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This article is on the Chinese civilization(s). For the state commonly referred to as "China," see People's Republic of China. For other meanings, see China (disambiguation).
The Great Wall of China, stretching over 6,700 km, was erected beginning in the 3rd century BC to guard the north from raids by men on horses.

China  listen (Traditional: 中國; Simplified: 中国; pinyin: Zhōngguó; Wade-Giles: Chung-kuo) is a country located chiefly in continental East Asia with some outer territories in Central Asia and offshore islands in the Pacific Ocean. Depending on one's political views, China can be described as a single nation or multiple nations; a single state or multiple states; a single civilization or multiple civilizations.

China is one of the world's oldest continuous civilizations, with a history characterized by repeated divisions and reunifications amid alternating periods of peace and war and violent dynastic change. Before the Twentieth Century, power was generally concentrated in the hands of the emperor, but sometimes shifted to powerful officials, regional warlords, imperial relatives, and eunuchs. The country's territorial extent varied according to its shifting fortunes. For many centuries, most notably from the 7th through the 14th centuries, China was one of the world's most technologically advanced civilizations, and East Asia's dominant cultural influence. During the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries the country was too weak militarily to repel European interference or Japanese invasion. China ceded several treaty ports and at the same time, exanded westward. Internal conflicts also plagued China, which led to its frequent division. A Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949 established the People's Republic of China on the mainland while the Nationalists fled to Taiwan, Penghu, and some islands off the coast of Fujian.

The People's Republic of China (PRC) was established in 1949 in Beijing, and since then has governed a large amount of territory known as "Mainland China". The People's Republic of China has also assumed control over Hong Kong in 1997 and Macau since 1999, which are not considered part of Mainland China. While the PRC was founded, the Republic of China (ROC), which had ruled China since 1912, was forced to flee the mainland and retreat to Taiwan, which it has since governed. The People's Republic of China does not consider the Republic of China to be legitimate, as it considers itself to have succeeded it entirely. On the other hand, the Republic of China, while never formally rescinding its claims, has moved away from its former identity as the ruler of China, and increasingly characterizes itself as "Taiwan", which is also the usage commonly adopted in the West. The nature and extent of "China" is the subject of ongoing political disputes.

The country's population of over 1.3 billion people, 92% of whom are Han Chinese, makes up a fifth of the world's population. What is commonly referred to as the Chinese language is in fact composed of several related but mutually unintelligible language groups. Standard Mandarin is the national standard form of spoken Chinese, and it is also the only form that is usually written.

Table of contents


Main article: Name of China in various languages


The Chinese call their country Zhongguo, which is usually translated literally 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 (Huang He) valley, to the exclusion of states such as Chu and Qin. Later it came to include areas farther south, including the Yangtze 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:

  1. The area around the capital or imperial domain. The Book of Poetry explicitly gives this definition.
  2. 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."
  3. 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 synonymous 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 as it controlled mainland China, and later, the 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.


It is generally accepted that the English word "China" and prefix "Sino-" likely came from "Qin" (pronounced halfway between "Chin" and "Tsin"). [1]

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 in that language.

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 Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore and most countries of South East Asia ( where local Chinese are dominant either demographically or economically )

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.

In many contexts it may be more appropriate to speak of "mainland China" (dàlù in Mandarin), especially when contrasting it with other, politically different regions like Hong Kong or Taiwan.


Main articles: History of China, History of the Republic of China (1912–1949; 1949-Present on Taiwan), History of People's Republic of China (1949-Present),

China was one of the earliest centers of human civilization. It became a large united country with an advanced culture at an early stage, outpacing most of the world in art and technology. Chinese was also one of the first languages to be written, predated only by the languages of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

From around 1000 BC onwards what is now 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, the first Chinese state. Over the course of centuries, China underwent periods of unity and disunity, order and disorder.

After the fall of Qin Dynasty in 207 BC, successive dynasties followed, most notably the Han and the Tang Dynasty. For a period from the 7th to the 14th century, China remained at the zenith of human civilizations.

In the 18th century, China achieved a decisive technological advantage over the peoples of Central Asia, while simultaneously falling behind Europe in that respect. This set the stage for the 19th century, in which China adopted a defensive posture against European imperialism while itself engaging in imperialistic expansion into Central Asia. See Imperialism in Asia.

However the primary cause of the decline of the Chinese empire was not European and American interference, as the ethnocentric Western historians would lead many to believe. On the contrary it was a series of internal upheavals. Most prominent of these was the Taiping Civil War which lasted from 1851 to 1862. The civil war was started by an extremist believer in a school of thought partly influenced by Christianity who believed himself to be the son of God and the younger brother of Jesus. Although the imperial forces were eventually victorious the civil war was the bloodiest in human history – costing at least twenty million lives (more than the total number of fatalities in the First World War). Prior to this conflict a number of Islamic Rebellions, especially in Central Asia, had occurred. Later, a second major rebellion took place, although this latter uprising was considerably smaller than the cataclysmic Taiping Civil War. This second conflict was the Boxer Rebellion which aimed to repel Westerners. Although secretly supporting the rebels, the Empress, Ci Xi, aided foreign forces in suppressing the uprising.

