (CPC), whose power is enshrined in China's constitution.[167] The Chinese electoral system is hierarchical, whereby local People's Congresses are directly elected, and all higher levels of People's Congresses up to the National People's Congress (NPC) are indirectly elected by the People's Congress of the level immediately below.[168] The political system is partly decentralized,[169] with limited democratic processes internal to the party and at local village levels, although these experiments have been marred by corruption. There are other political parties in China, referred to in China as democratic parties, which participate in the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

The Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where the National People's Congress convenes.

Compared to its closed-door policies until the mid-1970s, the liberalization of China has resulted in the administrative climate being less restrictive than before. China supports the Leninist principle of "democratic centralism",[170] but the elected National People's Congress has been described as a "rubber stamp" body.[171] The incumbent President is Xi Jinping, who is also the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission.[111] The current Premier is Li Keqiang, who is also a senior member of the CPC Politburo Standing Committee.

There have been some moves toward political liberalization, in that open contested elections are now held at the village and town levels.[172][173] However, the Party retains effective control over government appointments: in the absence of meaningful opposition, the CPC wins by default most of the time. Political concerns in China include lessening the growing gap between rich and poor and fighting corruption within the government leadership.[174] Nonetheless, the level of public support for the government and its management of the nation is among the highest in the world, with 86% of Chinese citizens expressing satisfaction with their nation's economy according to a 2008 Pew Research Center survey.[175]

Administrative divisions

The People's Republic of China has administrative control over 22 provinces, and considers Taiwan to be its 23rd province, although Taiwan is currently governed by the Republic of China, which disputes the PRC's claim.[176] China also has five subdivisions officially termed autonomous regions, each with a designated minority group; four municipalities; and two Special Administrative Regions (SARs), which enjoy a degree of political autonomy. These 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, and four municipalities can be collectively referred to as "mainland China", a term which usually excludes the SARs of Hong Kong and Macau. None of these divisions are recognized by the ROC government, which claims the entirety of the PRC's territory.

Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Tibet (Xizang) Autonomous Region Qinghai Province Gansu Province Sichuan Province Yunnan Province Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region Inner Mongolia (Nei Mongol) Autonomous Region Shaanxi Province Municipality of Chongqing Guizhou Province Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Shanxi Province Henan Province Hubei Province Hunan Province Guangdong Province Hainan Province Hebei Province Heilongjiang Province Jilin Province Liaoning Province Municipality of Beijing Municipality of Tianjin Shangdong Province Jiangsu Province Anhui Province Municipality of Shanghai Zhejiang Province Jiangxi Province Fujian Province Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Macau Special Administrative Region Taiwan ProvinceChina administrative claimed included.svg
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Foreign relations

Hu Jintao with US President George W. Bush in 2006.

The PRC has diplomatic relations with 171 countries and maintains embassies in 162.[177] Its legitimacy is disputed by the Republic of China and a few other countries; it is thus the largest and most populous state with limited recognition. Sweden was the first western country to establish diplomatic relations with the PRC on 9 May 1950.[178] In 1971, the PRC replaced the Republic of China as the sole representative of China in the United Nations and as one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.[179] China was also a former member and leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, and still considers itself an advocate for developing countries.[180] Along with Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa, China is a member of the BRICS group of emerging major economies, and hosted the group's third official summit at Sanya, Hainan in April 2011.[181]

Under its interpretation of the One-China policy, Beijing has made it a precondition to establishing diplomatic relations that the other country acknowledges its claim to Taiwan and severs official ties with the government of the Republic of China. Chinese officials have protested on numerous occasions when foreign countries have made diplomatic overtures to Taiwan,[182] especially in the matter of armament sales.[183] Political meetings between foreign government officials and the 14th Dalai Lama are also opposed by China, as the latter considers Tibet to be formally part of China.[184]

Much of current Chinese foreign policy is reportedly based on Zhou Enlai's Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, and is also driven by the concept of "harmony without uniformity", which encourages diplomatic relations between states despite ideological differences. This policy has led China to support states that are regarded as dangerous or repressive by Western nations, such as Zimbabwe, North Korea and Iran.[185] Conflicts with foreign countries have occurred at times in China's recent history, particularly with the United States; for instance, the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo conflict in May 1999 and the Hainan Island incident involving a U.S. spy plane in April 2001. Relations with many Western nations suffered for a time following the military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, although in recent years China has improved its diplomatic links with the West.[186][187] China furthermore has an increasingly close economic and military relationship with Russia,[188] and the two states often vote in unison in the UN Security Council.[189][190][191] In recent decades, China has followed a policy of engaging with African nations for trade and bilateral co-operation;[192][193][194] in 2012, Sino-African trade totalled over US$160 billion.[195] China has furthermore strengthened its ties with major South American economies, becoming the largest trading partner of Brazil and building strategic links with Argentina.[196][197]

A meeting of G5 leaders in 2007, with China's Hu Jintao second from right.

