Archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest hominids in China date from 250,000 to 2.24 million years ago. A cave in Zhoukoudian (near present-day Beijing) has fossils dated at somewhere between 300,000 to 780,000 years. The fossils are of Peking Man, an example of Homo erectus who used fire.
The earliest evidence of a fully modern human in China comes from Liujiang County, Guangxi, where a cranium has been found and dated at approximately 67,000 years old. Controversy persists over the dating of the Liujiang remains (a partial skeleton from Minatogawa in Okinawa).
Early dynastic rule
Jade deer ornament made during the first historical Chinese dynasty, the Shang, 17th to 11th century BC.
Chinese tradition names the first dynasty Xia, but it was considered mythical until scientific excavations found early Bronze Age sites at Erlitou in Henan Province in 1959. Archaeologists have since uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs in locations cited as Xia’s in ancient historical texts, but it is impossible to verify that these remains are of the Xia without written records from the period.
Some of the thousands of life-size Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty, ca. 210 BC.
The first Chinese dynasty that left historical records, the loosely feudal Shang (Yin), settled along the Yellow River in eastern China from the 17th to the 11th century BC. The oracle bone script of the Shang Dynasty represent the oldest forms of Chinese writing found and the direct ancestor of modern Chinese characters used throughout East Asia. The Shang were invaded from the west by the Zhou, who ruled from the 12th to the 5th century BC, until their centralized authority was slowly eroded by feudal warlords. Many independent states eventually emerged out of the weakened Zhou state, and continually waged war with each other in the Spring and Autumn Period, only occasionally deferring to the Zhou king. By the time of the Warring States Period, there were seven powerful sovereign states, each with its own king, ministry and army.
The first unified Chinese state was established by Qin Shi Huang of the Qin state in 221 BC. Qin Shi Huang proclaimed himself the “First Emperor” (始皇帝), and imposed many reforms throughout China, notably the forced standardization of the Chinese language, measurements, length of cart axles, and currency. The Qin Dynasty lasted only fifteen years, falling soon after Qin Shi Huang’s death, as its harsh legalist and authoritarian policies led to widespread rebellion.
The subsequent Han Dynasty ruled China between 206 BC and 220 AD, and created a lasting Han cultural identity among its populace that extends to the present day. The Han Dynasty expanded the empire’s territory considerably with military campaigns reaching Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia and Central Asia, and also helped establish the Silk Road in Central Asia. China was for a large part of the last two millennia the world’s largest economy. However, in the later part of the Qing Dynasty, China’s economic development began to slow and Europe’s rapid development during and after the Industrial Revolution enabled it to surpass China.
After the collapse of Han, another period of disunion followed, including the highly chivalric period of the Three Kingdoms. Independent Chinese states of this period such as Wu opened diplomatic relations with Japan, introducing the Chinese writing system there. In 580 AD, China was reunited under the Sui. However, the Sui Dynasty was short-lived after a failure in the Goguryeo-Sui Wars (598–614) weakened it.
10th–11th century Longquan celadon porcelain pieces from Zhejiang province, during the Song Dynasty
Under the succeeding Tang and Song dynasties, Chinese technology and culture reached its zenith. The Tang Empire was at its height of power until the middle of the 8th century, when the An Shi Rebellion destroyed the prosperity of the empire. The Song Dynasty was the first government in world history to issue paper money and the first Chinese polity to establish a permanent standing navy. Between the 10th and 11th centuries, the population of China doubled in size. This growth came about through expanded rice cultivation in central and southern China, and the production of abundant food surpluses.
Within its borders, the Northern Song Dynasty had a population of some 100 million people. The Song Dynasty was a culturally rich period for philosophy and the arts. Landscape art and portrait painting were brought to new levels of maturity and complexity after the Tang Dynasty, and social elites gathered to view art, share their own, and trade precious artworks. Philosophers such as Cheng Yi and Chu Hsi reinvigorated Confucianism with new commentary, infused Buddhist ideals, and emphasized a new organization of classic texts that brought about the core doctrine of Neo-Confucianism.
Detail from Along the River During the Qingming Festival; daily life of people from the Song period at the capital, Bianjing, today’s Kaifeng.
In 1271, the Mongol leader and fifth Khagan of the Mongol Empire Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty, with the last remnant of the Song Dynasty falling to the Yuan in 1279. Before the Mongol invasion, Chinese dynasties reportedly had approximately 120 million inhabitants; after the conquest was completed in 1279, the 1300 census reported roughly 60 million people.
Late dynastic rule
A peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang overthrew the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 and founded the Ming Dynasty. Ming Dynasty thinkers such as Wang Yangming would further critique and expand Neo-Confucianism with ideas of individualism and innate morality that would have tremendous impact on later Japanese thought. Chosun Korea also became a nominal vassal state of Ming China and adopted much of its Neo-Confucian bureaucratic structure.