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.

See also:

Political History

Main article: Politics of Imperial China, Politics of the People's Republic of China, Politics of the Republic of China

Before unification by the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC, China did not exist as a coherent entity. The Chinese civilization consisted of a patchwork of several states, each ruled by a king (王), duke (公), marquess (侯), or earl (伯). Although there was a central king who held nominal power, and powerful hegemons sometimes held considerable influence, each state was ruled as an independent political entity.

This ended with the Qin Dynasty unification, during which the office of the emperor was set up, and a system of bureaucratic administration established. After the Qin, China experienced about 13 more dynasties, many of which continued the extensive system of kingdoms, dukedoms, earldoms, and marquisates. However the emperor had ultimate and supreme authority. The emperor also consulted civil and martial ministers, especially the prime minister. Political power sometimes fell into the hands of powerful officials, eunuchs, or imperial 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. Chinese was the official language, though periods of Mongol and Manchu conquest saw the arrival of Mongol and Manchu as alternate official languages.

On January 1, 1912, the Republic of China (ROC) was established, signaling the end of the Manchu-dominated Qing Empire. Sun Yat-sen of the Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Party), was proclaimed provisional president of the republic. However, Yuan Shikai, a former Qing general who had defected to the revolutionary cause, soon forced Sun to step aside and took the presidency for himself. Before long, Yuan attempted to have himself proclaimed emperor of a new dynasty, but he was quickly deposed.

After Yuan's downfall, China was politically fragmented, with an internationally-recognized, but virtually powerless, national government seated in Beijing. Warlords in various regions exercised actual control over their respective territories.

In the late 1920s, the KMT, under Chiang Kai-shek, was able to reunify the country under its own control, moving the nation's capital to Nanjing and implementing "political tutelage", an intermediate stage of political development outlined in Sun Yat-sen's program for transforming China into a modern, democratic state. Effectively, political tutelage meant one-party rule by the KMT with heavy Leninist influences. Ironically, both the KMT and the CCP have heavy Leninist influences. In 1947, constitutional rule was established, but because of the ongoing Chinese Civil War between the KMT and the Communist Party of China (CPC), many provisions of the 1947 ROC constitution were never put into actual practice on the mainland.

By early 1950, the CPC had defeated the KMT on the mainland, and the ROC government retreated to the island of Taiwan. Beginning in the late 1970s, Taiwan began the implementation of full, multi-party, representative democracy in the territories still under ROC control (i.e., Taiwan Province, Taipei, Kaohsiung and some offshore islands of Fujian province). Today, the political scene in the ROC is vibrant, with active participation by all sectors of society. But rather than the usual conservative-liberal policy distinctions that are the hallmarks of most democracies around the world, the main cleavage in ROC politics is the unification with China vs. independence issue. However, Greens are generally regarded as more liberal and Blues are generally regarded as more conservative.

Meanwhile, Mao Zedong, the leader of the communists, proclaimed the People's Republic of China (PRC) on October 1, 1949 in Beijing. From the beginning, the PRC has been a dictatorial one-party state under the Communist Party. However, post-1978 reforms have led to the relaxation, in varying degrees, of party control over many areas of society. Nonetheless, the Communist Party still has control over all aspects of society, and it continously seeks to get rid of threats to its rule. Examples of this include the jailing of political prisoners, regulation of religion, film censorship, and the attempted eradication of the Falun Gong movement.

See also:


Historical Overview

Map of the PRC and the 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. The Qing Dynasty included parts of modern Russian Far East and Central Asia (west of Xinjiang).

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 thought that the barbarians attached themselves to the virtue of the Emperor, while the foreign governments sometimes disagreed. Since the end of the 19th century, China has tried to reinterpret this relationship as suzerainty-dependency, but this no longer has any real conception in modern international political theories.

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, but it did not specify to whom. Since then, the de jure sovereignty of Taiwan has been under dispute between the PRC, the now democratic ROC and Taiwan independence supporters.

See: Taiwan, Republic of China

Historical political divisions

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.

Historically, most Chinese dynasties were based in the historical heartlands of China, known by the politically-correct term of China proper. Various dynasties also exhibited expansionism by engaging in incursions into more peripheral territories like Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, Xinjiang, and Tibet. The Manchu-established Qing Dynasty and its successors, the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China cemented the incorporation of these territories into China. These territories are separated by borders that are vague at best, and do not correspond well to contemporary political divisions. 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 is also traditionally thought of as 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 Qinling Mountains (秦岭).

See also:

Geography and Climate

Main article: Geography of China

East-Asia (PDF)

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, including the Yangtze (Chang Jiang), 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 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. Dust blows all the way to southern China, Taiwan, and has even been measured on the West Coast of the United States.

