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China (Chinese: 中国 or traditionally 中國, Zhōngguó) is the largest nation in East Asia and is claimed by two competing, rival states:

China has the largest population in the world and the highest rate of economic growth. The Chinese civilization is one of the oldest in the world. It was slow to develop industrially, falling behind the West in the 18th century. The first half of the 20th century saw successive revolutions, civil war and foreign interference. A series of revolutions in the 20th century overthrew the monarchy (1912) and brought a totalitarian Communist regime under Mao Zedong (1949); his party successors govern most of China today as the People's Republic of China (PRC). After many faltering attempts to accelerate development, China began to open up to the outside world and modernize. 'Mainland China' is often used to identify the PRC's region, contrasted with Taiwan or 'Republic of China' (ROC), which has a separate government, though both sides recognise only one China. The capital city of China is Beijing, which hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics.

This large country covers a vast and diverse landscape, from the steppes and deserts of Inner Mongolia in the north to the tropical island of Hainan in the south and the Himalayas in the southwest. The northern border of China abuts Mongolia and Russia. The north eastern edge of China rests against North Korea. South from here, China has a long curving coast line which is washed by the Bo Hai, Yellow, East China, and South China Seas. The southern edge borders Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar (Burma). A small border war with Vietnam erupted in 1975. To the west, across the Himalayan mountains, China borders India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Northwest of China borders Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest, is on the border between Nepal and China. The border with India is contested, to the point of military action and even a small undeclared war in 1962.

The most populous, and developed areas of China are around the East coast and the plains beside the Yangtse and Yellow Rivers which were the seed bed form which Chinese culture developed. The interior becomes less developed to the West. The northeastern provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilong Jiang are known for their heavy industry. The largest city in China, is Chongqing, which may contest for largest in the world. The next largest are Shanghai and Beijing.

(PD) Image: CIA


For more information, see: China, history.

At least 500,000 years ago, hominids of the species Homo erectus ("Peking man") lived in what is now China. They apparently were not, however, the ancestors of modern humans, who evolved much later in Africa and then dispersed around the world.

By about the year 10,000 BCE, human hunter-gatherers in China were beginning the long transition to a settled agricultural way of life, developing complex, identifiable cultures, which over time merged with each other into a smaller number of distinct groups. By about 3000 BCE there were five major cultural groups in China Proper. They had systems of interdependent towns and villages of different sizes; traded over long distances; and developed some kind of writing, though it was not related to the current Chinese writing system and has not been deciphered.

There are a number of myths about what happened over the next thousand years or so, but there appears to be no historical basis for the stories of Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor), who supposedly ruled somewhere in China from 2697 to 2597 BCE, or for his successors the three sage-kings. The status of the Xia Dynasty, which supposedly held power over some area from about 2070 to 1600 BCE, is more uncertain.

The first large, highly-organized state in China for which there is solid historical evidence is the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1600–1045 BCE). But it was only one of many states in the region at the same time; it bordered at least two dozen neighboring political entities, often engaging in wars with them. The Shang, however, proved durable for several centuries, and was an important influence on the future development of Chinese culture. It had a sophisticated writing system, of which modern Chinese writing is a direct descendant, that allowed it to operate a bureaucratic government with an organized system of taxation (payable mostly in grain). The Shang also had advanced bronze technology, and practiced an early form of ancestor worship.

Prolonged drought in the Shang's territory, caused by climate change, weakened the regime in what would prove to be its last few decades. The Shang's weakness encouraged a relatively strong neighboring state, Zhou, to enlarge itself by conquering smaller neighbors and ultimately, in 1045, the Shang. Subsequent conquests resulted in Zhou rule over an unprecedentedly large area, occupying much of what is now called North China, that is, north of the Yangzi River (but by no means all of what we now call "China" or even "China Proper").

