Map of China and geographical facts - World atlas

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Map of China and geographical facts

China on the world map. Map of China with cities
Map of China with cities. Where China is on the world map. The main geographical facts about China - population, country area, capital, official language, religions, industry and culture.
China map with cities
China Fact File
Official name People's Republic of China
Form of government Communist republic with single legislative body (National People's Congress)
Capital Beijing
Area 9,596,960 sq km (3,705,386 sq miles)
Time zone GMT +8 hours
Population 1,284,304,000
Projected population 2015 1,410,287,000
Population density 1 33.8 per sq km (346.6 per sq mile)
Life expectancy 71.9
Infant mortality (per 1,000) 27.3
Official language Mandarin Chinese
Other languages Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shang-haiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), other minority languages (Tibetan, Uyguran, Mongolian)
Literacy rate 89.9%
Religions Officially atheist; traditionally Confucian, Taoist, Buddhist; small Muslim and Christian minorities
Ethnic groups Han Chinese 92%, other (including Zhuang, Uygur, Hui, Yi, Tibetan, Miao, Manchu, Mongol, Buyi, Korean) 8%
Currency Yuan
Economy Agriculture 74%, industry 14%, services 12 %
GNP per capita US$ 4,600
Climate Varies widely: subtropical in southeast-temperate in east; cold and arid on southwestern Tibetan plateau; arid in northern deserts; cold temperate in northeast
Highest point Mt Everest 8,848 m (29,028 ft)
Map reference Pages 205, 206, 210-11, 212-1 3, 214-15
Although it is the third largest country in the world, and the most populous, China today remains something of an enigma to much of the rest of the world: it has an increasingly capitalistic economy, but political control remains solidly in the hands of an old-style Communist Party leadership. There is a great di\il riding on how successfully this "socialist market economy" works. With a civilization extending back more than 5,000 years, China's history has tended to combine long periods of dynastic stability with shorter periods of sudden and dramatic change. Approximately in the last hundred years China has once again gone through a series of convulsive social, political, and economic transformations. Once isolated, agrarian, and indifferent to other societies and cultures, China's future is now that of a modern industrial nation trading with much of the world. Politically it remains a one-party state. The political reforms that would be necessary to bring about greater democracy are widely discussed in western media, as are civil liberties and human rights issues, but they are not yet on the agenda of China itself.
Physical features and land use
China can be divided into three major geographic regions: the mountains to the west, including the vast Plateau of Tibet; the series of deserts and desert basins starting in the northwest with the Tarim Basin and the Taklimakan Desert, reaching across the Nei Mongol Plateau (Nei Mongol Gaoyuan) to Manchuria (Taklimakan Shamo) in the northeast; and the largely low-lying eastern region consisting of the valleys and floodplains of the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) and Huang (Yellow) Rivers, extending to the coastal plains including the Pearl River in the south.
The melting snows of the Plateau of Tibet feed several major rivers—the Brahmaputra, flowing south to India, the Salween (Nu) of Myanmar (Burma), and the Mekong which skirts Laos and Thailand before passing through Cambodia and reaching the sea in Vietnam. In addition, the plateau is the source of both the Huang (Yellow), and the mighty Chang Jiang (Yangtze), China's two main rivers, both of which drain into the East China Sea. The Plateau of Tibet, some parts of which are permanently covered in snow, is the highest region in the world, averaging about 4,900 m (16,000 ft), with ranges rising from 6,100 to 7,300 m (20,000 to 24,000 ft). It is bounded to the north by the Kunlun Shan Range, and to the south along the borders of India, Nepal, and Bhutan by the mountain system of the Himalayas. The plateau is a harsh environment, hostile to human settlement, and most of the plateau's 2 million inhabitants live in the southern region. The Himalayan ranges also have great political significance. They form a massive rampart along China's southwestern frontier, and for centuries they have provided a natural defensive barrier against the west. This is one of the reasons China is unwilling to allow the pressure for Tibetan independence to take it beyond the status of an "autonomous region".
