Covering a vast area of eastern Asia, China is bordered by 14 countries. A one-party Communist state since 1949, it has recently become a dominant force in global manufacturing.
Geography: A land of huge physical diversity, China has a long Pacific coastline to the east. Two-thirds of the country is uplands. The south-western mountains include Tibet, the world’s highest plateau; in the northwest, the Tien Shan Mountains separate the arid Tarim and Dzungarian basins. The rolling hills and plains of the low-lying east are home to two-thirds of the population.
Climate: China is divided into two main climatic regions. The north and west are semiarid or arid, with extreme temperature variations. The south and east are warmer and more humid, with year-round rainfall. Winter temperatures vary with latitude, but are warmest on the subtropical southeast coast. Summer temperatures are more uniform, rising above 70°F (21°C).
People and Society: Most people are Han Chinese. The rest of the population belong to one of 55 minority nationalities, or recognized ethnic groups. Many of these groups have a disproportionate political significance as they live in strategic border areas. A policy of resettling Han Chinese in remote regions is deeply resented and has led to uprisings in Xinjiang and Tibet. The government has relaxed the one-child family policy, particularly for minorities, after some small groups were brought close to extinction. Chinese society is patriarchal in practice, and generations tend to live together. However, economic change is breaking down the social controls of the Mao Zedong era. Divorce and unemployment are rising; materialism has replaced the puritanism of the past. A resurgence of religious belief has occurred in recent years.
The Economy: China has shifted from a centrally planned to a market-oriented economy; liberalization has gone furthest in the south where the emerging business class is based. The Tenth Five-Year Plan (2001–2005) emphasized rapid development; the Eleventh Plan aims to reduce wealth disparities. Exports led sustained GDP growth from 2003; China has become the world’s third-largest economy. Faced with a global downturn from 2008, Chinese stimulus packages have boosted domestic spending. The buying power of China’s huge market for raw materials and consumer goods could drive global recovery.
Insight: China has the world’s oldest continuous civilization. Its recorded history began 4000 years ago, with the Shang dynasty
Official Name: People’s Rep. of China
Date of Formation: 960
Population: 1.35 billion
Total Area: 3,705,386 sq. miles (9,596,960 sq. km)
Density: 374 people per sq. mile
Languages: Mandarin*, other
Religions: Nonreligious 59%, traditional beliefs 20%, other 13%, Buddhist 6%, Muslim 2%
Ethnic Mix: Han 92%, other 4%, Hui 1%, Miao 1%, Manchu 1%, Zhuang 1%
Government: One-party state
Currency: Yuan = 10 jiao = 100 fen