The Zhou state was not a monolithic empire, but used a feudal system of rule, in which the king granted fiefs to relatives and other powerful men, who thus received the right to rule their lands in return for providing military service and money to the central king. In later ages, many Chinese scholars and social critics, beginning with Confucius (ca. 500 BCE), romanticized the early part of the Zhou period, the Western Zhou (1045–770 BCE), as a "Golden Age" to which contemporary society could be negatively compared.

Because the feudal system encouraged the growth of competing power centers, the Western Zhou political system gradually fell apart, effectively ending in 770 BCE with a disastrous military defeat of the Zhou king by a rival state. During the following several centuries -- known as the Eastern Zhou period (770–221 BCE), divided into the Spring and Autumn period (ending in 475 BCE) and then the Warring States period -- the trend towards disunity was reversed as some states became more powerful than others and conquered them, culminating in what is regarded as the first China-wide empire, the Qin, in 221 BCE.

Many developments and innovations that occurred during the Zhou period were highly influential in shaping the future of Chinese society. The introduction of coinage helped fuel a trade economy, for example, while technological innovations like iron farm implements and animal-drawn plows improved agriculture. But perhaps the era's most lasting influences were intellectual.

To justify its overthrow of the Shang Dynasty, the Zhou regime developed the theory of the Mandate of Heaven in its early years, to explain political legitimacy. Many of the Chinese classics (such as the Book of Changes and the Book of Odes) were written or compiled during this time. A category of warriors, the shi, developed into government advisors and bureaucrats whose successors would guide the governments of many future Chinese states. One such advisor, Confucius (551–479 BCE), articulated his seminal political and social vision, which was later criticized by another influential school of thought, Legalism. The philosophy (and later, organized religion) of Daoism also arose in the latter centuries of the Zhou period, with its central text, the Dao de jing, achieving its current form around 400 BCE.

Republic: 1912-1949

For more information, see: Republic of China (1912-1949).

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the country was beset by large-scale civil wars, major famines, military defeats by Britain and Japan, regional control by powerful warlords and foreign intervention such as the Boxer Rebellion of 1900. In 1911 the revolution deposed the Qing Dynasty and a republic was proclaimed under the leadership of the KMT (Kuomintang), headed by Sun Yat-sen. After Sun's death in 1926, Chiang Kai-shek took over. In the late 20s Northern campaign the central government finally suppressed the local warlords who effectively controlled many provinces. The KMT tried to destroy the Communists under Mao Zedong, but they escaped in the "Long March" of 1934-35. Japan seized Manchuria in 1931, and in 1937 invaded all of China, seizing the coast, the major cities, and setting up a puppet government that controlled most of the population. China was allied with the U.S. and Britain against Japan, and at war's end joined the United Nations as a permanent member of the 5-nation Security Council, with a veto. The Americans attempted to force a negotiated settlement between the KMT and the Communists, but failed.

China since 1949

See also: People's Republic of China

In the face of economic collapse the Communists won the civil war in 1949 under Mao Zedong, driving the KMT to Taiwan. Taiwan is recognized as an integral part of China in theory, but in practice has been independent since 1949. Mao liquidated millions of opponents, fought the United States in the bloody Korean War (1950-53), and broke with the Soviet Union over the issue of who best represented the Marxist orthodoxy. Mao's regime imposed strict controls over everyday life and cost the lives of tens of millions of people. After 1978, Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping focused on market-oriented economic development, and by 2000 output had quadrupled, population growth ended (by imposing a one-child policy), and good relations were secured with the West. For much of the population, living standards have improved dramatically and the room for personal choice has expanded, yet political controls and Internet censorship remain tight.

China's economy during the last quarter century has changed from a centrally planned system that was largely closed to international trade, to a more market-oriented economy that has a rapidly growing private sector and is a major player in the global economy.


At the end of 2005, China's population was 1.31 billion.[1] The population density was 135 people per square kilometer. The population distribution is highly uneven. The coastal areas are most densely populated with 400 people per square kilometer. Inland provinces have a typical density of just 90 people per square Kilometer. When looking at the high plateaus of the west of China, there may be as sparse a population as 10 per square kilometer.

