- This article is on the geographic and cultural entity. For other meanings, see China (disambiguation).
China (Traditional Chinese: 中國, Simplified Chinese: 中国, Hanyu Pinyin: Zhōngguó, Wade-Giles: Chung-kuo) is a country in continental East Asia with some outer territories in Central Asia and offshore islands in the Pacific Ocean that since 1949 has been divided de facto between the People's Republic of China (governing mainland China and numerous other islands, Hong Kong since 1997, Macao since 1999) and the Republic of China (governing Taiwan Province and several outlying islands of Fukien or Fuchien Province).
The Great Wall of China was erected in the 3rd century BC to guard the unprotected northern border, and has been rebuilt several times since.
China is the world's oldest continuous civilization, with a history characterized by repeated divisions and reunifications amid alternating periods of peace and war, and violent dynastic change. Power was generally concentrated in the hands of the emperor, but sometimes shifted to powerful officials or regional warlords. The country's territorial extent varied according to its shifting fortunes. For many centuries, most notably from the 7th through the 14th centuries, China stood as the world's most advanced civilization and as East Asia's dominant cultural influence. During the 19th and early 20th centuries the country was too weak to repel European colonialism and Japanese invasion, while at the same time suffering internal conflicts which led to its continuing division. A Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War established the People's Republic of China in the mainland while the Nationalists held out in Taiwan.
The country's population of over one billion people makes up a fifth of the world's population and is overwhelmingly of the Han Chinese ethnicity. Their language, Chinese, is divided into many spoken variations. These spoken languages are used today in modern society and in many parts of Europe and America.
- Main article: China in world languages
The Chinese call their country Zhongguo, which is usually translated as "Middle Kingdom" or "Central Country". The term has not been used consistently throughout Chinese history, however, and clearly has cultural and political connotations. During the Spring and Autumn Period, it was used only to describe the relatively culturally advanced states of the Yellow River valley, to the exclusion of states such as Chu and Qin. Later it came to include areas farther south, including the Yangzi River and Pearl River systems. By the Tang Dynasty it even included "barbarian" regimes such as the Xianbei and Xiongnu.
During the Han Dynasty and before, Zhongguo had three distinctive meanings:
- The area around the capital or imperial domain. The Book of Poetry explicitly gives this definition.
- Territories under the direct authority of central authorities. The Historical Records states: "Eight mountains are famed in the empire. Three are with the Man and Yi barbarians. Five are in Zhongguo."
- The area now called the North China Plain. The Sanguo Zhi records the following monologue: "If we can lead the host of Wu and Yue (the area of southern Jiangsu and northern Zhejiang) to oppose Zhongguo, then we should break off relations with them soon." In this sense, the term is synonomous with Xia (夏) and Hua (華).
During the period of division after the fall of the Han Dynasty, the term Zhongguo was subjected to transformation as a result of the surge of nomadic peoples from the northern frontier. This was doubly so after the loss of the Yellow River valley, the cradle of Chinese civilization, to these peoples. For example, the Xianbei called their Northern Wei regime Zhongguo, contrasting it with the Southern Dynasties, which they called the Yi (夷), meaning "barbarian". The southern dynasties, for their part, recently exiled from the north, called the Northern Wei Lu (虏), meaning "criminal" or "prisoner". In this way Zhongguo came to represent political legitimacy. It was used in this manner from the tenth century onwards by the competing dynasties of Liao, Jin and Song. The term Zhongguo came to be related to geographic, cultural and political identity and less to ethnic origin.
The Republic of China and later People's Republic of China have used Zhongguo to mean all the territories and peoples within their political control. Thus it is asserted that all 56 recognized ethnic groups are Zhongguo ren (中國人), or Zhongguo people. Their histories are collectively the history of Zhongguo.
The English word "China" and prefix "Sino-" probably came from "Qin" (pronounced halfway between "Chin" and "Tsin"). Others believe that China may have been derived from the Chinese word for tea (cha) or silk (Chinese si, Latin seres). In any circumstance, the word China passed through many languages along the Silk Road before it finally reached Europe. The Western "China", transliterated to Shina (支那) has also been used by Japanese since the nineteenth century, and has since evolved into a derogatory term.
The term "China" can narrowly mean China proper, or, more usually and inclusively, China proper and Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and Xinjiang; the boundaries between these regions do not necessarily follow provincial boundaries. In many contexts, "China" is commonly used to refer to the People's Republic of China or mainland China, while "Taiwan" is used to refer to the Republic of China. Sometimes informally, especially in the English and Chinese business world, "the Greater China region" (大中華地區) refers to China.
Sinologists usually use "Chinese" in a more restricted sense, more akin to the classical usage of Zhongguo, or to the meaning of the "Han ethnic group", who make up the bulk of Mainland China.