Trade relations

In recent decades, China has played an increasing role in calling for free trade areas and security pacts amongst its Asia-Pacific neighbors. In 2004, it proposed an entirely new East Asia Summit (EAS) framework as a forum for regional security issues, pointedly excluding the United States.[198] The EAS, which includes ASEAN Plus Three, India, Australia and New Zealand, held its inaugural summit in 2005. China is also a founding member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), along with Russia and the Central Asian republics.

In 2000, the United States Congress approved "permanent normal trade relations" (PNTR) with China, allowing Chinese exports in at the same low tariffs as goods from most other countries.[199] Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush asserted that free trade would gradually open China to democratic reform.[200] Bush was furthermore an advocate of Chinese entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).[201] China has a significant trade surplus with the United States, its most important export market.[202] In the early 2010s, US politicians argued that the Chinese yuan was significantly undervalued, giving China an unfair trade advantage.[203][204][205]

Territorial disputes

Map depicting territorial disputes between the PRC and neighboring states. For a larger map, see here.

In addition to claiming all of Taiwan, China has been involved in a number of other international territorial disputes. Since the 1990s, China has been involved in negotiations to resolve its disputed land borders, including a disputed border with India and an undefined border with Bhutan. China is additionally involved in multilateral disputes over the ownership of several small islands in the East and South China Seas.[206][207][208] These issues have led to friction between China and western nations, particularly the United States, which is seen in some quarters as attempting to contain China's regional power.[209][210][211]

Emerging superpower status

China is regularly hailed as a potential new superpower, with certain commentators citing its rapid economic progress, growing military might, very large population, and increasing international influence as signs that it will play a prominent global role in the 21st century.[24][212] Others, however, warn that economic bubbles and demographic imbalances could slow or even halt China's growth as the century progresses.[213][214][215][216][217] Some authors also question the definition of "superpower", arguing that China's large economy alone would not qualify it as a superpower, and noting that it lacks the military and cultural influence of the United States.[218]

Sociopolitical issues and reform

The Chinese democracy movement, social activists, and some members of the Communist Party of China have all identified the need for social and political reform. While economic and social controls have been greatly relaxed in China since the 1970s, political freedom is still tightly restricted. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China states that the "fundamental rights" of citizens include freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, universal suffrage, and property rights. However, in practice, these provisions do not afford significant protection against criminal prosecution by the state.[219][220][221] Rural migrants to China's cities often find themselves treated as second-class citizens by the hukou household registration system, which controls access to state benefits.[222][223] Property rights are often poorly protected,[222] and taxation disproportionately affects poorer citizens.[223] However, a number of rural taxes have been reduced or abolished since the early 2000s, and additional social services provided to rural dwellers.[224][225]

Censorship of political speech and information, most notably on the Internet,[226][227][228][229] is openly and routinely used in China to silence criticism of the government and the ruling Communist Party.[230][231] In 2005, Reporters Without Borders ranked China 159th out of 167 states in its Annual World Press Freedom Index, indicating a very low level of perceived press freedom.[232] The government has suppressed demonstrations by organizations that it considers a potential threat to "social stability", as was the case with the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The Communist Party has had mixed success in controlling information: a powerful and pervasive media control system faces equally strong market forces, an increasingly educated citizenry, and technological and cultural changes that are making China more open to the wider world.[233][234]

A number of foreign governments and NGOs also routinely criticize China's human rights record, alleging widespread civil rights violations such as detention without trial, forced confessions, torture, restrictions of fundamental rights,[166][235][236] and excessive use of the death penalty.[237][238] In particular, the Chinese state is regularly accused of large-scale repression and human rights abuses in Tibet and Xinjiang, including violent police crackdowns and religious suppression.[239][240]

The Chinese government has responded to foreign criticism by arguing that the notion of human rights should take into account a country's present level of economic development, and focus more on the people's rights to subsistence and development in poorer countries.[241] It emphasizes the rise in the standard of living, literacy, and life expectancy for the average Chinese since the 1970s, as well as improvements in workplace safety and efforts to combat natural disasters such as the perennial Yangtze River floods.[241][242][243] It has also responded to allegations of state repression by accusing Western media of supporting and justifying terrorist acts in Xinjiang.[244] Furthermore, some Chinese politicians have spoken out in support of democratisation, although others remain more conservative.[245] Although the Chinese government is increasingly tolerant of NGOs which offer practical, efficient solutions to social problems, such "third sector" activity remains heavily regulated.[246]


With 2.3 million active troops, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is the largest standing military force in the world, commanded by the Central Military Commission (CMC).[247] The PLA consists of the People's Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF), the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), and a strategic nuclear force, the Second Artillery Corps. According to the Chinese government, China's military expenditure in 2012 totalled US$100 billion, constituting the world's second-largest military budget.[248] However, other nations, such as the United States, have claimed that China does not report its real level of military spending, which is allegedly much higher than the official budget.[249] China claims it maintains an army purely for defensive purposes,[250] although a 2007 report by the US Secretary of Defense noted that "China's actions in certain areas increasingly appear inconsistent with its declaratory policies".[251]