745 million people, or 57% of the population, live in rural areas. Migration form the country side to the cities has been discouraged by the state. Migrants to the cities often have to forgo benefits and may not be able to send their children to the cities' schools. Although the education system has developed since 1949, the number of people with higher education is just 75 million or 6% of the national population and secondary (high school) graduates account for just 15%. In the adult population, 4% are considered illiterate compared to the general figure of just 1% in developed countries.[2]

The population soared over the last two hundred years and particularly in the 1950s. It is estimated that in 1750 there were just 250 million people in China. By the beginning of the 1950s the population had more than doubled to 535 million. It continued to rise at an accelerated rate to 700 million in 1964. The state encouraged population growth at this time with slogans such as "There is strength in numbers" and "The more people, the stronger we are." It was thought that population growth was essential for economic growth and also that the people lost during the wars, revolutions, and invasions that marked the first half of the 19th century must be replaced.

Other factors also played a significant role. Mortality rates declined as the health system was improved and modernized. In 1949 there were just 3,670 medical institutions but by 1998 the figure had risen to 314,000. In the same period, the number of trained health personnel went from 0.93 per thousand of the population to 3.64. The effect of improved health care can be seen in the mortality rates. Previously the mortality rate or pregnant or postnatal women was 1.5% were as current figures are just 0.056%. Another factor in population growth is the traditional culture which encouraged early marriage, early child birth and large families. It was seen as a sign of good fortune to have many children.

The rate of growth increased yet further during the 1970s. By this time, problems caused by population growth were becoming apparent. In 1971, the government introduced a new family planning policy. This encouraged late marriage, late childbearing and a four year interval between births. A policy of "One child per couple." was introduced in the 1980s as the population neared 1 billion soles. Family planning is now more strictly encouraged than before. As a result the population growth has decelerated.

One Child policy

Year Population (millions) Population Increase
1841 413
1931 475 60
1949 535 60
1959 656 120
1969 785 130
1979 970 180
1989 1100 140
1999 1250 115

China is a developing country and lacked much of the infrastructure required to support its population. Based on world bank figures, by Gross National Product (GDP), China would be ranked 8th in the world; however when a per capita GDP is used, the country is only 133rd out of 182. China accounts for 21% of the world total population but possesses only 7% of the world's agricultural land. In the 1950s there was (one mu equals 1/15 of a hectare) of cultivated land per head of population. Currently, this has fallen to just 1.8mu per head.

Attempts were first made from the beginning of the 1970s to leash in population growth. These controls and incentives were further strengthened in the 1980s. The law was changed to raise the legal age of marriage. Family planning information encourages further delay of at least three years. The couple are then encouraged to wait further before having children. In a few cases a second child is allowed such as for ethnic minorities living in rural areas or for parents of children who are disabled by illness and thus not able to mature to normal adulthood. However, even where the second child is permitted, family planning and social stigma discourage it. Critics say the policy is coercive and has led to numerous abuses, including forced abortions, which continue to occur in some areas.[3]

The government believes that population control is essential to ensure stable economic growth. If the population was allowed to grow it would counterbalance the countries development and slow modernization. To that end, the family planning measures will continue for the foreseeable future. China’s top population official said in March 2008 that the one-child family planning policy would not change for at least another decade. The announcement refutes speculation that officials were contemplating adjustments to compensate for mounting demographic pressures. Government officials claim the policy has prevented roughly 400 million births, though some independent demographers cite a figure of around 250 million. The population is growing by about 17 million people a year and should peak at 1.5 billion by the mid-2030s.[4]

Ethnic Minorities

China is made up or 56 ethic groups or nationalities. Of these, the Han, account for the majority (91.6%) of the population at, 1,159,400,000 people . The other 55 ethic groups are considered minority groups and as such have special rights in China constitution. The largest minority group is the Zhuang with 16,178,800 people. Of the 55 minorities only 18 have a population of more than one million in people and 20 have populations below 100,000.[5] At the beginning of New China in 1949, the ethnic minorities in China were poorly developed and their populations in decline. There were, according the first national census in 1953, 34,013,000 ethnic minority people. By 2005 there were around 120 million ethnic minority people in China.