Main articles: History of China, History of People's Republic of China, History of the Republic of China
China was one of the earliest centers of human civilization. It became a large united country with an advanced culture at a very early stage, outpacing most of the world in areas such as art and science.
Since around 1000 BC China consisted of many small kingdoms. All of them were unified under one emperor in 221 BC by the Qin state, ushering in the Qin Dynasty. Over the course of centuries, China underwent periods of unity and disunity, order and disorder.
In the 18th century, China achieved a decisive technological advantage over the peoples of Central Asia, while simultaneously falling behind Europe technologically. This set the stage for the 19th century, in which China adopted a defensive posture against European imperialism while simultaneously extending control into Central Asia.
In 1912, after a prolonged period of decline, the institution of the Emperor of China disappeared and the Republic of China was established. The following three decades were a period of disunion — the Warlord Era, the Sino-Japanese War, and the Chinese Civil War. The latter ended in 1949 with the Communist Party of China in control of Mainland China. The CPC established a communist state—the People's Republic of China—that laid claim to be the successor state of the Republic of China. Meanwhile, the ROC government of the Kuomintang fled to Taiwan, where it continued to be recognized as the legitimate government of all China by the Western bloc and the United Nations until the 1970s, when most nations and the UN switched recognition to the PRC.
Main article: Politics of Imperial China, Politics of the People's Republic of China, Politics of the Republic of China
After the Qin Empire unification, China experienced about 13 more dynasties, many of which continued the extensive system of kingdoms, principalities, dukedoms, earldoms, and marquisates. However, ultimately, the emperor had the centralized authority. The emperor also consulted civil and martial ministers, especially the prime minister. Sometimes political power, however, fell into the hands of the officials, eunuchs, or relatives.
Political relations with dependencies (tributary kingdoms) were maintained by international marriages, military aids, and gifts. (see section "Geography, Political" below for examples).
The historical capitals of China were mostly in the east. The four most commonly designated capitals are Nanjing, Beijing, Chang'an (today Xi'an), and Luoyang. Official languages once included Chinese, Mongol, and Manchu.
In 1912, the Republic of China attempted to establish itself as a representative democracy, but immediately collapsed into a one-party dictatorship under the Nationalist Party. It was able to transform itself into a functioning multi-party representative democracy only after the Communists took control of the mainland in 1949 and the ROC moved to Taiwan. Meanwhile, the People's Republic of China has continued to operate as a totalitarian one-party state to the present.
Areas currently controlled by the PRC and ROC
During the Zhou Dynasty, China was originally the region around the Yellow River. Since then, the territory expanded outward in all directions, and was largest during the Tang, Yuan, and Qing dynasties. From the Chinese point of view, the "Chinese" Empire included parts of modern far eastern Russia and Central Asia during the strongest periods of the Yuan, although China was merely one of many territories of the Mongol Empire.
Along with provincial administrators, some foreign monarchs sent envoys to offer gifts to the Emperor of China and the Emperor returned compliments to them. The Chinese ostensibly saw that barbarians attached themselves to the virtue of the Emperor, while the foreign governments sometimes had different perspectives. Since the end of the 19th century, China has tried to interpret this relationship as suzerainty-dependency based on Western international law.
The Qing Empire reduced the territorial value of the Great Wall of China as a barrier of China proper. In 1683 after the surrender of the Kingdom of Tungning established by Koxinga, Taiwan became a part of the Qing Empire, originally as one prefecture, then two. Taiwan was subsequently ceded to Japan after the first Sino-Japanese War in 1895. At the end of the second Sino-Japanese War in 1945, Japan relinquished the sovereignty of the island in San Francisco Peace Treaty. Since then, the sovereignty of Taiwan has been under dispute between the PRC, ROC and Taiwan independence supporters.
Top-level political divisions of China have altered as the administration changed. Top levels included circuits and provinces. Below that, there have been prefectures, subprefectures, departments, commanderies, districts, and counties. Recent divisions also include prefecture-level cities, county-level cities, towns and townships.
China has historically been thought of as being composed of five regions: China proper, Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, Xinjiang, and Tibet. These regions used to correspond closely to ethnic and administrative reality, but today they no longer do, and contemporary Chinese rarely (if ever) think of China as composed of these regions; instead they think in terms of provinces. The regions are separated by borders that are vague at best. China proper is generally thought to be bounded by the Great Wall and the edge of the Tibetan plateau; Manchuria and Inner Mongolia are found to the north of the Great Wall of China, and the boundary between them can either be taken as the present border between Inner Mongolia and the northeast Chinese provinces, or the more historic border of the World War II-era puppet state of Manchukuo; Xinjiang's borders correspond to today's administrative Xinjiang; and historic Tibet is conceived as occupying all of the Tibetan Plateau. China proper is traditionally thought of as further comprising North China (北方) and South China (南方), the geographic boundary between which north and south is largely generalized as Huai River(淮河) and Qin Mountain（秦岭). Manchuria, namingly, is called "Northern-Three-Province" (as its name implies, it consists of three provinces)and Inner Mongolia is usually conceived as part of North China; Xinjiang and Tibet are usually thought as the west part of China though the province of Sichuan is also put into consideration.