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, which is a very diverse group spread over most of China. 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 government of the People's Republic of China now officially recognizes a total of 56 ethnic groups, of which the largest is the Han Chinese. China's overall population, the largest in the world, is 1.3 billion. With the global human population currently estimated at about 6.4 billion, China is home to approximately 20%, or one-fifth of the human species, homo sapiens.

The Han speak several mutually unintelligible tongues, often classified by modern linguists as being separate languages, but by many Han Chinese as dialects within a single Chinese language. The various spoken varieties of Chinese share a common written standard, "Vernacular Chinese" or "baihua", which has been used since the early 20th Century and is based on Standard Mandarin, the standard spoken language, in grammar and vocabulary. In addition, another, more ancient written standard, Classical Chinese, was used for writing Chinese by the literati for thousands of years before the 20th Century. Classical Chinese is no longer the predominant form of written Chinese, though it continues to be a part of high school curricula and is hence intelligible to some degree to many Chinese people. Other than Standard Mandarin, spoken variants are usually not written; the exception is Standard Cantonese, which is sometimes written as Written Cantonese in informal contexts.


Main article: Culture of China


Main articles: Religion in China

The major religions of China are:

Taoism was adopted as the state-religion of China in 440 CE and continued to enjoy that status until the ending of the Ching Dynasty in 1911 CE. Along with Confucianism and Buddhism it is known as one of the Three Great Religions of China.

From the 1940s CE to 1982 CE, under communist control, Taoism was brutally oppressed along with other religious groups in accordance with Marxist Theory. Several million monks were sent to labor camps and many temples were destroyed throughout the Middle Kingdom. Since 1982 CE, communist leaders have recognized Taoism as an important religion of China devoted to universal unity and peace, many temples and monasteries have been repaired and re-opened. Many scholars argue that Taoism is still a prevalent belief within China itself, however due to restrictions a census on the number of adherents in China is not possible.

While the People's Republic of China is officially atheist it does allow religion under strict supervision.

Other historically important belief systems that continue to be important include ancestor worship and Confucianism.

In recent years, Falun Gong, a spiritual practice drawing upon Buddhism and Taoism, has attracted great controversy after the government of the People's Republic of China labeled it an evil cult and began an attempt to eradicate it. The Falun Gong itself denies that it is a cult or a religion (though it is a spiritual practice and has many features of religions), and has attracted widespread sympathy outside Mainland China. The Falun Gong says that it has approximately 70–100 million followers, though exact numbers are unknown.

See also:

Arts and Literature

Chinese literature has a long and prolific continuous history, in part because of the development of printmaking during the Song dynasty. Before that, manuscripts of the Classics and religious texts (mainly Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist) were manually written by ink brush and distributed. Academies of scholars sponsored by the empire were formed to comment on these works in both printed and written form. Members of royalty frequently participated in these discussions. Tens of thousands of ancient written documents are still extant.

For centuries, opportunity for economic and social advancement in China could be provided by high performance on the imperial examinations. This led to a meritocracy. 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 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).

Chinese culture valued filiality, humility, generosity, and charity.

The Chinese have created numerous musical instruments, such as the zheng, xiao, and erhu, that have spread throughout East and Southeast Asia, and especially areas under its influence. The sheng is the basis for several Western free-reed instruments.

Chinese characters have had many variants and styles throughout the Chinese history, and were "simplified" in the mid-20th century on mainland China. Calligraphy is a major art-form in China, above that of painting and music.

Bonsai is a millennia-old art that spread to Japan and Korea.

See also:

Science and technology

Main article: Science and technology in China

In addition to the cultural innovations mentioned above, technological inventions from China include:

Other areas of technological study:

  • The main applications of mathematics in traditional China were architecture and geography. Pi (π) was calculated by 5th century mathematician Zu Chongzhi to the seventh digit. The decimal system was used in China as early as 14 Century BC. "Pascal's" Triangle was discovered by mathematician Liu Ju-Hsieh, long before Pascal was born.
  • Studies in biology have been extensive, and historic records are consulted even today, such as pharmacopoeias of medicinal plants.
  • Traditional medicine and surgery were highly advanced at various points in history, and in some fields are still seen as innovative. They continue to play a growing role in the international medical community, and have achieved recognition over the last few decades in the West as alternative and complementary therapies. An example is acupuncture, although it is somewhat controversial in some quarters. However, autopsy was unacceptable, because of the common belief that a corpse should not be violated. Nevertheless, there were several doctors who have increased the understanding of internal anatomy by violating this autopsy taboo.
  • Alchemy was Taoist chemistry, very different from modern chemistry.
  • Chinese astrology and constellations were often used for divination
  • Military innovations include the crossbow and the grid sight, crossbow stirrup, repeating crossbows, poison gas (smoke from burning dried mustard), tear gas made from powdered lime, relief maps for battle planning, manned kites, fire lance, rockets, gunpowder incendiaries, gunpowder grenades, proto-handguns, and the cannon.

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