Under the Ming Dynasty, China had another golden age, with one of the strongest navies in the world, a rich and prosperous economy and a flourishing of the arts and culture. It was during this period that Zheng He led explorations throughout the world, possibly reaching America. During the early Ming Dynasty China’s capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing. In 1644 Beijing was sacked by a coalition of rebel forces led by Li Zicheng, a minor Ming official turned leader of the peasant revolt. The last Ming Chongzhen Emperor committed suicide when the city fell. The Manchu Qing Dynasty then allied with Ming Dynasty general Wu Sangui and overthrew Li’s short-lived Shun Dynasty, and subsequently seized control of Beijing, which became the new capital of the Qing Dynasty.
The Qing Dynasty, which lasted until 1912, was the last dynasty in China. In the 19th century the Qing Dynasty adopted a defensive posture towards European imperialism, even though it engaged in imperialistic expansion into Central Asia. At this time China awoke to the significance of the rest of the world, the West in particular. As China opened up to foreign trade and missionary activity, opium produced by British India was forced onto Qing China. Two Opium Wars with Britain weakened the Emperor’s control. European imperialism proved to be disastrous for China:
The Arrow War (1856–1860) [2nd Opium War] saw another disastrous defeat for China. The subsequent passing of the humiliating Treaty of Tianjin in 1856 and the Beijing Conventions of 1860 opened up more of the country to foreign penetrations and more ports for their vessels. Hong Kong was ceded over to the British. Thus, the “unequal treaties system” was established. Heavy indemnities had to be paid by China, and more territory and control were taken over by the foreigners.
The weakening of the Qing regime, and the apparent humiliation of the unequal treaties in the eyes of the Chinese people had several consequences. One consequence[according to whom?] was the Taiping Civil War, which lasted from 1851 to 1862. It was led by Hong Xiuquan, who was partly influenced by an idiosyncratic interpretation of Christianity. Hong believed himself to be the son of God and the younger brother of Jesus. Although the Qing forces were eventually victorious, the civil war was one of the bloodiest in human history, costing at least 20 million lives (more than the total number of fatalities in World War I), with some estimates of up to two hundred million. Other costly rebellions followed the Taiping Rebellion, such as the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars (1855–67), Nien Rebellion (1851–1868), Miao Rebellion (1854–73), Panthay Rebellion (1856–1873) and the Dungan revolt (1862–1877).
A corner tower of the Forbidden City at night; the palace was the residence for the imperial family from the reign of the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty in the 15th century until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912.
These rebellions resulted in an estimated loss of several million lives each and led to disastrous results for the economy and the countryside. The flow of British opium hastened the empire’s decline. In the 19th century, the age of colonialism was at its height and the great Chinese Diaspora began. About 35 million overseas Chinese live in Southeast Asia today. The famine in 1876–79 claimed between 9 and 13 million lives in northern China. From 108 BC to 1911 AD, China experienced 1,828 famines, or one per year, somewhere in the empire.
While China was wracked by continuous war, Meiji Japan succeeded in rapidly modernizing its military and set its sights on Korea and Manchuria. At the request of the Korean emperor, the Chinese government sent troops to aid in suppressing the Tonghak Rebellion in 1894. However, Japan also sent troops to Korea, leading to the First Sino-Japanese War, which resulted in Qing China’s loss of influence in the Korean Peninsula as well as the cession of Taiwan to Japan.
Following this series of defeats, a reform plan for the empire to become a modern Meiji-style constitutional monarchy was drafted by the Guangxu Emperor in 1898, but was opposed and stopped by the Empress Dowager Cixi, who placed Emperor Guangxu under house arrest in a coup d’état. Further destruction followed the ill-fated 1900 Boxer Rebellion against westerners in Beijing.
By the early 20th century, mass civil disorder had begun, and calls for reform and revolution were heard across the country. The 38-year-old Emperor Guangxu died under house arrest on 14 November 1908, suspiciously just a day before Cixi’s own death. With the throne empty, he was succeeded by Cixi’s handpicked heir, his two year old nephew Puyi, who became the Xuantong Emperor. Guangxu’s consort became the Empress Dowager Longyu. In another coup de’tat, Yuan Shikai overthrew the last Qing emperor, and forced empress Dowager Longyu to sign the abdication decree as regent in 1912, ending two thousand years of imperial rule in China. She died, childless, in 1913.
Republic of China (1912–1949)
Main articles: Republic of China (1912–1949) and History of the Republic of China
Chinese to be buried alive by Japanese soldiers during the Nanking Massacre of 1937, when over 200,000 Chinese were murdered.
On 1 January 1912, the Republic of China was established, heralding the end of the Qing Dynasty. Sun Yat-sen of the Kuomintang (the KMT or Nationalist Party) was proclaimed provisional president of the republic. However, the presidency was later given to Yuan Shikai, a former Qing general, who had ensured the defection of the entire Beiyang Army from the Qing Empire to the revolution. In 1915, Yuan proclaimed himself Emperor of China but was forced to abdicate and return the state to a republic when he realized it was an unpopular move, not only with the population but also with his own Beiyang Army and its commanders.
