China

Driving Directions China

CHINA or THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA dominates the region of East Asia, not only regarding size since it is the third-largest country in the world but also because of its vast population. One-fifth of the world’s people (numbering approximately 1,393,741,000 ) live in China, and it has a larger population than any other individual country. The area occupied by China includes about 3,400 islands but excludes the disput­ed territory of Taiwan. The People’s Republic shares borders with many other countries: Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, and North Korea. In the east, China has an extensive coastline with the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea, all of which open into the Pacific Ocean.

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The dominant topographical features are colossal mountain ranges and high plateaux, particularly in the west and north, interspersed with lower-lying basins and plains, particularly in the East Mountains and grasslands cover two-thirds of China’s terrain. Real plains account for only 12 percent of the land area. The principal mountain ranges are the Himalayas, which extend along the southwestern border, the Altai in the northwest border region with Mongolia, the Tian Shan Mountains, which push northeastwards from Kyrgyzstan, and the Kunlun Shan, Altun Shan, and Qilian Shan in northwestern, central regions.

The northwestern region of China consists mainly of two large basins, the Junggar Pendi in the north and the Tarim Pendi in the south, separated by the Tian Shan Mountains’ enormous heights. The Tarim Pendi contains the extensive Taklamakan Shano or Takla Makan Desert – a dry, stony, inhospitable landscape with massive dunes reaching over 91 meters or 300 feet in height.

To the south and southwest lies the world’s highest plateau of Tibet (Xizang Zizhiqu). Most of the Tibetan plateau is an uninhabited region of salt lake’s marshes and frozen wastes with a bitterly cold climate and thin, oxygen-starved air. The majority of Tibet’s human inhabitants live in the lower southeastern regions beyond the plateau, where milder weather allows vegetation to grow for grazing animals, and cultivation is possible. Many great southern Asian rivers have their origins in Tibet, including the Huang He and Chang Jiang (Yangtze) of China itself but also the Ganges, Mekong, Indus, and Brahmaputra.

Northern China, which stretches from the Mongolian border to the Yangtze River but lies west of Manchuria, is a region of immensely varied landscapes. It comprises the steppes of Inner Mongolia and the loess (fine silt) plateaux lands of the Huang He River, extending into Shanxi and Henan provinces. Although it is easily eroded, loess is fertile soil, and terrace cultivation on steep slopes is a common feature in this region.

Northeastern China is the region east of the Da Hinggan Ling hills comprising all of the old Manchuria, including the modern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning. It consists mainly of the Manchurian plain, which is ringed and interrupted by uplands and hills such as Xao Hinggan Ling. It is a region of generally fertile soils that can be cultivated.

Southern and southeastern China comprises the extensive Yangtze river system and all the lands to the south, east of Tibet’s highlands. It is a varied region of rugged hills and mountains, valleys, and plains, presenting many contrasting landscapes. The middle and lower Yangtze valley consists of some broad basins in which there are many lakes, both natural and humanmade, and tributary streams. It has rich, alluvial soils that are extensively cultivated. In the upper reaches of the Yangtze lies another basin, the Sichuan Pendi. This elevated basin is ringed by high mountains and is another fertile, intensively cultivated, and densely populated area in which terraced rice fields predominate. Rugged, rocky hills guard the coast of southeastern China, where there is an archipelago of numerous small islands providing sheltered natural harbors.

In the northeast of Guizhou Province in the south of the country, the underlying limestone rocks have been fashioned by erosion to form natural pinnacles and spires to create one of China’s most beautiful and unusual landscapes. Southernmost parts of China lie within the subtropics and tropics, and, in places, areas of rainforest remain. Still, much of the natural vegetation has been cleared during many centuries of human occupation.

Most of China has a temperate climate but, in such a large country, wide ranges of latitude and altitude produce local variations, from the Tibetan plateau’s freezing Arctic climate with cool summers and very little rainfall to the far south’s tropical climate with warm winters and typhoons affecting coastal regions.

China is an agricultural country, but only 10 percent of its land is suitable for cultivation. Intensive farming methods have had to be employed to feed the country’s population of over one billion, including the widespread use of fertilizers, irrigation, and terracing to exploit all available land. China has a more significant percentage of land supported by irrigation schemes than any other country in the world. About 85 percent of cultivation is devoted to the growth of food crops, with most production concentrated in the country’s east. The type of crop grown varies according to location and climate, but the most important by far is rice. China produces more rice than any other country globally, with the most outstanding cultivation being the Yangtze river basin, Sichuan basin, and the Canton (Guangzhou) delta. The country is also the world’s leading producer of cotton, and China is traditionally associated with the production of fine silk, which has been highly prized for centuries. Raising silkworm or sericulture remains vital in many parts of eastern and southern China. Another crop traditionally linked with China is tea, and Chinese plantations produce about a fifth of the world’s output, providing a valuable commodity for export and domestic consumption.