The constitution states that all 56 nationalities in China are equal and that the rights and interests of all people should be given protection by the state. To this end, a system of positive discrimination is practiced in favour of the minorities. Each compact ethnic community, regardless of size, must be represented at their local people's congress. Also each minority must be represented at the National People's Congress (NPC).

All ethnic groups, except form the Manchu and Hui, use their own spoken languages and many have their own writing too. Ethnic languages are encouraged and developed. Ethnic minority school often use their own language as do local news papers, TV, radio and other publications.


In addition to the native folk religions, China is home of two of the world's oldest surviving religions: Confucianism and Taoism. Buddhism, carried over from India and Tibet, has strongly influenced China and today there are several schools of Buddhism in the country.

In addition, China has several religious minorities. Islam in China is rather moderate, and Chinese Muslims (majority are of Hui ethnicity) often define their faith in Taoist or Confucian terms, although they do not believe in the supernatural elements of those faiths. Christianity was suppressed or taken over by the state after 1949. In recent years, the restrictions have eased. However, several religious groups that reject governmental control are subject to monitoring and government crackdowns, notably the Falun Gong (see human rights, below).


After Mao's death the policy of modernization along Western lines has led to a remarkable rate of economic growth in the industrial cities, which have pulled in millions of peasants from the still poor rural areas. Slack environmental standards have led to serious pollution problems.

The modern Chinese economy has benefited from investments from Taiwan and Hong Kong. They jumped far ahead of mainland China by 1970 in terms of technology, and in recent years have invested in mainland industries.

These two factors have changed Chinese economy, from a command economy to a more socialist state, with the Chinese economy increasingly in the hands of privately-owned businesses, not state- or military-run enterprises. The 2001 declaration by Jiang Zemin (former leader of the Communist Party) of the "theory of three represents" -- that the CCP represents not only workers, but also intellectuals and entrepreneurs -- was an explicit affirmation of what had been a trend for the previous years.

Energy and transportation

The rapid increase in trucks and automobiles has made China a major importer of oil, helping raise world prices. However coal produces over 80% of the nation's energy; 2.3 billion metric tons of coal were mined in 2007. Despite the health risks posed by severe air pollution in cities (see Beijing) and international pressure to reduce greenhouse emissions, China’s coal consumption is projected to increase in line with its rapid economic growth. Most of the coal is mined in the western provinces of Shaanxi and Shanxi and the northwestern region of Inner Mongolia. However most coal customers are located in the industrialized southeastern and central coastal provinces, so coal must be hauled long distances on China’s vast but overextended rail network. More than 40% of rail capacity is devoted to moving coal, and the country has been investing heavily in new lines and cargo-handling facilities in an attempt to keep up with demand. Despite these efforts, China has suffered persistent power shortages in industrial centers for more than five years as electricity output failed to meet demand from a booming economy.


The legal status of the PRC was controversial until the 1970s, when the UN gave it the seat held by the Taiwan regime, and the U.S. extended de facto, then de jure recognition.

Human rights

Under Mao, millions of Chinese were killed by famines or government action against the middle classes. The "Cultural revolution" in the 1960s was a counterattack against intellectuals endorsed by Mao. Human rights violations lessened after Mao's death in 1975, but the sharp crackdown on students demanding democracy at Tienanmen Square (in central Beijing) in 1989 disappointed hopes for continued liberalization.[6]

Unrestricted internet access is not generally available in China; though restrictions have been relaxed on occasion, the 'Great Firewall' usually blocks many websites. To do business in the Chinese market, Google agreed to comply with government restrictions and censors.[7] China loosened its restrictions as it prepared to showcase its achievements for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Freedom of speech and religion are strictly controlled, and groups such as the Falun Gong are monitored, with periodic crackdowns involving imprisonment, coercion and harassment;[8] Falun Gong is a particularly controversial group, with a variety of opinions within and outside China as to their activities and how threatening to Chinese 'social harmony' they may be.[9] China retains the death penalty and has permitted the use of torture, as have other countries; however, reform has also occurred, with the U.S. State Department correspondingly removing China from its 'top ten' list of human rights violators in 2008.[10] China also allows local village elections, which independent candidates may contest.