As a recognised nuclear weapons state, China is considered both a major regional military power and a potential military superpower.[252] According to a 2013 report by the US Department of Defense, China fields between 50 and 75 nuclear ICBMs, along with a number of SRBMs.[19] Nonetheless, China is the only one of the UN Security Council Permanent Members to have relatively limited power projection capabilities.[253] To offset this, it has developed numerous power projection assets – its first aircraft carrier entered service in 2012,[254][255][256][257] and it maintains a substantial fleet of submarines, including several nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines.[258] China has furthermore established a network of foreign military relationships that has been compared to a string of pearls.[259]

Members of a Chinese military honor guard. China possesses the largest standing army in the world, with around 2.3 million active personnel. Its ground forces alone total 1.7 million soldiers.

China has made significant progress in modernizing its air force since the early 2000s, purchasing Russian fighter jets such as the Sukhoi Su-30, and also manufacturing its own modern fighters, most notably the Chengdu J-10 and the Shenyang J-11, J-15 and J-16.[254][260] China is furthermore engaged in developing an indigenous stealth aircraft and numerous combat drones.[261][262][263][264] China has also updated its ground forces, replacing its ageing Soviet-derived tank inventory with numerous variants of the modern Type 99 tank, and upgrading its battlefield C3I and C4I systems to enhance its network-centric warfare capabilities.[265] In addition, China has developed or acquired numerous advanced missile systems,[266][267] including anti-satellite missiles,[268] cruise missiles[269] and submarine-launched nuclear ICBMs.[270] As a result of these advances, China has been perceived as attempting to rival the United States in military technology,[271] although some analysts note that the American military remains far more capable than the PLA.[272]


The Shanghai Stock Exchange building in Shanghai's Lujiazui financial district. Shanghai has the 25th-largest city GDP in the world, totalling US$304 billion in 2011.[273]

As of 2013, China has the world's second-largest economy in terms of nominal GDP, totalling approximately US$8.227 trillion according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).[10] If PPP is taken into account, China's economy is again second only to the United States – in 2012, its PPP GDP reached $12.405 trillion, corresponding to $9,161 per capita.[10] However, China's 2012 nominal GDP per capita of US$6,075 puts it behind around ninety countries (out of 183 countries on the IMF list) in global GDP per capita rankings.[10]

From its founding in 1949 until late 1978, the People's Republic of China was a Soviet-style centrally planned economy, without private businesses or capitalism. To propel the country towards a modern, industrialized communist society, Mao Zedong instituted the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s, although this had decidedly mixed economic results.[274] Following Mao's death in 1976 and the consequent end of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping and the new Chinese leadership began to reform the economy and move towards a more market-oriented mixed economy under one-party rule. Agricultural collectivization was dismantled and farmlands privatized, while foreign trade became a major new focus, leading to the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOEs) were restructured and unprofitable ones were closed outright, resulting in massive job losses. Modern-day China is mainly characterized as having a market economy based on private property ownership,[275] and is one of the leading examples of state capitalism.[276][277] The state still dominates in strategic "pillar" sectors such as energy production and heavy industries, but private enterprise has expanded enormously, with around 30 million private businesses recorded in 2008.[278][279][280][281]

In 1978, Deng Xiaoping initiated China's market-oriented reforms.

Since economic liberalization began in 1978, China's investment- and export-led[282] economy has grown more than a hundredfold[283] and is the fastest-growing major economy in the world.[284] According to the IMF, China's annual average GDP growth between 2001 and 2010 was 10.5%. Between 2007 and 2011, China's economic growth rate was equivalent to all of the G7 countries' growth combined.[285] According to the Global Growth Generators index announced by Citigroup in February 2011, China has a very high 3G growth rating.[286] Its high productivity, low labor costs and relatively good infrastructure have made it a global leader in manufacturing, but its undervalued exchange rate has caused friction with other major economies,[204][287][288] and it has also been widely criticised for manufacturing large quantities of counterfeit goods.[289][290] In the early 2010s, China's economic growth rate began to slow amid domestic credit troubles, changing government priorities[113] and global economic turmoil.[291][292][293][294][295]

China is a member of the WTO and is the world's largest trading power, with a total international trade value of US$3.87 trillion in 2012.[18] Its foreign exchange reserves reached US$2.85 trillion by the end of 2010, an increase of 18.7% over the previous year, making its reserves by far the world's largest.[296][297] China owns an estimated $1.6 trillion of US securities.[298] China, holding over US$1.16 trillion in US Treasury bonds,[299] is the largest foreign holder of US public debt.[300][301] China is the world's third-largest recipient of inward foreign direct investment (FDI), attracting $115 billion in 2011 alone, marking a 9% increase over 2010.[302][303] China also increasingly invests abroad, with a total outward FDI of $68 billion in 2010, and a number of major takeovers of foreign firms by Chinese companies.[304][305][306]