Hie raising of livestock, sometimes involving traditional nomadic herding, is the other principal area of agriculture in China involving various animals. The most important are pigs, with the country rearing almost half of the world’s total number of animals. The versatile yak is used in Tibet as a source of meat and milk, its dung is collected and dried for fuel, and its hide is turned into clothing, tents, and bedding.

The rearing of freshwater fish, mainly carp, has been important for centuries and continues to be significant today. Marine fishing was of lesser significance until comparatively recently. Still, China now harvests a greater total tonnage of fish than any other country in the world, providing a valuable food resource for its people. China’s forest reserves have been severely depleted over many hundreds of years of human depredation. An extensive tree-planting program has been undertaken, but it will take some time before utilized.

China has abundant reserves of many valuable minerals, especially coal, graphite, tungsten, and antimony ores, of which it is the world’s largest producer. It also has a large and varied industrial sector that was mainly devoted to heavy industry in the early years of the Communist government. However, since the 1980s, readjustment has taken place, emphasizing the development of light industries and new technologies. More recently, the country has been opened up to tourists. A degree has adopted the philosophy of free enterprise, resulting in a dramatic improvement in living standards for a significant proportion of its population. However, the change towards a market economy has created internal political problems, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre raised questions regarding China’s approach to human rights.

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The vast territory of China exhibits great variation in terrain and vegetation. The highest elevations are found in the far southwest in the Plateau of Tibet (Xizang Gaoyuan) and the Himalayas. The high elevations of the country’s western portion, which cover more than half of the overall territory, have cold temperatures and generally arid conditions that prevent the development of agriculture. As a result, the western region is more isolated and more sparsely populated than the eastern areas.

The eastern quarter of the country is mostly lowlands and may be divided into northern China and the slightly larger southern China, separated from each other by the Yellow River and the Qinling Shandi (Ch’in Ling Shan) mountain range. In the northeastern region is the large Manchurian Plain. The Gobi Desert is separated from the Manchurian Plain by the Great Khingan Mountains, which occupy China’s northeastern region, straddling the China-Mongolia border. To the southeast, the heavily populated Loess Plateau stretches from Beijing to Nanjing across the Yellow River valley.

China lies entirely on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate. However, the Tibetan region in the southwest straddles the boundary of the Indian and Eurasian Tectonic Plates. Seismic fault lines also run north to south through the eastern region of China and the Manchurian Plain. Consequently, both the northeast and southwest regions are centers of seismic activity and experience periodic earthquakes, some of which have been devastating.

China’s varied terrain supports diverse populations of plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. China’s more than one hundred unique wildlife species include the giant panda, the golden-haired monkey, the South China tiger, the Chinese alligator, the freshwater white-flag dolphin, and the red-crowned crane. The metasequoia, found only in China, is believed to be one of the world’s oldest tree species.

The waters surrounding China are principally seas of the Pacific Ocean. From north to south along the western coast, they include the Yellow Sea (Huang Hai), East China Sea (Dong Hai), and the South China Sea (Nan Hai). The South China Sea features a deep ocean floor. Elsewhere, the continental shelf supports coastal fish farms and also contains substantial oil deposits.

Did you know about China?

The Silk Road is an ancient, seven – thousand -mile – a long trading route that extended from east-central China through India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It essentially connected the region of the Yellow River Valley to the Mediterranean Sea. From there, costly Chinese silk could be transported throughout the Roman Empire. The Silk Road served as a transportation route for trade and as a cultural exchange route; travelers and traders from different regions shared their religious, political, and social beliefs and customs with one another.

The Great Wall of China is one of the largest structures ever built by humans. Construction began around the seventh and eighth centuries B.C. Most of the Great Wall along the country’s northern flank, the east-west extent of more than 3,300 kilometers (2,050 miles), was completed about 220 B.C. The wall was built as a barrier against invaders and became, for a time, the world’s largest military structure. Its most complete stage stretched across 6,000 kilometers (3,729 miles) of mountainous and desert terrain in northeastern China. Today, some of the sections are in ruins or seriously decayed. Several segments remain intact and are visited by tourists, however, including guard towers.

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