“China: The third-largest country in the world, occupying most of eastern Asia and bounded by North Korea, Kazakhstan and Mongolia on the north, Russian on the west, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan on the southwest, and Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and Vietnam on the southeast.
Physical. China’s coastline adjoins the South and East China Seas and the Yellow Sea. In the northwest lie Xinjiang (Sinkiang), an area of mountains and desert, and in the southwest is the mountainous region of Tibet. The remainder of China is divided laterally by the Yangtze (Chang) River. In the northeast lies Manchuria, on higher ground and with many rivers and lakes. In the west are the mountains and plateaus surrounding the red clay basin of Sichuan, which is well watered and supports a mass of paddy fields. Huge lakes occupy low-lying land to the south of the Yangtze, while southward the terrain rises to many ranges of high hills. Here the climate is subtropical. The plateaus support tea plantations, many of the slopes are terraced for rice, and the deep valleys are full of natural forests of bamboo. The province of Gansu in the northwest region ins the principal center of earthquakes in China, where major earthquakes take place on an average of once every 65 years.
Economy. In the late 1970s China adopted pragmatic policies of liberalizing the economy, which have accelerated over subsequent decades. Four Special Economic Zones were established to attract foreign investment, direct state control of factories has been loosened, stock markets have been set up, and responsibility for agriculture switched from collective farms to individual households. China’s economy is predominantly agricultural, with rice, wheat, and pigs the main products. Agriculture prospers, though there is a need for investment in irrigation and fertilizers. Minearl extraction is important: crude oil is refined and exported, there are large coal, tin, and iron ore deposits, and China leads the world in tungsten ore production. Several nuclear energy centers are under construction. Industry has seen rapid expansion, and major industrial products include textiles and clothing, cement, chemicals, steel, and consumer electrical goods. There has been a massive increase in foreign trade and tourism is growing in importance.
History. China has a recorded history beginning nearly 4,000 years ago, with the Shang who settled in the Huang He (Yellow River) valley, Under the Eastern Zhou from the 6th century BC, Confucius and Mencius formulated ideas that became the framework of Chinese society. Daoism, founded by Laozi, appeared during the 3rd century BC. Gradually Chinese culture spread out from the Huang He valley. A form of writing with characters representing meanings rather thatn sounds—and required by Shi Huangdi, the first ruler of unified China, to be written in a uniform style—bound together people divided by geography and different spoken dialects. From the Qin the concept of a unified empire prevailed, surviving periods of fragmentation and rule by non-Chinese dynasties such as the Yuan. Under strong dynasties such as the Han and the Tang China’s power extended far west into Turkistan and South into Annam. On its neighbors, particularly Korea and Annam, it exercised a powerful influence. Barbarian invaders and dynasties usually adopted Chinese cultural traditions.
The ideas of Buddhism began to reach China from the 1st century AD and were gradually changed and assimilated into Chinese culture. The Chinese people, showing remarkable inventiveness, were ahead of the West in technology until about the end of the Song dynasty. However, after the Mongol conquest the country drew in on itself. Learning, in high esteem from early times, became rooted in the stereotyped study of the Confucian classics, for success in examinations based on the classics was for centuries the means top promotion in the civil service. In time, study of the classics had a deadening intellectual influence.
Throughout its history, China, the “Middle Kingdom,” as it called by the Chinese, regarded itself as superior to all others—a view shared by philosophers of the Enlightenment. After the Manchu invasion of 1644, China was ruled by the Qing , which was at its most powerful and prosperous in the 18th century. Western countries attempted to establish trading links with the Qing dynasty but with little success. As the power of the Qing dynasty weakened toward the end of the 18th century, Western pressure for change built up, leading to direct European involvement in China. Contact with the West precipitated crisis and decline. After the Opium Wars, treaty ports became the focus for both Western expansion and demands for modernization. Rebellions during the 19th century, such as the Taiping Rebellion, devastated the country and undermined imperial rule in spite of the Self-Strengthening Movement and the abortive Hundred Days Reform. Defeat in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Boxer Rising stimulated reforms, but the Dynasty ended in the Chinese Revolution of 1911. The Republic that followed Sun Yat-sen’s brief presidency degenerated into warlord regimes after Yuan Shikai’s attempt to restore the monarchy. Chiang Kai-shek united much of China after the Northern Expedition and ruled from Nanjing with his nationalist Kuomintang, but his Republic of China collapsed in the face of the Japanese invasion of 1937 and the civil war with the communists, and continued only on the island of Taiwan after his retreat there in 1949. The Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong won the civil war, and established the People’s Republic of China on the mainland, and set about revolutionizing and developing China’s economy and society. In the 1950s, land reform led to the communes and the Great Leap Forward, and urban industry was expanded and nationalized. Relations with the Soviet Union worsened and during 1966-1967 the country was torn apart by Cultural Revolution, which ended only with Mao’s death. During the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping remained committed to economic reform and to improving relations with the Soviet Union. Pressures for democratization grew, however, and student demonstration in Beijing in June 1989 was suppressed when the army massacred thousands in Tiananmen Square. Gradual moves toward a controlled market economy continued. In 1994 the USA decided to maintain certain special trade links with China despite its continued violation of human rights. Jiang Zemin (1926-), president sing 1993, assumed the role of the country’s leader after Deng’s death in 1997. Hong Kong reverted to China from British rule in 1997 and Macao from Portugese rule in 1999. Between 2002 and 2004 Jian Zemin progressively relinquished his posts to Hu Jintao. By the early 21st century the economic reforms of the previous quarter of a century had turned China into a rapidly growing economic power: in 2005 it had the sixth largest economy in the world.
Area: 9,572,900 square kilometers (3,696,100 square miles)
Population: 1,304,369,000 (2005)
Currency: 1 yuan=10 jiao=100 fen
Religions: Non-religious 42.1%; Chinese traditional religions 28.5%; Buddhist 8.4%; atheist 8.1%; Christian 7.1%; traditional beliefs 4.3%; Muslim 1.5%.
Ethnic Groups: Han (Chinese) 93.3%; Chuang 1.33%; Hui 0.72%; Uighur 0.59%; Yi 0.54%; Miao 0.5%; Manchu 0.43%; Tibetan 0.39%; Mongolian 0.34%; Tuchia 0.28%; Puyi 0.21%; Korean 0.18%; Tung 0.14%; Yao 0.14%; Pai 0.11%; Hani 0.11%; Kasakh 0.09%; Tai 0.08%; Li 0,08%
Laguages: Mandarin Chinese (official); six other dialects of Chinese; at least 41 other minority languages.
International Organizations: United Nations: World Trade Organization”
Excerpted from: Wright, Edmund, Ed. The Oxford Desk Encyclopedia of World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.