China, officially the People's Republic of China, world's most populous country and the third-largest in area. Located in the heart of Asia, China is bordered by the Russian Federation and Mongolia to the north; by North Korea and the Pacific Ocean (East China Sea and South China Sea) to the east; by Vietnam, Laos, Burma, Nepal, and India and Pakistan to the south; and by Afghanistan, Kazachstan, Kirghizstan and Tadjikistan to the west.
Land and climate
The country is made up of 3 large geographic regions. Western China is dominated by the high Tibetan Plateau, the mountain ranges that radiate from it, and a great belt of steppe and desert. North China contains lowland areas, dusty highlands, and part of the Gobi Desert. South China is amaze of hills and valleys. The chief rivers are the Yangtze in central China and the Huang He (Yellow) in the north. The capital is Beijing (formerly spelled Peking). The largest city is Shanghai, with a population of over 13 million. Other large cities are Tianjin (Tientsin), Harbin, Shenyang, Lüda (Lüta), Xi'an (Sian), Qingdao (Tsingtao), Taiyuan, Wuhan, Canton, Chongqing (Chungking), Chengdu (Chengtu), and Nanjing (Nanking).
The Han ethnic Chinese constitute nearly 95% of the population, but there are 56 officially recognized minority groups. The national language Putonghua, previously called Mandarin, is based on the spoken form of the Chinese language prevalent in the north, principally Beijing. Different spoken dialects persist in the south, including Cantonese, Wu, and Hakka. The written language, however, is the same everywhere. Traditional Chinese religions were Taoism, and Confucianism. There are substantial minorities of Catholics and Protestants.
China has one of the world's oldest civilizations, dating back some 3,500 years. Though ravaged by floods, famines, and wars, it remained politically intact through the centuries, often enjoying levels of civilization unparalleled in the world. The first historic dynasty that ruled the country, the Shang (or Yin) dynasty, arose about 1500 B.C. and lasted for some 500 years. It was under this dynasty that the Chinese writing system developed. The next dynasty, the Chou (c. 1027–256 B.C.), saw the rise of classical Chinese philosophy, including such thinkers as Confucius and Lao-Tze. Under a later dynasty, the Han (202 B.C.–A.D. 220) Confucianism became the official state philosophy, but Buddhism also began to be introduced, and Taoism also grew in influence.
Other major dynasties include the T'ang (618–906), an age of great achievements in poetry and painting; the Sung (960–1279), during which gunpowder was first used for military purposes; and the Yüan (1260–1368), the Mongol dynasty founded by Kublai Khan, the grandson of Jenghiz Khan. It was during the Yüan dynasty that Marco Polo visited China, beginning a period of contact with the West.
The last Chinese monarchy was the Manchu (or Ch'ing) dynasty (1644–1912), founded by the Manchus, a non-Chinese people from Manchuria. It was in the later years of this dynasty that Chinese power gradually weakened, the country losing much of its territory to European, especially British, encroachments.
The monarchy was overthrown in 1912, and a republic was established under Sun Yat-sen. After his death in 1916, China was fragmented among various warlords. In 1927, Chiang Kai-shek (leader of the Nationalist Party) gained control of the government and launched a civil war against the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong. The Communists and Nationalists briefly cooperated to resist the Japanese invasion during World War II, but in 1945 civil war broke out again, leading to the victory of the Communists in 1949. The Communist Party established the People's Republic of China. From 1966 to 1969 Mao Zedong, supported by paramilitary groups known as the Red Guard, led the Cultural Revolution, which was an effort to purge the society and government of counterrevolutionary and bourgeois tendencies. During this period many government officials were removed from office, violent demonstrations took place in many cities, and all universities were closed. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the rise of popular unrest, millions of citizens demanding democratic reforms in the political system. In 1989 student demonstrations were crushed by force, by order of Deng Xiaoping. When he died (1997) a generation of leaders came to power who advocate economic reform. In the same year, Hong Kong was returned to China. In 1998 the ecomony suffered due to continuous floods.