A graph comparing the 2012 nominal GDPs of major economies
in US$ billions, according to IMF data.[307]

China now ranks 29th in the Global Competitiveness Index,[308] although it is only ranked 135th among the 179 countries measured in the Index of Economic Freedom.[309] In 2011, 61 Chinese companies were listed in the Fortune Global 500.[310] Measured by total revenues, three of the world's top ten most valuable companies are Chinese, including fifth-ranked Sinopec Group, sixth-ranked China National Petroleum and seventh-ranked State Grid (the world's largest electric utilities company).[310]

China's middle-class population (defined as those with annual income of at least US$17,000) had reached more than 100 million by 2011,[311] while the number of individuals worth more than 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million) was estimated to be 1.02 million in 2012, according to the Hurun Report.[312] Based on the Hurun rich list, the number of US dollar billionaires in China increased from 130 in 2009 to 251 in 2012, giving China the world's second-highest number of billionaires.[313][314] China's domestic retail market was worth over 20 trillion yuan (US$3.2 trillion) in 2012[315] and is now growing at over 12% annually,[316] while the country's luxury goods market has expanded immensely, with 27.5% of the global share.[317] However, in recent years, China's rapid economic growth has contributed to severe consumer inflation,[318][319] leading to increased government regulation.[320]

Nanjing Road, a major shopping street in Shanghai.

The Chinese economy is highly energy-intensive and inefficient;[321] China became the world's largest energy consumer in 2010,[322] and still relies on coal to supply over 70% of its energy needs.[323] Coupled with lax environmental regulations, this has led to massive water and air pollution, leaving China with 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities.[321] Consequently, the government has promised to use more renewable energy, planning to make renewables constitute 30% of China's total energy production by 2050.[158][324] Efforts have also been made to streamline bureaucracy and reduce wastefulness by government enterprises.[325]

Science and technology

A man in black armor standing in front of a rocket, attached to a stick, with the stick being held up by two X shaped wooden brackets.
History of science and
technology in China
By era
Han Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
Song Dynasty
People's Republic of China
Present-day China


China was a world leader in science and technology until the Ming Dynasty. Ancient Chinese discoveries and inventions, such as papermaking, printing, the compass, and gunpowder (the Four Great Inventions), later became widespread in Asia and Europe. Chinese mathematicians were the first to use negative numbers.[326][327] However, Chinese scientific activity entered a prolonged decline in the fourteenth century, as an increasing concentration on literature, the arts and public administration led to a neglect of science and technology.[328] The causes of this Great Divergence continue to be debated.

After repeated military defeats by Western nations in the 19th century, Chinese reformers began promoting modern science and technology as part of the Self-Strengthening Movement. After the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, efforts were made to organize science and technology based on the model of the Soviet Union. However, Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution of 1966–76 had a catastrophic effect on Chinese research, as academics were persecuted and the training of scientists and engineers was severely curtailed for nearly a decade.[329] After Mao's death in 1976, science and technology was established as one of the Four Modernizations, and the Soviet-inspired academic system was gradually reformed.[328]

Modern era

Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, China has become one of the world's leading technological powers,[330] spending over US$100 billion on scientific research and development in 2011 alone.[331] Science and technology are seen as vital for achieving economic and political goals, and are held as a source of national pride to a degree sometimes described as "techno-nationalism".[332] Chinese-born scientists have won the Nobel Prize in Physics four times and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry once to date.

The launch of a Chinese Long March 3B rocket.

China is rapidly developing its education system with an emphasis on science, mathematics and engineering; in 2009, it produced over 10,000 Ph.D. engineering graduates, and as many as 500,000 BSc graduates, more than any other country.[333] China is also the world's second-largest publisher of scientific papers, producing 121,500 in 2010 alone, including 5,200 in leading international scientific journals.[334] Chinese technology companies such as Huawei and Lenovo have become world leaders in telecommunications and personal computing,[335][336][337] and Chinese supercomputers are consistently ranked among the world's most powerful.[338][339] China is furthermore the world's largest investor in renewable energy technology.[158]

The Chinese space program is one of the world's most active, and is a major source of national pride.[340][341] In 1970, China launched its first satellite, Dong Fang Hong I. In 2003, China became the third country to independently send humans into space, with Yang Liwei's spaceflight aboard Shenzhou 5; as of June 2013, ten Chinese nationals have journeyed into space. In 2011, China's first space station module, Tiangong-1, was launched, marking the first step in a project to assemble a large manned station by 2020.[342] The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program includes a planned lunar rover launch in 2013, and possibly a manned lunar landing in 2025.[343][344] Experience gained from the lunar program may be used for future programs such as the exploration of Mars and Venus.[345] However, some foreign analysts have accused China of covertly using its civilian space missions for military purposes, such as the launch of surveillance satellites.[346]