After Yuan Shikai’s death in 1916, 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 Kuomintang, under Chiang Kai-shek, was able to reunify the country under its own control with a military campaign and deft political maneuverings known as the “Northern Expedition”. The Kuomintang moved the nation’s capital to Nanjing and implemented “political tutelage”, an intermediate stage of political development outlined in Sun Yat-sen’s program for transforming China into a modern, democratic state. Sun had outlined this program with his “San Min Zhu Yi” Doctrine. Effectively, political tutelage meant one-party rule by the Kuomintang, but the party was politically divided into competing cliques. This political division made it difficult for Chiang to battle the Communists, which the Kuomintang had been warring against since 1927 in the Chinese Civil War. This war continued successfully for the Kuomintang, especially after the Communists were forced to retreat in the Long March, until the Xi’an Incident and Japanese aggression forced Chiang to confront Imperial Japan.
The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) (part of World War II) forced an uneasy alliance between the Nationalists and the Communists as well as causing around 20 million Chinese civilian deaths. The Japanese “three-all policy” in north China—“kill all, burn all and destroy all”, was one example of wartime atrocities committed on a civilian population. With the surrender of Japan in 1945, China emerged victorious but financially drained. The continued distrust between the Nationalists and the Communists led to the resumption of the Chinese Civil War. In 1947, constitutional rule was established, but because of the ongoing Civil War many provisions of the ROC constitution were never implemented in mainland China.
1949 to present
Main article: History of the People’s Republic of China
Major combat in the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949 with the Communist Party of China in control of mainland China, and the Kuomintang (KMT) retreating to Taiwan, reducing the ROC territory to only Taiwan, Hainan, and their surrounding islands. On 1 October 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. “Communist China” and “Red China” were two common names for the PRC. In 1950, the Chinese Red Army – newly renamed the People’s Liberation Army – succeeded in capturing Hainan from the Republic of China, occupying Tibet, and defeating the majority of the remaining Kuomintang forces in Yunnan and Xinjiang provinces, though some Kuomintang holdouts survived until much later.
Chairman Mao Zedong proclaiming the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949.
Mao encouraged population growth, and under his leadership China’s population almost doubled from around 550 million to over 900 million. However, the economic and social plan known as the Great Leap Forward resulted in an estimated 45 million deaths, mostly from starvation. In 1966, Mao and his allies launched the Cultural Revolution, which would last until Mao’s death a decade later. The Cultural Revolution, motivated by power struggles within the Party and a fear of the Soviet Union, led to a major upheaval in Chinese society. In 1972, at the peak of the Sino-Soviet split, Mao and Zhou Enlai met Richard Nixon in Beijing to establish relations with the United States. In the same year, the PRC was admitted to the United Nations in place of the Republic of China for China’s membership of the United Nations, and permanent membership of the Security Council.
After Mao’s death in 1976 and the arrest of the Gang of Four, blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping quickly wrested power from Mao’s anointed successor Hua Guofeng. Although he never became the head of the party or state himself, Deng was in fact the Paramount Leader of China at that time, his influence within the Party led the country to significant economic reforms. The Communist Party subsequently loosened governmental control over citizens’ personal lives and the communes were disbanded with many peasants receiving multiple land leases, which greatly increased incentives and agricultural production. This turn of events marked China’s transition from a planned economy to a mixed economy with an increasingly open market environment, a system termed by some “market socialism”, and officially by the Communist Party of China “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”. The PRC adopted its current constitution on 4 December 1982.
The death of pro-reform official Hu Yaobang helped to spark the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, during which students and others campaigned for several months, speaking out against corruption and in favour of greater political reform, including democratic rights and freedom of speech. However, they were eventually put down on 4 June when PLA troops and vehicles entered and forcibly cleared the square, resulting in numerous casualties. This event was widely reported and brought worldwide condemnation and sanctions against the government. The “Tank Man” incident in particular became famous.
The city of Shanghai has become a symbol of China’s rapid economic expansion since the 1990s. In 2011, China had an estimated 960,000 millionaires.
President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji, both former mayors of Shanghai, led the nation in the 1990s. Under Jiang and Zhu’s ten years of administration, China’s economic performance pulled an estimated 150 million peasants out of poverty and sustained an average annual gross domestic product growth rate of 11.2%. The country formally joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.
Although China’s economic growth has made it the world’s second-largest economy, the government has begun to worry that rapid economic growth has negatively impacted the country’s resources and environment. Another concern is that certain sectors of society are not sufficiently benefiting from the PRC’s economic development; one example of this is the wide gap between urban and rural areas. As a result, under current CPC General Secretary, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, the PRC has initiated policies to address these issues of equitable distribution of resources, but the outcome remains to be seen. More than 40 million farmers have been displaced from their land, usually for economic development, contributing to the 87,000 demonstrations and riots across China in 2005. For much of the PRC’s population, living standards have seen extremely large improvements, and freedom continues to expand, but political controls remain tight and rural areas poor.
Main article: Geography of the People’s Republic of China
A composite satellite image showing the topography of China.
Longsheng Rice Terrace in Guangxi.
The Li River in Guangxi.
