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Compiled from From Compton's Living Encyclopedia on America Online (August 1995) and other sources



Official Name. People's Republic of China (in Chinese, Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo).

Capital. Beijing.

China. Named by Europeans for ancient Ch'in Dynasty.

Coat of Arms. Five stars above Gate of Heavenly Peace, in Beijing, surrounded by border of ears of grain, with drapings knotted in center of cogwheel at base. Large star symbolizes mutual progress of four classes (workers, farmers, smallholders, and patriotic capitalists), each represented by a small star.

Anthem. `Qi Lai' (March of the Volunteers); words composed by Tian Han, 1935; music by Nie Er.


Borders. Coastline 8,700 miles (14,000 kilometers); land frontier 12,400 miles (20,000 kilometers).

Natural Regions. West China--Plateau of Tibet, Kunlun Mountains, and Himalayas; Tarim and Junggar basins in Xinjiang, separated by Tian Shan; Inner Mongolian plateau. North China--eastern highlands and central plain of the Northeast (formerly Manchuria), Huang He (Yellow River) Basin (including Qin Ling Shan, Loess Plateau, and North China Plain). Central and South China--Yangtze River (Chang Jiang) basin (including Sichuan Basin, Yangtze plains and deltas); Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau; Dong, Xi, Bei river valleys; southeastern coastal uplands; and Guangdong-Guangxi Zhuangzu hills.

Major Ranges. Himalayas; Kunlun Shan; Tian Shan; Yin Shan; Qin Ling Shan; Nan Ling Shan.

Major Peaks. Everest, 29,028 feet (8,848 meters); Namzha Parwa, 25,445 feet (7,756 meters); Gurla Mandhada, 25,355 feet (7,728 meters).

Major Rivers. Yangtze, 3,400 miles (5,500 kilometers); Huang He, 2,900 miles (4,700 kilometers); Amur, 2,700 miles (4,300 kilometers); Mekong, 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers).

Major Lakes. Koko Nor (Qinghai Hu); Lop Nor; Tai Hu; Poyang Hu.

Climate. Generally monsoon; continental, dry in winter; maritime, wet in summer. North China--cold, dry winters; hot, wet summers; rain 15-30 inches (380-760 millimeters). Central China--moderate; rain 45-80 inches (1,150-2,000 millimeters). South China--subtropical; rain 80 inches (2,000 millimeters).

In terms of climate, China may be divided between the humid eastern region and the dry west. The humid east may be further subdivided between the warm and humid south and southeast and the temperate-to-cool, moderately humid north and northeast. Much of the humid eastern region of China exhibits a monsoonal pattern of temperature and precipitation. In a monsoon climate, the warm summer months are typically the months of maximum precipitation.


Population (1990 census). 1,133,682,501; 307 persons per square mile (118 per square kilometer); 26.2 percent urban, 73.8 percent rural.

Vital Statistics (rate per 1,000 population). Births, 21; deaths, 6.30.

Life Expectancy (at birth). Males--68.1 years; females--71.0 years.

Major Language. Chinese; chief dialect, Mandarin.

Ethnic Groups. Chinese, or Han (93 percent); minority nationalities include Zhuang, Hui, Uygurs, Zang, Mongols.

Major Religions. Taoism; Confucianism; Buddhism; Christianity; Islam. (The government discourages religious practices.)

MAJOR CITIES (1989 estimates)

More than 500 million people live in and around cities in China, according to the 1990 census. There are more urban dwellers in China than are found in either the United States or Russia. Some of the cities are quite large. Shanghai, for example, has more than 7 million people; Beijing has more than 6 million, and Tianjin more than 5 million. Many cities have more than 1 million people each. Even so, city dwellers represent a relatively low percentage of the total population--about 20.1 percent, according to the 1982 census.

China's cities are expanding rapidly. The government is attempting to regulate urban growth in order to avoid such problems as congestion, overcrowding, slum development, and unemployment. It is difficult, for example, for a person to move to a city unless he or she has a permanent job and a housing permit. Through such constraints, China can slow the migration of people to cities and encourage the kind of urban and regional growth that planners believe is most suitable. Nevertheless, it seems quite likely that urbanization, the flow of people to cities, will continue to be a factor as China modernizes and its economy continues to expand.

Shanghai (7,330,000). One of the world's leading ports; China's chief industrial city; educational, commercial, and transportation center; Shanghai Municipal Industrial University; "Great World" Theater; Huang-K'ou Arboretum; Sino-Soviet Friendship Palace; Lung Hua Pagoda; Yu-Yuan Garden.

Beijing (6,800,000). Capital of China; political, industrial, publishing, and educational center; Peking University; Forbidden City; Summer Palace; Temple of Heaven; People's Cultural Park; Museum of the Chinese Revolution; Peking Planetarium.

Tianjin (5,620,000). Leading port on Hai He (river); manufacturing, trading, transport, handicrafts, and folk-art center; Peace Cinema; Xingang Harbor; Botanical Gardens; People's Park.

Shenyang (4,440,000). Capital of Liaoning Province; located on the Hun He (river); industrial and transportation center; Manchu Imperial Palace; Liaoning University; Northeastern Institute of Fine Arts; Northeast Museum.