Main article: Geography of China
Topographic map of China
China has many very different landscapes, with mostly plateaux and mountains in the west, and lower lands on the east. As a result, principal rivers flow from west to east (Chang Jiang (Yangtze), the Huang He (central-east), the Amur (northeast), etc), sometimes toward the south (Pearl River, Mekong River, Brahmaputra, etc). All rivers empty into the Pacific.
Most of China's arable lands lie along the two major rivers, the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) and the Huang He, and each are the centers around which are founded China's major, ancient civilizations.
In the east, along the shores of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea are found extensive and densely populated alluvial plains; the shore of the South China Sea is more mountainous and southern China is dominated by hill country and lower mountain ranges.
To the west, the north has a great alluvial plain, and the south has a vast calcareous tableland traversed by hill ranges of moderate elevation, with the Himalayas, containing the highest point Mount Everest. The northwest also has high plateaus among more arid desert landscapes such as the Takla-Makan and the Gobi Desert, which has been expanding. Due to a prolonged drought and perhaps poor agricultural practices, dust storms have become usual in the spring in China.
The Giant Panda is native to the bamboo forests of central China.
During many dynasties, the southwestern border of China has been the high mountains and deep valleys of Yunnan, which separate modern China from Burma, Laos and Vietnam.
The climate of China varies greatly. The northern zone (within which lies Beijing) has a climate with winters of Arctic severity. The central zone (within which Shanghai is situated) has a generally temperate climate. The southern zone (within which lies Guangzhou) has a generally subtropical climate.
The Palaeozoic formations of China, excepting only the upper part of the Carboniferous system, are marine, while the Mesozoic and Tertiary deposits are estuarine and freshwater or else of terrestrial origin. Groups of volcanic cones occur in the Great Plain of north China. In the Liaodong and Shandong Peninsulas, there are basaltic plateaux.
Main articles: ethnic groups in Chinese history, nationalities of China
Over a hundred ethnic groups have existed in China. In terms of numbers, however, the predominant ethnic group in China is the Han. Throughout history, many ethnic groups have been assimilated into neighbouring ethnicities or disappeared without a trace. Several previously distinct ethnic groups have been Sinicized into the Han, causing its population to increase dramatically. The Han, however, continue to speak several mutually unintelligible languages (see Chinese languages). The government of the People's Republic of China recognizes a total of 56 ethnic groups.
China's overall population, the largest in the world, is 1.3 billion. With the global human population currently estimated at just over 6 billion, China is home to approximately 21% or one-fifth of the human species.
Culture and religion
Main articles: Culture of China, Religion in China
Philosophies that have had extremely consequential impact on the Chinese culture, literary or illiterate, stem from Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism (in order of appearance).
Confucian thought has influenced East Asian society for millenia
China has a diverse religious tradition. Some of the religions or belief systems associated with China include ancestor worship, Buddhism, Chinese folk religion, Confucianism, Islam, and Taoism.
Chinese literature has a long and prolific continuous history, in part because of the development of printmaking during the Song dynasty. Prior to that time, manuscripts of the Classics and religious texts (mainly Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist) were manually written by ink brush and distributed. To comment on these works, printed or written, scholars formed numerous academies, many of which were sponsored by the empire, and some of the royalty constantly participated in the discussions. Tens of thousands of ancient written documents are still extant.
For centuries, opportunity for social advancement in China could be provided by high performance on the imperial examinations. These tests required applicants to write essays and demonstrate mastery of the Confucian classics. Those who passed the highest level of the exam became elite scholar-officials known as jinshi, a highly revered and esteemed position.
Chinese philosophers, writers, and poets have been, for the most part, highly respected, and played a key role in preserving and promoting the culture of the empire. Some classical scholars, however, were noted for their daring depictions of lives of the common people. (See List of Chinese authors, and List of Chinese language poets).
The Chinese created numerous musical instruments, such as the zheng, xiao, and erhu, that have spread around East and Southeast Asia, especially to its dependencies. The sheng became the mother of several Western free-reed instruments.
Chinese characters have had many variants and styles throughout the history of China, and were "simplified" in the mid-20th century on mainland China. Calligraphy is a major art-form in China, on a par with painting and music.
Bonsai is a millennia-old art that spread to Japan and Korea.
Science and technology
Main article: Science and technology in China
In addition to the above mentioned cultural inventions, technological inventions from China include:
Other areas of science:
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