The People’s Republic of China is the second-largest country in the world by land area after Russia and is either the third- or fourth-largest by total area, after Russia, Canada and, depending on the definition of total area, the United States. China’s total area is generally stated as being approximately 9,600,000 km2 (3,700,000 sq mi). Specific area figures range from 9,572,900 km2 (3,696,100 sq mi) according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, 9,596,961 km2 (3,705,407 sq mi) according to the UN Demographic Yearbook, to 9,596,961 km2 (3,705,407 sq mi) according to the CIA World Factbook, and 9,640,011 km2 (3,722,029 sq mi) including Aksai Chin and the Trans-Karakoram Tract, which are controlled by China and claimed by India. None of these figures include the 1,000 square kilometres (386.1 sq mi) of territory ceded to China by Tajikistan following the ratification of a Sino-Tajik border agreement in January 2011.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the total area of the United States, at 9,522,055 km2 (3,676,486 sq mi), is slightly smaller than that of China. Meanwhile, the CIA World Factbook states that China’s total area was greater than that of the United States until the coastal waters of the Great Lakes was added to the United States’ total area in 1996.
China has the longest combined land border in the world, measuring 22,117 km (13,743 mi) from the mouth of the Yalu River to the Gulf of Tonkin. China borders 14 nations, more than any other country except Russia, which also borders 14. China extends across much of the East Asian continent, bordering Vietnam, Laos, and Burma in Southeast Asia; India, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan, in South Asia; Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in Central Asia; a small section of Russian Altai and Mongolia in Inner Asia; and the Russian Far East and North Korea in Northeast Asia.
Additionally, China shares maritime boundaries with South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. The PRC and the Republic of China (Taiwan) make mutual claims over each other’s territority and the frontier between areas under their respective control is closest near the islands of Kinmen and Matsu, off the Fujian coast, but otherwise run through the Taiwan Strait. The PRC and ROC assert identical claims over the entirety of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and the southern-most extent of these claims reach Zengmu Ansha (James Shoal), which would form a maritime frontier with Malaysia.
Landscape and climate
Mount Everest in Tibet.
The South China Sea coast at Hainan.
The territory of China lies between latitudes 18° and 54° N, and longitudes 73° and 135° E. The country’s vast size gives it a wide 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, broad grasslands are visible. Southern China is dominated by hill country and low mountain ranges, while the central-east hosts the deltas of China’s two major rivers, the Yellow River and the Yangtze River. Other major rivers include the Xi, Mekong, Brahmaputra and Amur. To the west, major mountain ranges, most notably the Himalayas, and high plateaus feature among the more arid landscapes of the north, such as the Taklamakan and the Gobi Desert. China’s highest point, Mt. Everest (8848m), lies on the Sino-Nepalese border. The country’s lowest point is the dried lake bed of Ayding Lake (-154m) in the Turpan Depression.
A major environmental issue in China is the continued expansion of its deserts, particularly the Gobi Desert, which is currently the world’s fifth-largest desert. Although barrier tree lines planted since the 1970s have reduced the frequency of sandstorms, prolonged drought and poor agricultural practices have resulted in dust storms plaguing northern China each spring, which then spread to other parts of East Asia, including Korea and Japan. According to China’s environmental watchdog, Sepa, China is losing a million acres (4,000 km²) per year to desertification. Water quality, erosion, and pollution control have become important issues in China’s relations with other countries. Melting glaciers in the Himalayas could potentially lead to water shortages for hundreds of millions of people.
China’s climate is mainly dominated by dry seasons and wet monsoons, which lead to a pronounced temperature differences between winter and summer. In the winter, northern winds coming from high-latitude areas are cold and dry; in summer, southern winds from coastal areas at lower latitudes are warm and moist. The climate in China differs from region to region because of the country’s extensive and complex topography.
Main article: Wildlife of China
A giant panda photographed in Sichuan
One of 17 megadiverse countries, China lies in two of the world’s major ecozones: the Palearctic and the Indomalaya. In the Palearctic zone, mammals such as the horse, camel, tapir, and jerboa can be found. Among the species found in the Indomalaya region are the Leopard Cat, bamboo rat, treeshrew, and various monkey and ape species. Some overlap exists between the two regions due to natural dispersal and migration; deer, antelope, bears, wolves, pigs, and numerous rodent species can all be found in China’s diverse climatic and geological environments. The famous giant panda is found only in a limited area along the Yangtze River. China suffers from a continuing problem with trade in endangered species, although there are now laws to prohibit such activities.
China also hosts a variety of forest types. Cold coniferous forests predominate in the north of the country, supporting animal species such as moose and the Asian black bear, along with over 120 bird species. Moist conifer forests can have thickets of bamboo as an understorey, replaced by rhododendrons in higher montane stands of juniper and yew. Subtropical forests, which dominate central and southern China, support as many as 146,000 species of flora. Tropical and seasonal rainforests, though confined to Yunnan and Hainan Island, contain a quarter of all the plant and animal species found in China.
Main article: Environment of the People’s Republic of China
Wind turbines in Xinjiang. The Dabancheng project is Asia’s largest wind farm.
In recent decades, China has suffered from severe environmental deterioration and pollution. While regulations such as the 1979 Environmental Protection Law are fairly stringent, enforcement of them is poor, as they are frequently disregarded by local communities and government officials in favour of rapid economic development.