The second geagraphic region of China stretches from the Tarim Basin and Dzungarian Basin (Junggar Pendi) in the northwest, past the southern fringes of the Gobi Desert to Northern Manchuria. For the most part it is too arid and cold for agriculture. Here, pastoralists such as the Uighurs of Xinjiang keep sheep, goats, and herds of horses. However, some oasis crops are grown around the rim of the Taklimakan Desert, and there are small farming settlements in the Gansu corridor to the north of the Qilian Mountains. The Turfan Depression (Turpan Pendi) (both the lowest and the hottest place in China at 154 m [505 ft] below sea level) lies northeast of the Tarim Basin. East of the Gobi Desert lies the agricultural area of the Manchurian Plain, where coarse grains and soy beans are cultivated. In Northern Manchuria the growing season is extremely short: only ninety days a year are frost free.
The eastern region of central China is where two-thirds of the country's people live. This was the cradle of Chinese civilization. On the region's fertile alluvial plains the most distinctive features of China's economic and social life developed—intensive irrigated agriculture and the Chinese peasant family. Known as "China's Sorrow," the Huang (Yellow) River makes its way across the North China Plain. For hundreds of years it caused repeated, serious flooding, with enormous loss of life, but today modern flood-control schemes have reduced this danger.
Further south, near the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) delta, the plain changes into a landscape characterized by large lakes and intricate networks of canals, many of them centuries old. The Chang Jiang is China's largest and most important river, and much of it is navigable, providing an essential transportation route. When the river level is high, vessels of 10,000 tonnes may reach Wuhan, and 1,000-tonne barges can reach Chongqing in Sichuan. What is called the "Red Basin" of Sichuan is a fertile and highly productive area far up the Chang Jiang, separated from the lower valley by steep-sided gorges. It is intensively cultivated, and the landscape is dominated by rice fields arranged in terraces extending up the hillsides. Summer weather in the central valley of the Chang Jiang is hot and humid, with temperatures at Nanjing reaching 44 °C (111°F).
A distinctive landscape in southern China (famous for centuries as an inspiration for Chinese landscape painters) is found in northeastern Guizhou Province, where limestone spires and pinnacles rise above small, intensively cultivated plains. This heavily eroded area is marked by sinkholes, caverns, and underground streams. In the coastal lowlands of Guangdong Province, in the far south, the climate is tropical and farmers enjoy a year-round growing season. On Hainan Island, flanking the Gulf of Tongking, it is possible to cultivate three crops of rice per year. Other crops grown in the south include sugar, bananas, and tropical fruits. During the summer, cyclones and typhoons frequently strike the southeast coast.
Early history China
Civilization arose along the borders of the North China Plain. Here, about 1700 вс, the Shang Dynasty originated in the Huang Valley. Noted for their craftsmanship in bronze, along with important achievements as the use of the wheel, the calendar, and a form of writing, the Shang Dynasty lasted until 1122 вс. The next dynasty, the Zhou, lasted several centuries. It was in this time that the teachings of the philosopher-teacher Confucius (551-479 вс) originated, which provided a pattern for Chinese society for centuries to come. Iron casting, metal coinage, and silk were also introduced at this time. During the short-lived Qin Dynasty (221-206 вс) a ruler arose named Qin Shihuang. He unified the nation, began the fortification of China's northern boundary with the Great Wall, and established the civil service. He was buried at Lintong with an army of 6,000 terracotta warriors which are still standing and continue to be a major tourist attraction.
In 206 вс the Han Dynasty was begun. During the four centuries of the Han, the Chinese invented paper and the seismograph,
steel was first made, Buddhism was introduced from India, and the boundaries of China were extended nearly to their present limits. Under the Sui (ad 581-618) a large part of the Grand Canal linking the north with the Chang Valley was built. During the 300 years of the Tang Dynasty which followed, China became the world's most extensive empire. Paper money was adopted, block printing was invented, and priceless ceramic vases were produced. In these centuries and those of the Song Dynasty (ad 960-1269), China's population, threatened by incursions of nomads from the north, began to concentrate in the warmer, more productive south. By the thirteenth century most people lived in the south, including the Chang Valley. The Song Dynasty is sometimes regarded as China's Golden Age. Trade with other nations expanded, and Chinese shipping took porcelain and silk to the East Indies, India, and Africa.