Wuhan (3,640,000). A network of three cities: Hankow, Hanyang, and Wuchang, the capital of Hubei Province; located where the Han and Yangtze rivers merge; leading Yangtze River port and a major rail and highway junction; Wuhan University.

Canton (Guangzhou) (3,490,000). Capital of Guangdong Province; major port on Zhu Jiang (Pearl River); commercial, industrial, and transport center of South China; Sun Yat-sen University; Guangzhou Museum; Sun Yat-sen Library; Guangdong Botanical and Zoological Gardens; International Sports Center.

Harbin (2,930,000). Capital of Heilongjiang Province; located on the Songhua River; one of the leading transportation and industrial centers of northeastern China; Harbin Shipbuilding Engineering College; Harbin University of Sciences and Technology.


Chief Agricultural Products. Crops--rice, wheat, sweet potatoes, gaoliang (Chinese sorghum), millet, corn (maize), cotton, tobacco, sugarcane, potatoes, soybeans, barley, peanuts, tea. Livestock--cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep.

Chief Mined Products. Coal, iron ore, petroleum and natural gas, tin, tungsten and manganese ore, antimony, bauxite, copper.

Chief Manufactured Products. Iron and steel, textiles, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, transportation equipment, machinery, electronics, paper, sugar, cement, motor vehicles.

Chief Imports. Machinery, steel and other metals, wheat, chemicals, fertilizers.

Chief Exports. Crude oil, textile yarn, fabrics, chemicals, coal, soybeans, vegetable oil, rice, small machinery.

Chief Trading Partners. Japan, Hong Kong, United States, Germany, Singapore, United Kingdom, Canada.

Monetary Unit. 1 yuan = 100 fen.


Schools. Preschool--for ages 2 to 6. Primary--5 years beginning at age 6. Secondary--5 years; junior 3 years; senior 2 years. Higher--3 to 6 years. Ministry of Education administers higher education; regional and provincial governments are responsible for primary and secondary education.

Literacy. Adult population is about 76 percent literate.

Leading Universities. About 170 institutions of higher education; universities at Beijing, Changchun, Chengdu, Chongqing, Hulan Ergi, Fuxin, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Harbin, Hefei, Hohhot, Jinan, Kunming, Lanzhou, Luda, Nanchang, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shenyang, Tianjin, Urumqi, Wuhan, Xiamen, Xi'an, Xiangtan, Zhenjiang, Zhengzhou.

Notable Libraries. Chinese Academy of Sciences Central Library, Beijing; National Library of Beijing; Institute of Scientific and Technical Information of China Library, Beijing; Nanjing Library; Shandong Library, Jinan; Tianjin Library.

Notable Museums. National Academy of Arts, Beijing; History Museum, Canton; Lhasa Museum; Museum of Astronomy, Nanjing; Chinese History Museum, Beijing; Cultural Palace of Minorities, Beijing; Peasant Movement Institute and House of Mao Zedong (traditionally Mao Tse-tung), Wuhan.


Form of Government. People's Republic.

Constitution. Fourth constitution since 1954; effective December 1982.

Chief of State. President/chairman of the republic.

Head of Government. Premier.

Legislature. National People's Congress; annual sessions; term 5 years.

Standing Committee. The executive, elected by National People's Congress; consists of chairman, vice-chairmen, and members.

State Council. Cabinet; consists of premier, vice-premiers, and ministers, all appointed by National People's Congress.

Judiciary. Supreme People's Court--the highest judicial organ of the state--consists of one president and one vice president; term, 4 years. Other courts include Special People's Courts, Local People's Courts. Supreme People's Procuratorates and Local People's Procuratorates enforce laws.

Communist Party. The government is controlled by the main organs of the Communist party, including the Central Advisory Commission, the Central Committee, and the Politburo. Party membership (1980): 38,000,000.

Political Divisions. 21 provinces; 5 autonomous regions; 3 special status municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin).

Voting Qualifications. All citizens over 18 years of age can vote with the exception of persons deprived of voting by law.


Anshan. Chief iron and steel works in China; a complex of steelworks, rolling mills, and iron mines.

Burma Road. 717 miles (1,154 kilometers) long, over north-south high ranges from Lashio, Myanmar, to Kunming; a vital supply route during World War II.

Chinese Eastern Railroad. Built by Soviet Union, across Manchuria (now the Northeast) to Vladivostok and Luda.

Fengman Dam. One of the largest hydroelectric power stations of China; located at the head of the Songhua Jiang reservoir; capacity of more than 570,000 kilowatts.

Fushun. One of the world's largest open pit coal mines, producing more than 22,000,000 tons (20,000,000 metric tons) annually; also site of steel mills, chemicals, and oil refinery complex.

Gobi, The. One of the largest deserts in the world.

Grand Canal. 1,056-mile (1,700-kilometer) canal linking Beijing and Hangzhou; used for north-south transport; constructed during the Sui Dynasty (AD 581 to 618).

Great Wall. 1,500-mile (2,400-kilometer) wall from Gansu to Qinhuangdao; about 15 to 50 feet (5 to 15 meters) high.