Environmental campaigners such as Ma Jun have warned of the danger that water pollution poses to Chinese society. According to the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources, roughly 300 million Chinese do not have access to safe drinking water. According to Vice Minister for Water Resources Jiao Yong, 40% of China’s rivers had been polluted by industrial and agricultural waste by late 2011. This crisis is compounded by the perennial problem of water shortages, with 400 out of 600 surveyed Chinese cities reportedly short of drinking water.
However, China is the world’s leading investor in renewable energy technologies, with $34.6 billion invested in 2009 alone. China produces more wind turbines and solar panels than any other country, and renewable energy projects, such as solar water heating, are widely pursued at the local level. By 2009, over 17% of China’s energy was derived from renewable sources – most notably hydroelectric power plants, of which China has a total installed capacity of 197 GW. In 2011, the Chinese government announced plans to invest four trillion yuan (US$618.55 billion) in water infrastructure projects over a ten-year period, and to complete construction of a flood prevention and anti-drought system by 2020.
Main article: Politics of the People’s Republic of China
A diagram of the state organs of the People’s Republic of China.
The PRC is regarded by several political scientists as one of the world’s five remaining Communist states (along with Vietnam, North Korea, Laos, and Cuba), but simple characterizations of PRC’s political structure since the 1980s are no longer possible. The PRC government has been variously described as communist and socialist, but also as authoritarian, with heavy restrictions remaining in many areas, most notably on the Internet, the press, freedom of assembly, reproductive rights, and freedom of religion. Its current political/economic system has been termed by its leaders as “Communism with Chinese characteristics”.
Compared to its closed-door policies until the mid-1970s, the liberalization of the PRC has resulted in the administrative climate being less restrictive than before. The PRC is far different from liberal democracy or social democracy that exists in most of Europe or North America, and the National People’s Congress (highest state body) has been described as a “rubber stamp” body. The PRC’s incumbent President is Hu Jintao who is also the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and his Premier is Wen Jiabao who is also a member of the CPC Politburo Standing Committee.
The Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where the National People’s Congress convenes.
The country is ruled by the Communist Party of China (CPC), whose power is enshrined in China’s constitution. The political system is very decentralized with limited democratic processes internal to the party and at local village levels, although these experiments have been marred by corruption. There are other political parties in the PRC, referred to in China as democratic parties, which participate in the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
There have been some moves toward political liberalization, in that open contested elections are now held at the village and town levels, and that legislatures have shown some assertiveness from time to time. However, the Party retains effective control over government appointments: in the absence of meaningful opposition, the CPC wins by default most of the time. Political concerns in the PRC include lessening the growing gap between rich and poor and fighting corruption within the government leadership.
The level of support to the government action and the management of the nation is among the highest in the world, with 86% of people who express satisfaction with the way things are going in their country and with their nation’s economy according to a 2008 Pew Research Center survey.
Main articles: Administrative divisions of the People’s Republic of China, Districts of Hong Kong, and Municipalities of Macau
The People’s Republic of China has administrative control over 22 provinces, and considers Taiwan to be its 23rd province, although Taiwan is currently governed by the Republic of China, which disputes the PRC’s claim. The PRC also has five subdivisions described as Autonomous Regions, each with a designated minority group; four municipalities; and two Special Administrative Regions, which enjoy a degree of political autonomy. These 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, and four municipalities can be collectively referred to as “mainland China”, a term which usually excludes the Special Autonomous Regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
Hu Jintao with former US President George W. Bush in 2006.
The PRC has diplomatic relations with 171 countries and maintains embassies in 162. Its legitimacy is disputed by the Republic of China and a few other countries; it is thus the largest and wealthiest state with limited recognition. Sweden was the first western country to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic on 9 May 1950. In 1971, the PRC replaced the Republic of China as the sole representative of China in the United Nations and as one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The PRC was also a former member and leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, and still considers itself an advocate for developing countries.
Under its interpretation of the One-China policy, the PRC has made it a precondition to establishing diplomatic relations that the other country acknowledges its claim to Taiwan and severs official ties with the government of the Republic of China. PRC officials have protested on numerous occasions when foreign countries have made diplomatic overtures to Taiwan, especially in the matter of armament sales. Political meetings between foreign government officials and the 14th Dalai Lama are also opposed by the PRC, as it considers Tibet to be formally part of China.
Much of China’s current foreign policy is reportedly based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence of Zhou Enlai—non-interference in other states’ affairs, non-aggression, peaceful coexistence, equality and mutual benefits. China’s foreign policy is also driven by the concept of “harmony without uniformity”, which encourages diplomatic relations between states despite ideological differences. This policy has led China to support states that are regarded as dangerous or repressive by Western nations, such as Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran. Conflicts with foreign countries have occurred at times in China’s recent history, particularly with the United States; for example, the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo conflict in May 1999 and the US-China spy plane incident in April 2001. The PRC’s foreign relations with many Western nations suffered for a time following the military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, although in recent years China has improved its diplomatic links with the West.