China currently has the largest number of active cellphones of any country in the world, with over 1 billion users as of May 2012.[347][348] It also has the world's largest number of internet and broadband users,[349] with over 591 million internet users as of 2013, equivalent to around 44% of its population.[350] According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), China's average internet connection speed in 2011 was 100.9 kbit/s, less than half of the global average of 212.5 kbit/s.[351] However, a 2013 report also confirms the national average speed as 3.14 MB/s[352] As of July 2013, China accounts for 24% of the world's internet-connected devices.[353]

China Telecom and China Unicom, the country's two largest broadband providers, accounted for 20% of global broadband subscribers, whereas the world's ten largest broadband service providers combined accounted for 39% of the world's broadband customers. China Telecom alone serves 55 million broadband subscribers, while China Unicom serves more than 40 million. The massive rise in internet use in China continues to fuel rapid broadband growth, whereas the world's other major broadband ISPs operate in the mature markets of the developed world, with high levels of broadband penetration and rapidly slowing subscriber growth.[354] Several Chinese telecommunications companies, most notably Huawei and ZTE, have become highly profitable in overseas markets, but have also been accused of spying for the Chinese military.[355]


There are over 85,000 km (52,800 mi) of divided expressways in China.
A high-speed maglev train leaving Pudong International Airport, Shanghai, in 2006.

Since the late 1990s, China's national road network has been significantly expanded through the creation of a network of expressways, known as the National Trunk Highway System (NTHS). By the end of 2011, China's expressways had reached a total length of 85,000 km (53,000 mi), second only to the highway network of the United States.[356] Private car ownership is growing rapidly in China, which surpassed the United States as the world's largest automobile market in 2009, with total car sales of over 13.6 million.[357] Analysts predict that annual car sales in China may rise as high as 40 million by 2020.[358] A side-effect of the rapid growth of China's road network has been a significant rise in traffic accidents, mostly caused by poorly enforced traffic laws – in 2011 alone, around 62,000 Chinese died in road accidents, and efforts to improve traffic safety have had limited success.[359][360]

China also possesses the world's longest high-speed rail network, with over 9,676 km (6,012 mi) of service routes.[361] Of these, 3,515 km (2,184 mi) serve trains with top speeds of 300 km/h (190 mph).[362] In 2011, China produced its first high-speed trains built entirely without foreign assistance.[363] China intends to operate approximately 16,000 km (9,900 mi) of high-speed rail lines by 2020.[364] Rapid transit systems are also rapidly developing in China's major cities, in the form of networks of underground or light rail systems. China is additionally developing its own satellite navigation system, dubbed Beidou, which began offering commercial navigation services across Asia in 2012,[365] and is planned to offer global coverage by 2020.[366]

As of 2012, China is the world's largest constructor of new airports, and the Chinese government has begun a US$250 billion five-year project to expand and modernize domestic air travel.[367] However, 80% of China's airspace remains restricted for military use;[368] long-distance transportation remains dominated by railways and charter bus systems. Railways are the vital carrier in China; they are owned by the state, and divided into various railway bureaux in different regions. Due to huge demand, the system is regularly subject to overcrowding, particularly during holiday seasons, such as Chunyun during the Chinese New Year. The Chinese rail network carried an estimated 1.68 billion total passengers in 2010 alone.[364] In urban areas, bicycles remain an extremely common mode of transport, despite the increasing prevalence of automobiles – as of 2012, there are approximately 470 million bicycles in China.[369]


A 2009 population density map of the People's Republic of China. The eastern coastal provinces are much more densely populated than the western interior.

The national census of 2010 recorded the population of the People's Republic of China as approximately 1,338,612,968. About 21% of the population (145,461,833 males; 128,445,739 females) were 14 years old or younger, 71% (482,439,115 males; 455,960,489 females) were between 15 and 64 years old, and 8% (48,562,635 males; 53,103,902 females) were over 65 years old. The population growth rate for 2006 was 0.6%.[370] By end of 2010, the proportion of mainland Chinese people aged 14 or younger was 16.60%, while the number aged 60 or older grew to 13.26%, giving a total proportion of 29.86% dependents. The proportion of the population of workable age was thus around 70%.[371]

Although a middle-income country by Western standards, China's rapid growth has pulled hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty since 1978. Today, about 10% of the Chinese population lives below the poverty line of US$1 per day, down from 64% in 1978. Urban unemployment in China reportedly declined to 4% by the end of 2007, although true overall unemployment may be as high as 10%.[372]

With a population of over 1.3 billion and dwindling natural resources, China is very concerned about its population growth rate and has attempted, with mixed results,[373] to implement a strict family planning policy, known as the "one-child policy." This seeks to restrict families to one child each, with exceptions for ethnic minorities and a degree of flexibility in rural areas. It is hoped that population growth in China will stabilize in the early decades of the 21st century, though some projections estimate a population of anywhere between 1.4 billion and 1.6 billion by 2025. China's family planning minister has indicated that the one-child policy will be maintained until at least 2020.[374] The one-child policy is resisted, particularly in rural areas, because of the need for agricultural labour and a traditional preference for boys. Families who breach the policy often lie during the census.[375]

Population of China from 1949 to 2008.

