China is the largest country in East Asia and the most populous in the world with over 1.3 billion people, approximately one-fifth of the world’s population. It is a socialist republic (specifically a people’s democratic dictatorship according to its constitution) ruled by the Communist Party of China under a single-party system, and has jurisdiction over twenty-two provinces, five autonomous regions (Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Ningxia, and Guangxi), four municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing), and two highly autonomous Special Administrative Regions (Hong Kong and Macau). The PRC’s capital is Beijing.
At approximately 9.6 million square kilometres (3.7 million square miles), the People’s Republic of China is the world’s third or fourth largest country by total area, and the second largest by land area. Its landscape is diverse with forest steppes and deserts (the Gobi and Taklamakan) in the dry north near Mongolia and Russia’s Siberia, and subtropical forests in the wet south close to Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. The terrain in the west is rugged and high altitude, with the Himalayas and the Tian Shan mountain ranges forming China’s natural borders with India and Central Asia. In contrast, mainland China’s eastern seaboard is low-lying and has a 14,500-kilometre long coastline bounded on the southeast by the South China Sea and on the east by the East China Sea beyond which lies Taiwan, Korea, and Japan.
Geography and climate
The territory of China contains a large variety of landscapes. In the east, along the shores of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, there are extensive and densely populated alluvial plains, while on the edges of the Inner Mongolian plateau in the north, grasslands can be seen. Southern China is dominated by hill country and low mountain ranges. In the central-east are the deltas of China’s two major rivers, the Yellow River and Yangtze River (Chang Jiang). Other major rivers include the Xi, Mekong, Brahmaputra and Amur. To the west, major mountain ranges, notably the Himalayas, with China’s highest point at the eastern half of Mount Everest, and high plateaus feature among the more arid landscapes such as the Taklamakan and the Gobi Desert.
For centuries, opportunity for economic and social advancement in China could be provided by high performance on Imperial examinations. The literary emphasis of the exams affected the general perception of cultural refinement in China, such as the belief that calligraphy and literati painting were higher forms of art than dancing or drama. China’s traditional values were derived from various versions of Confucianism and conservatism. A number of more authoritarian and rational strains of thought have also been influential, such as Legalism. There was often conflict between the philosophies, such as the individualistic Song Dynasty neo-Confucians, who believed Legalism departed from the original spirit of Confucianism. Examinations and a culture of merit remain greatly valued in China today. In recent years, a number of New Confucians have advocated that democratic ideals and human rights are quite compatible with traditional Confucian «Asian values.» Today, the Chinese government has accepted a great deal of traditional Chinese culture as an integral part of Chinese society, lauding it as an important achievement of the Chinese civilization and emphasizing it as vital to a Chinese national identity. Since the Cultural Revolution ended, various forms of traditional Chinese art, literature, music, film, fashion and architecture have seen a vigorous revival, and folk and variety art in particular have gained a new found respectability, and sparked interest nationally and even worldwide.