In recent decades, the PRC has played an increasing role in calling for free trade areas and security pacts amongst its Asia-Pacific neighbors. In 2004, the PRC proposed an entirely new East Asia Summit (EAS) framework as a forum for regional security issues, pointedly excluding the United States. The EAS, which includes ASEAN Plus Three, India, Australia and New Zealand, held its inaugural summit in 2005. The PRC is also a founding member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), along with Russia and the Central Asian republics.
In 2000, the U.S. Congress approved “permanent normal trade relations” (PNTR) with China, allowing Chinese exports in at the same low tariffs as goods from most other countries. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush asserted that free trade would gradually open China to democratic reform. Bush was furthermore an advocate of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). China has a significant trade surplus with the United States, its most important export market. In the early 2010s, U.S. politicians argued that the Chinese yuan was significantly undervalued, giving China an unfair trade advantage.
Sinophobic attitudes often target Chinese minorities and nationals living outside of China. Sometimes, such anti-Chinese attitudes turn violent, as occurred during the 13 May Incident in Malaysia in 1969 and the Jakarta riots of May 1998 in Indonesia, in which more than 2,000 people died. In recent years, a number of anti-Chinese riots and incidents have also occurred in Africa and Oceania. Anti-Chinese sentiment is often rooted in socio-economics.
Main article: Sino-Japanese relations
The relationship between China and Japan has been strained at times by Japan’s perceived refusal to acknowledge its wartime past to the satisfaction of the PRC. Revisionist comments made by prominent Japanese officials and some Japanese history textbooks regarding the 1937 Rape of Nanking have been a focus of particular controversy. Sino-Japanese relations warmed considerably after Shinzo Abe became the Prime Minister of Japan in September 2006, and a joint historical study conducted by the PRC and Japan released a report in 2010 which pointed toward a new consensus on the issue of World War 2-era atrocities. However, in the early 2010s, relations cooled once more, with Japan accusing China of withholding its reserves of valuable rare earth elements.
China has been involved in a number of international territorial disputes, mostly resulting from the legacy of unequal treaties imposed on China during the historical period of New Imperialism. Since the 1990s, the PRC has been entering negotiations to resolve its disputed land borders, usually by offering concessions and accepting less than half of the disputed territory with each party. The PRC’s only remaining land border disputes are a disputed border with India and an undefined border with Bhutan. China is additionally involved in more minor multilateral disputes over the ownership of several small islands in the East and South China Seas.
China and the developing world
China is heavily engaged, both politically and economically, with numerous nations in the developing world. Most notably, they have followed a policy of engaging with African nations for trade and bilateral co-operation. Xinhua, China’s official news agency, states that there are no less than 750,000 Chinese nationals working or living in Africa. China has furthermore strengthened its ties with larger developing economies, becoming the largest trading partner of Brazil and building strategic links with Argentina. Along with Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa, China is a member of the BRICS group of emerging major economies, and hosted the group’s third official summit at Sanya in Hainan Province in April 2011.
China is regularly cited as a potential new superpower, with certain commentators pointing out that its rapid economic progress, military might, very large population, and increasing international influence could see it attain a prominent global role in the 21st century. Others, however, warn that economic bubbles and demographic imbalances could slow China’s growth as the century progresses.
Sociopolitical issues and reform
The Chinese democracy movement, social activists, and some members of the Communist Party of China have all identified the need for social and political reform. While economic and social controls have been greatly relaxed in China since the 1970s, political freedom is still tightly restricted. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China states that the “fundamental rights” of citizens include freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, universal suffrage, and property rights. However, in practice, these provisions do not afford significant protection against criminal prosecution by the State.
As the Chinese economy expanded following Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 reforms, tens of millions of rural Chinese who have moved to the cities find themselves treated as second-class citizens by China’s hukou household registration system, which controls state benefits. Property rights are often poorly protected, and eminent domain land seizures have had a disproportionate effect on poorer peasants. In 2003, the average Chinese farmer paid three times more taxes than the average urban dweller, despite having one-sixth of the annual income. However, a number of rural taxes have since been reduced or abolished, and additional social services provided to rural dwellers.
Censorship of political speech and information, most notably on the Internet, is openly and routinely used in China to silence criticism of the government and the ruling Communist Party. In 2005, Reporters Without Borders ranked the PRC 159th out of 167 states in its Annual World Press Freedom Index, indicating a very low level of perceived press freedom. The government has suppressed demonstrations by organizations that it considers a potential threat to “social stability”, as was the case with the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The Communist Party has had mixed success in controlling information: a powerful and pervasive media control system faces equally strong market forces, an increasingly educated citizenry, and technological and cultural changes that are making China more open to the wider world, especially on environmental issues. However, attempts are still made by the Chinese government to control public access to outside information, with online searches for politically sensitive material being blocked by the so-called Great Firewall.
A number of foreign governments and NGOs routinely criticize the PRC’s human rights record, alleging widespread civil rights violations, including systematic use of lengthy detention without trial, forced confessions, torture, mistreatment of prisoners, and restrictions of freedom of speech, assembly, association, religion, the press, and labor rights. China executes more people than any other country, accounting for 72% of the world’s total in 2009, though it is not the largest executioner per capita.