Northern invaders ended the Song Dynasty. By 1223 Ghengis Khan's Mongols held control over much of the north, and in 1260 Kublai Khan proclaimed himself emperor, with Beijing as his capital. Unified by the conquests of the
Threshing rice after harvesting (below). Buddhist prayer flags in the Potala Palace, in Lhasa, Tibet (above right). The countryside near Yangshuo in Guangxi Zhuangzu Zizhiqu Province (below right).
Mongol tribes, by 1300 the empire reached from Kiev to the Persian Gulf, and from Burma to Korea. Muslims, Christians, and Armenia/s all came to China at this time— among them possibly the Italian Marco Polo, who claimed in his writings that he served under Kublai Khan.
After the Mongols were overthrown, Chinese rule was re-established under the Ming Dynasty in 1368, and the Great Wall was restored and extended to its present length of 6,400 km (4,000 miles). During the three centuries of Ming rule numerous palaces were built, including the Imperial Palace at Beijing, and Chinese ships explored as far afield as the Red Sea. It was during this period that the first Christian missions began to appear in China: the Jesuits established themselves with the Portuguese at Macao in the sixteenth century.
Chinese civilization's main features, however, had been laid down in the time of the Han, Tang, and Song. During the rule of those dynasties Confucianism became the pervasive social ethic, which placed great value on the subordination of the individual to both family and state. In addition, porcelain manufacture and silk production reached a rare perfection; and various inventions were made which found their way to the West, most notably that of gunpowder and of paper. Despite the development of large cities and the growth of an educated bureaucratic elite, Chinese society remained largely agricultural, and its economic base depended on the productivity of the rural peasantry.
The Qing Dynasty (1683-1912) represented a return to power of northern people, the Manchus, descendants of the Mongols. Aggressive at first, seizing Taiwan and garrisoning Tibet, by the nineteenth century the Qing government had become weak and corrupt. Famine and unrest had made the country vulnerable to external forces, and by the century's end China had been divided into spheres of influence among the major Western powers, a disintegration
hastened by peasant uprisings (the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-64) and military defeats (the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95). In 1912 the last of China's emperors abdicated and a republic was proclaimed.
Modern history China
Political and military disorder prevailed during the next forty years. At first the country was fought over by rival warlords. Two hostile competing political movements offered solutions to this chaos—the Kuomintang (or Chinese National Party), and the Communist Party (founded in 1921)—but neither was able to assert overall control. Then in 1931 Japan seized Manchuria, and in 1937 war broke out between China and Japan. During this time the communists sharpened their military and political skills. Mao Zedong gained the support of the peasantry and demonstrated that it was possible to succeed at guerrilla warfare. Hostilities between the Kuomintang and the communists were temporarily suspended in order to defeat Japan. But once this was achieved, in 1945, a civil war broke out, that eventually claimed more than 12 million lives. Victory went to the communists, and the People's Republic of China was proclaimed in October 1949.
Mass starvation, malnutrition, and disease were all brought under control in the inital years of communist rule and land reform was begun. As part of a planned economy the rural population was organized into 50,000 communes—units which farmed the land collectively. Communes also had responsibility for running rural industries, schools, and clinics.
During these years morale and dedication were high. Many of the former middle classes suffered grave privations in "re-education camps", but living standards improved for the majority of the people, and corruption and bureaucratic sloth were not a major problem.
Mao Zedong, however, was determined to push ahead with radical programs of industrialization and political change. In 1958 the "Great Leap Forward" initiative tried to industrialize the country using the organization of the communes, and to increase steel production by using backyard furnaces. It was a disaster of colossal proportions. Between 1959 and 1961 failed economic policies led to far-spread famine, disease, and attempted rebellion. As many as 20 million people died.
Mao increasingly suspected his associates of disloyalty, believing some wanted to take "the capitalist road". In 1966 he launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to extirpate "old thought, old culture, old customs and old habits". China's local authorities were, in effect, put on trial, many community members were abused and tormented, and the Red Guards rampaged through numerous cities destroying property and wrecking ancient works of art.
