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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 huge population. One-fifth of the world’s people (numbering approximately 1,360,720,000 ) 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 which all open into the Pacific Ocean.

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The dominant topographical features are huge mountain ranges, and high plateaux, particularly in the west and north, interspersed with lower-lying basins and plains, particularly in the East Mountains and plateaux cover about two-thirds of China's terrain, and true 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 in 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 enormous heights of the Tian Shan Mountains. The Tarim Pendi contains the extensive Taklamakan Shano or Takla Makan Desert - a dry, stony, inhospitable landscape with enormous 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 a milder climate 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 which extend into the provinces of Shanxi and Henan. Although it 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 old Manchuria which includes 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 and is a region of generally fertile soils which can be cultivated.

Southern and southeastern China comprises the large Yangtze river system and all the lands to the south, east of the highlands of Tibet. 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 which extensively cultivated. In the upper reaches of the Yangtze, lies another basin, the Sichuan Pendi. This elevated basin 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 form one of the most beautiful and unusual landscapes in China. Southernmost parts of China lie within the subtropics and tropics and, in places, areas of rainforest remain, but 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 extremely cold 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 the use of terracing to exploit all available land. China has a greater 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 east of the country. 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 in the world, with the greatest areas of 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 important in many parts of eastern and southern China. Another crop which is traditionally linked with China is tea, and Chinese plantations produce about a fifth of the world’s output, providing a valuable commodity for export as well as for domestic consumption.

Hie raising of livestock, sometimes involving traditional nomadic herding, is the other principal area of agriculture in China involving a wide variety of 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, particularly carp, has been important for centuries and continues to be significant in the present day. Marine fishing was of lesser significance until comparatively recently, but 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 programme has been undertaken, but it will take some time before these can be 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 which, in the early years of the Communist government, was mainly devoted to heavy industry. However, since the 1980s, readjustment has taken place with greater emphasis being placed on the development of light industries and new technologies. More recently, the country has been opened up to tourists, and 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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