The PRC government has responded to foreign criticism by arguing that the notion of human rights should take into account a country’s present level of economic development, and focus more on the people’s rights to subsistence and development in poorer countries. The rise in the standard of living, literacy, and life expectancy for the average Chinese in the last three decades is seen by the government as tangible progress made in human rights. Efforts in the past decade to combat deadly natural disasters, such as the perennial Yangtze River floods, and work-related accidents are also portrayed in China as progress in human rights for a still largely poor country.
The PRC government remains divided over the issue of political reform. Some high-ranking politicians have spoken out in favor reforms, while others remain more conservative. In 2010, Premier Wen Jiabao stated that the PRC needs “to gradually improve the democratic election system so that state power will truly belong to the people and state power will be used to serve the people.” Despite his status, Wen’s comments were later censored by the government.
As the social, cultural and political consequences of economic growth and reform become increasingly manifest, tensions between the conservatives and reformists in the Communist Party are sharpening. Zhou Tianyong, the vice director of research of the Central Party School, argues that gradual political reform as well as repression of those pushing for overly rapid change over the next thirty years will be essential if China is to avoid an overly turbulent transition to a democratic, middle-class-dominated polity. Some Chinese look back to the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, and fear chaos if the Communist Party should lose control of the domestic situation.
Main article: People’s Liberation Army
A PLAAF Chengdu J-10 fighter aircraft.
With 2.3 million active troops, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the largest standing military force in the world, commanded by the Central Military Commission (CMC). The PLA consists of the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF), the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), and a strategic nuclear force, the Second Artillery Corps. The official announced budget of the PLA for 2009 was $70 billion. However, the United States government has claimed that China does not report its real level of military spending, which is allegedly much higher than the official budget. The Defense Intelligence Agency estimated that the real Chinese military budget for 2008 was between US$105 billion and US$150 billion. According to SIPRI, China’s military expenditure in 2010 totalled US$114.3 billion (808 billion yuan), constituting the world’s second-largest military budget.
As a recognised nuclear weapons state, China is considered both a major regional military power and an emerging military superpower. As of August 2011, China’s Second Artillery Corps is believed to maintain at least 195 nuclear missiles, including 75 ICBMs. Nonetheless, China is the only member of the UN Security Council to have relatively limited power projection capabilities. To offset this, it has begun developing power projection assets, such as aircraft carriers, and has established a network of foreign military relationships that has been compared to a string of pearls.
The PRC has made significant progress in modernizing its military since the early 2000s. It has purchased state-of-the-art Russian fighter jets, such as the Sukhoi Su-30s, and has also produced its own modern fighters, most notably the Chinese J-10s and the J-11s. China is furthermore engaged in developing an indigenous stealth aircraft, the Chengdu J-20. The PRC’s ground forces have also undergone significant modernisations, replacing its ageing Soviet-derived tank inventory with numerous variants of the modern Type 99 tank, and upgrading its battlefield C3I systems to enhance its network-centric warfare capabilities.
China has also acquired and improved upon the Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile system, which is considered to be among the most effective aircraft-intercepting systems in the world. Russia has since produced the next-generation S-400 Triumf system, with China reportedly having spent $500 million on a downgraded export version of it. A number of indigenous missile technologies have also been developed – in 2007, China conducted a successful test of an anti-satellite missile, and its first indigenous land-attack cruise missile, the CJ-10, entered service in 2009. In 2011, the Pentagon reported that China was believed to be testing the JL-2 missile, a new submarine-launched nuclear ICBM with multiple-warhead delivery capabilities.
In recent years, much attention has been focused on enhancing the blue-water capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. In August 2011, China’s first aircraft carrier, the refurbished Soviet vessel Varyag, began sea trials. China furthermore maintains a substantial fleet of submarines, including several nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines. On 13 March 2011, the PLAN missile frigate Xuzhou was spotted off the coast of Libya, marking the first time in history a Chinese warship sailed into the Mediterranean. The ship’s entrance into the Mediterranean was officially part of a humanitarian mission to rescue PRC nationals from the 2011 Libyan civil war, though analysts such as Fareed Zakaria viewed the mission as also being an attempt to increase the PRC’s global military presence.
Little information is available regarding the motivations supporting China’s military modernization. A 2007 report by the US Secretary of Defense noted that “China’s actions in certain areas increasingly appear inconsistent with its declaratory policies”. For its part, China claims it maintains an army purely for defensive purposes.
Main article: Economy of the People’s Republic of China
The Shanghai Stock Exchange building in Shanghai’s Lujiazui financial district.
From its founding in 1949 until late 1978, the People’s Republic of China was a Soviet-style centrally planned economy, without private businesses or capitalism. To propel the country towards a modern, industrialized communist society, Mao Zedong instituted the Great Leap Forward in the early 1960s, although this had decidedly mixed economic results. Following Mao’s death in 1976 and the consequent end of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping and the new Chinese leadership began to reform the economy and move towards a more market-oriented mixed economy under one-party rule. Collectivization of the agriculture was dismantled and farmlands were privatized to increase productivity. In 1978, China and Japan began normalized diplomatic relations, and China started borrowing money from Japan in soft loans. Since 1978, Japan has been China’s most significant foreign donor. Modern-day China is mainly characterised as having a market economy based on private property ownership, and is one of the leading examples of state capitalism.