The decreasing reliability of Chinese population statistics since family planning began in the late 1970s has made evaluating the effectiveness of the policy difficult.[375] Data from the 2010 census implies that the total fertility rate may now be around 1.4.[376] The government is particularly concerned with the large imbalance in the sex ratio at birth, apparently the result of a combination of traditional preference for boys and family planning pressure, which led to a ban on using ultrasound devices for non-emergency applications, in an attempt to prevent sex-selective abortion.[377]

According to the 2010 census, there were 118.06 boys born for every 100 girls, which is 0.53 points lower than the ratio obtained from a population sample survey carried out in 2005.[378] However, the gender ratio of 118.06 is still beyond the normal range of around 105 percent, and experts warn of increased social instability should this trend continue.[379] For the population born between the years 1900 and 2000, it is estimated that there could be 35.59 million fewer females than males.[380] Other demographers argue that perceived gender imbalances may arise from the underreporting of female births.[381][382][383][384] A recent study suggests that as many as three million Chinese babies are hidden by their parents every year.[384] According to the 2010 census, males accounted for 51.27 percent of the total population, while females made up 48.73 percent of the total.[378]

Ethnic groups

China officially recognizes 56 distinct ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Han Chinese, who constitute about 91.51% of the total population.[9] The Han Chinese – the world's largest single ethnic group – outnumber other ethnic groups in every provincial-level division except Tibet and Xinjiang, and are descended from ancient Huaxia tribes living along the Yellow River.

Ethnic minorities account for about 8.49% of the population of China, according to the 2010 census.[9] Compared with the 2000 population census, the Han population increased by 66,537,177 persons, or 5.74%, while the population of the 55 national minorities combined increased by 7,362,627 persons, or 6.92%.[9]

The 2010 census recorded a total of 593,832 foreign citizens living in China. The largest such groups were from South Korea (120,750), the United States (71,493) and Japan (66,159).[385]


1990 map of Chinese ethnolinguistic groups.

The languages most spoken in China belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family. There are also several major linguistic groups within the Chinese language itself. The most spoken varieties are Mandarin (the first language of over 70% of the population), Wu (includes Shanghainese), Yue (includes Cantonese and Taishanese), Min (includes Hokkien and Teochew), Xiang, Gan, and Hakka. Non-Sinitic languages spoken widely by ethnic minorities include Zhuang, Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur, Hmong and Korean.[386] Standard Mandarin, a variety of Mandarin based on the Beijing dialect, is the official national language of China and is used as a lingua franca between people of different linguistic backgrounds.

Classical Chinese was the written standard in China for thousands of years, and allowed for written communication between speakers of various unintelligible languages and dialects in China. Written vernacular Chinese, or baihua, is the written standard, based on the Mandarin dialect and first popularized in Ming Dynasty novels. It was adopted, with significant modifications, during the early 20th century as the national standard. Classical Chinese is still part of the high school curriculum, and is thus intelligible to some degree to many Chinese. Since their promulgation by the government in 1956, Simplified Chinese characters have become the official standardized written script used to write the Chinese language within mainland China, supplanting the use of the earlier Traditional Chinese characters.


Since 2000, China's cities have expanded at an average rate of 10% annually. It is estimated that China's urban population will increase by 400 million people by 2025,[387] when its cities will house a combined population of over one billion.[388] The country's urbanization rate increased from 17.4% to 46.6% between 1978 and 2009, a scale unprecedented in human history.[389] Between 150 and 200 million migrant workers work part-time in the major cities, returning home to the countryside periodically with their earnings.[390][391]

Today, China has dozens of cities with one million or more long-term residents, including the three global cities of Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai; by 2025, the country will be home to 221 cities with over a million inhabitants.[388] The figures in the table below are from the 2008 census, and are only estimates of the urban populations within administrative city limits; a different ranking exists when considering the total municipal populations (which includes suburban and rural populations). The large "floating populations" of migrant workers make conducting censuses in urban areas difficult;[392] the figures below include only long-term residents.


In 1986, China set the long-term goal of providing compulsory basic education to every child. In February 2006, the government pledged to provide completely free nine-year education, including textbooks and fees.[393] In March 2007, the Chinese government declared education a national "strategic priority"; the central budget for national scholarships was tripled between 2007 and 2009, and 223.5 billion yuan (US$28.65 billion) of extra state funding was allocated between 2007 and 2012 to improve compulsory education in rural areas.[394] Free compulsory education in China consists of elementary school and middle school between the ages of 6 and 15; around 77% of children enter secondary education thereafter.[395] By 2007, there were 396,567 primary schools, 94,116 secondary schools, and 2,236 higher education institutions in China.[396]

As of 2010, 94% of the population over age 15 are literate,[370][397] compared to only 20% in 1950.[398] In 2000, China's literacy rate among 15-to-24-year-olds was 98.9% (99.2% for males and 98.5% for females).[399] In 2009, Chinese students from Shanghai achieved the world's best results in mathematics, science and literacy, as tested by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance.[400]


Chart showing the rise of China's Human Development Index from 1970 to 2010.