In 1967 the army was called in to restore order. Mao's death in 1976 brought change. There was even, in 1978, a brief flirtation with free speech. Deng Xiaoping, a new leader with a different vision of Chinese communism, but no less determined to assert his power, began the process of economic liberalization which has led to today's state-managed capitalism and rigid political regime.
Taiwan and Tibet complicate China's relations with the West. China insists that Taiwan (the Republic of China) must rejoin the mainland as a province. In the case of Tibet, it may be that the exiled, but highly popular religious leader, the Dalai Lama, has awakened unrealistic hopes for political independence. Tibet itself, however, has severely suffered under the regime, and thousands of its people have been killed. China's historic use of the region as a defensive bulwark in the west means that independence is unlikely. Civil rights do not exist in other parts of China, either. Law is arbitrary, and the courts are usually conducted by army personnel without legal training. Students demonstrating in Beijing for greater democracy in 1989 were met with tanks and hundreds were killed and injured in the well-known Tiananmen Square massacre. In 1998 an attempt to organize an independent political party was crushed and its leaders jailed.
The economy China
China is a country with plentiful and diverse natural resources. Coal deposits exist in most of its 22 provinces, and there are seventy major production centers, of which Hebei, Shanxi, Shandong, Jilin, and Anhui are the most important. China also has deposits of iron ore, and is a major producer of tungsten.
Part of the Great Wall of China (left page top). Girl eating noodles (left page bottom). Downtown Hong Kong, seen from the air (right). A government building in Shanhaiguan (below).
Industries produce iron, steel, coal, machinery, armaments, textiles, and petroleum. Of these, the main exports are textiles, chemicals, light industrial goods, armaments, oil, and oil products. This will soon change, however, as the rapid increase in the use of automobiles in China in the early years of the twenty-first century have already led to a drastic increase in fuel comsumption. China is on the verge of becoming a net importer of oil, which is having a notable effect on the world oil prices that are rising due to the increased demand. Questions about the Chinese economy are not centered on resources, skills or capacity. Instead, they concern the ideological clash between a market-oriented economy and the rigid controls of the Communist Party.
In 1978 the leadership began moving away from Soviet-style central planning. In agriculture, household responsibility replaced collectivization and brought an immediate rise in productivity. In industry, the decisionmaking power of plant managers and local officials was increased, small-scale private enterprise was allowed, and foreign investment and trade were encouraged. As a result, agricultural output doubled in the 1980s and industry made major gains. Gross domestic product has tripled since 1978.
The present system, however, combines some of the worst features of communism (bureaucracy, inertia, and corruption) and of capitalism (windfall gains and high inflation). Additional difficulties arise from revenue collection of every kind; from extortion and other economic malpractices; and from inefficient state enterprises. Up to 100 million rural workers are adrift between country and city. The amount of arable land continues to de-cine. Serious environmental problems exist— air pollution from the use of coal, and water pollution from industrial effluents; falling water tables and nation-wide water shortages; and the fact that less than ten percent of sewage is treated.
Provinces and capitals
Anhui • Hefei Fujian • Fuzhou Gansu • Lanzhou Guangdong • Guangzhou Guizhou • Guiyang Hainan • Haikou Hebei • Shijiazhuang Heilongjiang • Harbin Henan • Zhengzhou Hubei • Wuhan Hunan • Changsha Jiangsu • Nanjing Jiangxi • Nanchang Jilin • Changchun Liaoning • Shenyang Qinghai • Xining Shaanxi • Xi'an Shandong • Jinan Shanxi • Taiyuan Sichuan • Chengdu Yunnan • Kunming Zhejiang • Hangzhou
Autonomous regions
Guangxi Zhuangzu • Nanning Nei Monggol • Hohhot Ningxia Huizu • Yinchuan Tibet (Xizang) • Lhasa Xinjiang Uygur • Urumqi
Special administrative regions
Xianggang (Hong Kong) • Xianggang
(Hong Kong)
Macao • Macao municipalities
Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin
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