Hainan. Large tropical island in the South China Sea (Nan Hai); produces sugarcane, pineapples, grapefruit, coffee, and rice.

Huang He (Yellow River). Second longest river in China, 2,900 miles (4,700 kilometers).

Koko Nor (Qinghai Hu). Largest mountain lake with no outlet in Central Asia, in Nan Shan (mountains); surface area averages 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers).

Lhasa. Capital of Tibet; located high in the Tibetan Himalayas; Dalai Lama's Palace.

Marco Polo Bridge. Over Yongding He; Sino-Japanese War began here on July 7, 1937.

Mount Everest. World's highest peak, on Tibet-Nepal border, 29,028 feet (8,848 meters).

Qufu. Home of Confucius; Temple of Confucius; Confucius' Tomb; Residence of Confucius' Descendants.

Tai Shan. Sacred mountain, traditionally worshipped as a deity, highest peak, 8,064 feet (2,458 meters), in Shandong Province; temples; monuments.

Xi'an. Near site of excavation of the tomb of Emperor Ch'in Shih Huang Ti, who died 210 BC; more than 7,500 life-size terra-cotta warrior figures were excavated.

Yangtze River. Longest river in Asia, 3,400 miles (5,500 kilometers); gorges north of Yichang.

Yan'an. Communist armies established their headquarters here after the Long March in December 1936; Museum of the Revolution; Mao Zedong's house.

Zhoukoudianzhen. Near Beijing, site of the discovery of Peking Man (about 400,000 BC); excavated in 1923.

The Geography portion of this article was contributed by Clifton W. Pannell, Professor, Department of Geography, University of Georgia, and author of `China, The Geography of Development and Modernization'. The History portion of this article was contributed by Bonnie B.C. Oh, former Associate Professor of History, Loyola University of Chicago.


Agricultural regions. In a sense, it is difficult to discuss Chinese agriculture as a whole, because the climate and physical features--and thus the kinds of crops that are cultivated--vary widely from one part of the country to another. In general, for agricultural purposes, three main physical regions can be considered: the west, the north, and the central and south. These can be further subdivided into eight distinctive physical-agricultural regions.

The Tibet-Qinghai Plateau in western China is a high, cold, dry, and extremely rugged area with a short growing season. Farmers here can usually grow only enough wheat, barley, and potatoes and raise enough sheep, yaks, and horses to provide for the needs of their own families.

Also in western China, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang lie beyond the Great Wall and are known for their dryness. They get less than 12 inches (300 millimeters) of precipitation and in some areas less than one inch (25 millimeters). Herding is the primary economic activity, though oasis agriculture is carried on where water is available. Crops include grain, cotton, sugar beets, and exotic fruits and melons.

In northern China the Loess Plateau lies southeast of the Great Wall and north of the Qin Ling Mountains. The loess that covers most of the area has eroded into badlands in places. This region is dry and has long, cold winters. Drought-tolerant crops such as millet and gaoliang are common. Wheat, corn, and cotton are also planted extensively, especially where irrigation water is available.

The North China Plain lies south of the Great Wall and extends from the coast to the mountains and hills to the west and south. The floodplains of the Huang He and the Huai He are the main features. Several problems exist here. There is not enough rainfall, the winters are cold and long, and some of the soils are salty because of poor drainage. The main crops are wheat, barley, cotton, corn, gaoliang, millet, and peanuts.

The Northeast (formerly called Manchuria) suffers from extremely cold winters, a short growing season, and poor drainage on the large Northeast Plain. The fields in this region are large, and heavy farm machinery has been used extensively. The chief crops include spring wheat, corn, millet, gaoliang, flax, and soybeans. A great deal of land reclamation has taken place in Heilongjiang Province. State farms have become the main form of agricultural organization in the land reclamation areas.

The middle and lower Yangtze River basin in central China is the country's richest and most productive agricultural region, the "rice bowl" of China. The lowlands contain extensive areas of rich, river-borne alluvial soils. Precipitation is abundant, and the winters are mild. Rice is the main crop, but cotton, tea, and oilseeds are also important. Half of the country's rice is produced in this region. The farming methods are very intensive and yields are high. Much of the fertile land of the middle and lower Yangtze Basin is farmed all year round.

South China includes the region south of the Yangtze Basin along China's southern and southeastern coasts, a land of rugged hills and low mountains interspersed with river basins. Much of this region lies within the tropics. Precipitation is abundant and the growing season is long, but only 10 percent of the area is flat enough to permit row cropping. The main crops are rice, sugarcane, mulberries (grown primarily for silkworm culture), fruit, and freshwater fishes raised in ponds or rice paddies. The Zhu Jiang (Pearl River) delta plain around Canton is one of the most productive farming regions in China.

The western part of the region also contains the Sichuan Basin and extends south to include the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. Much of this region consists of rugged hills and mountains. Except for the Yuan (Red) River basin and the Chengdu Plain of Sichuan, it is not very productive. Two crops per year of rice is common where the terrain and soil conditions are right. Shifting cultivation of the slash-and-burn type is practiced among isolated peoples in the extreme southwest (See Agriculture).