The Ministry of Health, together with its counterparts in the provincial health bureaux, oversees the health needs of the Chinese population.[401] An emphasis on public health and preventive medicine has characterized Chinese health policy since the early 1950s. At that time, the Communist Party started the Patriotic Health Campaign, which was aimed at improving sanitation and hygiene, as well as treating and preventing several diseases. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid and scarlet fever, which were previously rife in China, were nearly eradicated by the campaign. After Deng Xiaoping began instituting economic reforms in 1978, the health of the Chinese public improved rapidly due to better nutrition, although many of the free public health services provided in the countryside disappeared along with the People's Communes. Healthcare in China became mostly privatised, and experienced a significant rise in quality. The national life expectancy at birth rose from about 35 years in 1949 to 73.18 years in 2008,[402][403] and infant mortality decreased from 300 per thousand in the 1950s to around 23 per thousand in 2006.[36][404] Malnutrition as of 2002 stood at 12% of the population, according to United Nations FAO sources.[405] In 2009, the government began a large-scale healthcare provision initiative worth US$124 billion, which is expected to eventually cover 90% of China's population.[406]

As of 2012, China's national average life expectancy at birth is 74.8 years,[407] and its infant mortality rate is 15.6 per thousand births.[408] Despite significant improvements in health and the construction of advanced medical facilities, China has several emerging public health problems, such as respiratory illnesses caused by widespread air pollution[409] and hundreds of millions of cigarette smokers,[410][411] a possible future HIV/AIDS epidemic, and an increase in obesity among urban youths.[412][413] China's large population and densely populated cities have led to serious disease outbreaks in recent years, such as the 2003 outbreak of SARS, although this has since been largely contained.[414] Pollution is proving to be a particularly severe threat – in 2007, estimates of annual excess deaths in China from air and water pollution were placed at 760,000 people,[415][416] and as many as 500 million Chinese lacked access to clean drinking water in 2005.[417][418] In 2011, China was estimated to be the world's third-largest supplier of pharmaceuticals, but its population has suffered from the development and distribution of counterfeit medications.[419]


The Guoqing Temple on Mount Tiantai, built in 598 CE, was the founding site of the Tiantai branch of Chinese Buddhism.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by China's constitution, although religious organizations which lack official approval can be subject to state persecution.[235][420] An accurate estimate of the number of religious adherents is hard to obtain because of a lack of official data, but there is a general consensus that religious belief has been enjoying a resurgence in China since the late 1980s.[421] A 1998 survey reported by found that 59% (over 700 million) of the population was non-religious.[422] A later survey, conducted in 2007, found that there were 300 million religious believers in China, constituting 23% of the population, as distinct from the official figure of 100 million.[421]

Over the millennia, the Chinese civilization has been influenced by various religious movements, including local folk religions, Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Shamanism, Islam, Manicheism, Zoroastrianism and numerous new religions. Of these, Taoism and Buddhism have had the greatest impact in shaping Chinese culture. Taoism is the most notable Chinese indigenous religion, while Buddhism spread to China from India in the 1st century CE.[423] Christianity and Islam first gained a significance presence in China in medieval times.[424][425]

Today, local folk religions are dominant in terms of adherents, being practiced by over 30% of the Chinese population; these religions commonly overlap with Taoist practices.[426] Buddhism is practiced by between 10.85%[426] and 18% of Chinese.[427][428][429] Christianity is practiced by between 3.2%[426][428][429][430] and 5%[431] of the population, while Islam accounts for around 2%.[432]

Some of the ethnic minorities of China practice unique ethnic religionsDongbaism is the traditional religion of the Nakhi people, Moism that of the Zhuang people, and Ruism that of the Qiang people. The traditional indigenous religion of Tibet is Bön, while most of Tibetans follow Tibetan Buddhism, a form of Vajrayana. However, Tibetan Buddhism has also spread to other areas of China, and has been adopted by many Han Chinese.[433] Mahayana Buddhism (Dacheng) and its subsets Pure Land (Amidism), Tiantai and Chán (better known in English by its Japanese pronunciation Zen) are the most widely practiced denominations of Buddhism. Theravada is practiced largely by ethnic minorities along the southern geographic fringes of the Chinese mainland.[434]


A traditional Beijing opera being performed.

