The history of China reaches back over 5,000 years. In that time, China has created a culture rich in philosophy and the arts. China has seen the invention of amazing products and technologies such as silk, paper, gunpowder, and movable-type printing.
Over the millennia, China has fought hundreds of wars. It has conquered its neighbors, and been conquered by them in turn. Early Chinese explorers sailed all the way to Africa; today, China's space program continues this tradition of exploration.
This snapshot of the People's Republic of China today includes a necessarily brief scan of China's ancient heritage.
Capital and Major Cities:
Beijing, population 11 million.
Shanghai, population 15 million.
Shenzhen, population 12 million.
Guangzhou, population 7 million.
Hong Kong, population 7 million.
Dongguan, population 6.5 million.
Tianjin, population 5 million.
The People's Republic of China is a socialist republic ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of China.
Power in the People's Republic is divided between the National People's Congress (NPC), the President, and the State Council. The NPC is the single legislative body, whose members are selected by the Communist Party. The State Council, headed by the Premier, is the administrative branch. The People's Liberation Army also wields considerable political power.
The current President of China and General Secretary of the Communist Party is Hu Jintao. The Premier is Wen Jiabao.
The official language of the PRC is Mandarin, a tonal language in the Sino-tibetan family. Within China, however, only about 53 per cent of the population can communicate in Standard Mandarin.
Other important languages in China include Wu, with 77 million speakers; Min, with 60 million; Cantonese, 56 million speakers; Jin, 45 million speakers; Xiang, 36 million; Hakka, 34 million; Gan, 29 million; Uyghur, 7.4 million; Tibetan, 5.3 million; Hui, 3.2 million; and Ping, with 2 million speakers.
Dozens of minority languages also exist in the PRC, including Kazakh, Miao, Sui, Korean, Lisu, Mongolian, Qiang, and Yi.
China has the largest population of any country on Earth, with more than 1.3 billion people.
The government has long been concerned about population growth, and introduced the "One-Child Policy" in 1979. Under this policy, families are limited to just one child. Couples who get pregnant for a second time may face forced abortions or sterilization.
There are exceptions to the policy for ethnic minorities. Rural families also may have a second child if the first is a girl, or has disabilities. In practice, many urban families also "buy" permission to have a second baby, particularly if they have a daughter.
Under the communist system, religion has been officially discouraged in China. Actual suppression has varied from one religion to another, and from year to year.
Many Chinese are nominally Buddhist and/or Taoist, but don't practice regularly. People who self-identify as Buddhist total about 50 per cent, overlapping with the 30 per cent who are Taoist. Fourteen percent are atheists, four percent Christians, 1.5 per cent Moslems, and tiny percentages are Hindu, Bon, or Falun Gong adherents.
China's area is 9.5 to 9.8 million square kilometers; the discrepancy is due to border disputes with India. In either case, its size is second only to Russia in Asia, and is either third or fourth in the world.
From the world's tallest mountain to the coast, and the Taklamakan desert to the jungles of Guilin, China includes diverse landforms.
The highest point is Mt. Everest (Chomolungma) at 8,850 meters. The lowest is Turpan Pendi, at -154 meters.
As a result of its large area and various landforms, China includes climate zones from subarctic to tropical.
China's northern province of Heilongjiang has average winter temperatures below freezing, with record lows of -30 degrees Celsius. Xinjiang, in the west, can reach nearly 50 degrees. Southern Hainan Island has a tropical monsoon climate. Average temperatures there range only from about 16 degrees Celsius in January to 29 in August.
Hainan receives about 200 centimeters (79 inches) of rain annually. The western Taklamakan Desert receives only about 10 centimeters (4 inches) of rain and snow per year.
Over the past 25 years, China has had the fastest-growing major economy in the world, with annual growth of more than 10 per cent.
Nominally a socialist republic, since the 1970s the PRC has remade its economy into a capitalist powerhouse.
Industry and agriculture are the largest sectors, producing more than 60 per cent of China's GDP, and employing over 70 per cent of the work force. China exports $1.2 billion U.S. in consumer electronics, office machinery, and apparel, as well as some agricultural produce each year.
Per capita GDP is $2,000. The official poverty rate is 10 per cent.
China's currency is the yuan.
History of China:
Chinese historical records reach back into the realm of legend, 5,000 years ago. It is impossible to cover even the major events of this ancient culture in a short space, but here are some highlights.
The first non-mythical dynasty to rule China was the Xia (2200- 1700 B.C.), founded by Emperor Yu. It was succeeded by the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.), and then the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 B.C.). Historical records are scanty for these ancient dynastic times.
In 221 B.C., Qin Shi Huang assumed the throne, conquered neighboring city-states, and unified China. He founded the Qin Dynasty, which lasted only until 206 B.C. Today, he is best-known for his tomb complex in Xian, which houses the incredible Army of Terracotta Warriors.
Qin Shi Huang's inept heir was overthrown by the army of commoner Liu Bang in 207 B.C. Liu then founded the Han Dynasty, which lasted until 220 A.D. In the Han era, China expanded west as far as India, opening trade along what would later become the Silk Road.
When the Han Empire collapsed in 220 A.D., China was thrown into a period of anarchy and turmoil. For the next four centuries, dozens of kingdoms and fiefdoms competed for power. This era is called the "Three Kingdoms," after the three most powerful of the rival realms (Wei, Shu, and Wu), but that is a gross simplification.
By 589 A.D., the Western branch of the Wei kings had accumulated enough wealth and power to defeat their rivals, and unite China once more. The Sui Dynasty was founded by Wei general Yang Jian, and ruled until 618 A.D. It built the legal, governmental, and societal framework for the powerful Tang Empire to follow.
The Tang Dynasty was founded by a general called Li Yuan, who had the Sui emperor assassinated. The Tang ruled from 618 to 907 A.D., and Chinese art and culture flourished. At the end of the Tang, China decended into chaos again in the "5 Dynasties and 10 Kingdoms" period.
In 1271, the Mongolian Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis) established the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The Mongols subjugated other ethnic groups including Han Chinese, and were overthrown by the Han Ming.
China flowered again under the Ming (1368-1644), creating great art and exploring as far as Africa.
The last Chinese dynasty, the Qing, ruled from 1644 to 1911, when it was overthrown by Sun Yat-Sen, touching off the Chinese Civil War. Although the war was interrupted for a decade by the Japanese invasion and World War II, it picked up again once Japan was defeated. Mao Zedong and the Communist Peoples Liberation Army won the Chinese Civil War, and China became the Peoples' Republic of China in 1949. Chiang Kai Shek, leader of the losing Nationalist forces, fled to Taiwan.