Further reading

See the Bibliography tab above for a more comprehensive guide.

  • Blunden, Caroline, and Mark Elvin. Cultural Atlas of China (2nd ed 1998) excerpt and text search
  • Chow, Gregory C. China's Economic Transformation (2nd ed. 2007) excerpt and text search
  • Donald, Stephanie Hemelry, and Robert Benewick. The State of China Atlas: Mapping the World's Fastest Growing Economy (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Eberhard, Wolfram. A History of China (2005), 380 pages' full text online free
  • Entwisle, Barbara, and Gail E. Henderson, eds. Re-Drawing Boundaries: Work, Households, and Gender in China, (2000); on 1990s
  • Fairbank, John King, and Merle Goldman. China: A New History. (1998). 546 pp.
  • Gries, Peter Hays. China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy, (2004); recent history
  • National Geographic. National Geographic Atlas of China (2007)
  • Naughton, Barry. The Chinese Economy: Transitions and Growth (2007), important new survey
  • Ogden S. (ed) China. McGraw-Hill/Dushkin. (2006)
  • Oi, Jean C. Rural China Takes Off: Institutional Foundations of Economic Reform, (1999)
  • Perkins, Dorothy. Encyclopedia of China: The Essential Reference to China, Its History and Culture. (1999). 662 pp.
  • Rawski, Thomas G. and Lillian M. Li, eds. Chinese History in Economic Perspective, (1992) online free
  • Roberts, J. A. G. A Concise History of China. (1999). 341 pp.
  • Schoppa, R. Keith. The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History. (2000). 356 pp. online edition
  • Shambaugh, David. Modernizing China's Military: Progress, Problems, and Prospects (2003)
  • Spence, Jonathan D. The Search for Modern China (1991), 876pp; well written survey from 1644 to 1980s excerpt and text search; complete edition online
  • Wang, Ke-wen, ed. Modern China: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Nationalism. (1998). 442 pp.

See also


  1. Duncan, Sue; Wan Mingjie (2006). “Chapter 1”, China 2006 (in English), 1st Edition. Foreign Languages Press, Page 5. ISBN 7-119-04423-0.  This figure excludes Hong Kong SAR, Macao SAR and Taiwan.
  2. (September 2007) “Chapter 6”, The outline of China (in English). Ocean Press, Page 31. ISBN 978-7-5027-6866-9. 
  3. Jim Yardley, "China Sticking With One-Child Policy," New York Times March 11, 2008
  4. Jim Yardley, "China Sticking With One-Child Policy," New York Times March 11, 2008
  5. Wang, Can; Wang Pingxing (May 2005). Ethnic groups in China (in English). China Intercontinental Press. ISBN 7-5085-0490-9. 
  6. Dinkin Zhao, The Power of Tiananmen: State-Society Relations and the 1989 Beijing Student Movement (2004) excerpt and text search
  7. James S. O'Rourke IV, Brynn Harris, Allison Ogilvy, "Google in China: government censorship and corporate reputation," Journal of Business Strategy, (2007) 28#3, pp 12-22.
  8. David Ownby, Falun Gong and the Future of China (2008).
  9. e.g. San Francisco Chronicle: 'Falun Gong Derided as Authoritarian Sect by Anti-Cult Experts in Seattle'. April 29, 2000; New York Times: 'A glimpse of Chinese culture that some find hard to watch '. February 6, 2008.
  10. New York Times: 'U.S. drops China from list of top 10 violators of rights'. March 12, 2008.