Since ancient times, Chinese culture has been heavily influenced by Confucianism and conservative philosophies. For much of the country's dynastic era, opportunities for social advancement could be provided by high performance in the prestigious imperial examinations, which were instituted in 605 AD to help the Emperor select skilful bureaucrats.[435] The literary emphasis of the exams affected the general perception of cultural refinement in China, such as the belief that calligraphy, poetry and painting were higher forms of art than dancing or drama. Chinese culture has long emphasized a sense of deep history and a largely inward-looking national perspective.[24] Examinations and a culture of merit remain greatly valued in China today. In recent years, a number of New Confucians have claimed that modern democratic ideals and human rights are compatible with traditional Confucian values.[436]

The first leaders of the People's Republic of China were born into the traditional imperial order, but were influenced by the May Fourth Movement and reformist ideals. They sought to change some traditional aspects of Chinese culture, such as rural land tenure, sexism, and the Confucian system of education, while preserving others, such as the family structure and culture of obedience to the state. Some observers see the period following the establishment of the PRC in 1949 as a continuation of traditional Chinese dynastic history, while others claim that the Communist Party's rule has damaged the foundations of Chinese culture, especially through political movements such as the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, where many aspects of traditional culture were destroyed, having been denounced as "regressive and harmful' or 'vestiges of feudalism'. Many important aspects of traditional Chinese morals and culture, such as Confucianism, art, literature, and performing arts like Peking opera,[437] were altered to conform to government policies and propaganda at the time. Access to foreign media remains heavily restricted; only 34 foreign films a year are allowed to be shown in Chinese cinemas.[438]

Today, the Chinese government has accepted numerous elements of traditional Chinese culture as being integral to Chinese society. With the rise of Chinese nationalism and the end of the Cultural Revolution, various forms of traditional Chinese art, literature, music, film, fashion and architecture have seen a vigorous revival,[439][440] and folk and variety art in particular have sparked interest nationally and even worldwide.[441] China is now the third-most-visited country in the world,[442] with 55.7 million inbound international visitors in 2010.[443] It also experiences an enormous volume of domestic tourism; an estimated 740 million Chinese holidaymakers travelled within the country in October 2012 alone.[444]

Traditional Chinese food in Tianjin, including dumpling and guobacai.


Chinese cuisine is highly diverse, drawing on several millennia of culinary history. The dynastic emperors of ancient China were known to host banquets with over 100 dishes served at a time,[445] employing countless imperial kitchen staff and concubines to prepare the food. Such royal dishes gradually became a part of wider Chinese culture. China's staple food is rice, but the country is also well known for its meat dishes. Spices are central to Chinese cuisine. Numerous foreign offshoots of Chinese food, such as Hong Kong cuisine and American Chinese food, have emerged in the various nations which play host to the Chinese diaspora.


Dragon boat racing, a popular traditional Chinese sport.

China has one of the oldest sporting cultures in the world. There is evidence that a form of association football was played in China around 1000 AD.[446] Today, some of the most popular sports in the country include martial arts, basketball, football, table tennis, badminton, swimming and snooker. Board games such as go (known as weiqi in China), xiangqi, and more recently chess, are also played at a professional level.[447]

Physical fitness is widely emphasized in Chinese culture, with morning exercises such as qigong and t'ai chi ch'uan widely practised,[448] and commercial gyms and fitness clubs rapidly gaining popularity in the country.[449] Young people in China are also keen on football and basketball, especially in urban centers with limited space and grass areas. The American National Basketball Association has a huge following among Chinese youths, with ethnic Chinese players such as Yao Ming being held in high esteem.[450] In addition, China is home to a huge number of cyclists, with an estimated 470 million bicycles as of 2012.[369] Many more traditional sports, such as dragon boat racing, Mongolian-style wrestling and horse racing are also popular.[451]

China has participated in the Olympic Games since 1932, although it has only participated as the PRC since 1952. China hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, where its athletes received 51 gold medals – the highest number of gold medals of any participating nation that year.[452] China also won the most medals of any nation at the 2012 Summer Paralympics, with 231 overall, including 95 gold medals.[453][454] China will host the 2013 East Asian Games in Tianjin and the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics in Nanjing.

See also


  1. ^ Or (previously) "Peking".
  2. ^ Ethnic minorities that are recognized officially.
  3. ^ Xi Jinping holds four concurrent positions: General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People's Republic of China, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission for both state and party.[5]
  4. ^ The area given is the official United Nations figure for the mainland and expressly excludes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.[6] It also excludes the Trans-Karakoram Tract 5,800 km2 (2,200 sq mi), Aksai Chin 37,244 km2 (14,380 sq mi) and other territories in dispute with India. The total area of China is listed as 9,572,900 km2 (3,696,100 sq mi) by the Encyclopædia Britannica.[7] For further information, see Territorial changes of the People's Republic of China.
  5. ^ Except Hong Kong and Macau.
  6. ^ The total area ranking relative to the United States depends on the measurement of the total areas of China and the United States. See List of countries and outlying territories by area for more information.


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Further reading

External links


Coordinates: 35°N 103°E / 35°N 103°E / 35; 103