Under the post-Mao market reforms, a wide variety of small-scale private enterprises were encouraged, while the government relaxed price controls and promoted foreign investment. Foreign trade was focused upon as a major vehicle of growth, leading to the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), first in Shenzhen and then in other Chinese cities. Inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOEs) were restructured by introducing western-style management systems, with unprofitable ones being closed outright, resulting in massive job losses. By the latter part of 2010, China was reversing some of its economic liberalization initiatives, with state-owned companies buying up independent businesses in the steel, auto and energy industries.
In 1978, Deng Xiaoping initiated the PRC’s market-oriented reforms.
Since economic liberalization began in 1978, the PRC’s investment- and export-led economy has grown 90 times bigger and is the fastest growing major economy in the world. According to the IMF, the PRC’s annual average GDP growth between 2001 and 2010 was 10.5%, the Chinese economy is predicted to grow at an average annual rate of 9.5% between 2011 and 2015.Between 2007 and 2011, China’s economic growth rate was equivalent to all of the G7 countries’ growth combined. According to the Global Growth Generators index announced by Citigroup in February 2011, China has a very high 3G growth rating. As of 2010, China has the world’s second-largest nominal GDP, at 40.1 trillion yuan (US$6.05 trillion), although its GDP per capita of US$4,300 puts the PRC behind ninety countries(out of 183 countries on the IMF list) in global GDP per capita rankings. China’s primary, secondary, and tertiary industries contributed 10.6%, 46.8%, and 42.6% respectively to its total GDP in 2009. If PPP is taken into account, the PRC’s economy is again second only to the US, at $10.085 trillion, corresponding to $7,518 per capita.
The PRC is the third-most-visited country in the world, with 55.7 million inbound international visitors in 2010. It is a member of the WTO and is the world’s second-largest trading power behind the US, with a total international trade value of US$2.97 trillion–1.58 trillion in exports (#1) and US$1.39 trillion in imports (#2). Its foreign exchange reserves have reached US$2.85 trillion at end of 2010, an increase of 18.7% over the previous year, making its reserves by far the world’s largest. The PRC owns an estimated $1.6 trillion of US securities. The PRC, holding US$1.16 trillion in US Treasury bonds, is the largest foreign holder of US public debt. China is the world’s third-largest recipient of inward FDI, attracting US$92.4 billion in 2008 alone, and China increasingly invests abroad, with a total outward FDI of US$52.2 billion in 2008 making it the world’s sixth-largest outward investor. In 2010, China’s inward FDI was $106 billion, marking a 16% increase over 2009.
The PRC’s success has been primarily due to manufacturing as a low-cost producer. This is attributed to a combination of cheap labor, good infrastructure, relatively high productivity, favorable government policy, and a possibly undervalued exchange rate. The latter has been sometimes blamed for the PRC’s huge trade surplus (US$262.7 billion in 2007) and has become a major source of dispute between the PRC and its major trading partners—the US, EU, and Japan—despite the yuan having been de-pegged and having risen in value by 20% against the US dollar since 2005.
The state still dominates in strategic “pillar” industries (such as energy and heavy industries), but private enterprise (composed of around 30 million private businesses) has expanded enormously; in 2005, it accounted for anywhere between 33% to 70% of national GDP, while the OECD estimate for that year was over 50% of China’s national output, up from 1% in 1978. Its stock market in Shanghai, the SSE, has raised record amounts of IPOs and its benchmark Shanghai Composite index has doubled since 2005. SSE’s market capitalization reached US$3 trillion in 2007, making it the world’s fifth-largest stock exchange.
Foreign currency reserves and gold minus external debt, based on 2010 data from CIA Factbook.
China now ranks 29th in the Global Competitiveness Index, although it is only ranked 135th among the 179 countries measured in the Index of Economic Freedom. 46 Chinese companies made the list in the 2010 Fortune Global 500 (Beijing alone with 30). Measured using market capitalization, four of the world’s top ten most valuable companies are Chinese. Some of these include first-ranked PetroChina, third-ranked Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (the world’s most valuable bank), fifth-ranked China Mobile (the world’s most valuable telecommunications company) and seventh-ranked China Construction Bank.
Although a middle-income country by Western standards, the PRC’s rapid growth has pulled hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty since 1978. Today, about 10% of the Chinese population live below the poverty line of US$1 per day (down from 64% in 1978), while life expectancy has increased to 73 years. More than 93% of the population is literate, compared to only 20% in 1950. Urban unemployment in China reportedly declined to 4% by the end of 2007, although true overall unemployment may be as high as 10%.
China’s middle-class population (defined as those with annual income of at least US$17,000) has reached more than 100 million as of 2011, while the number of super-rich individuals worth more than 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million) is estimated to be 825,000, according to Hurun Report. Based on the Hurun rich list, the number of US dollar billionaires in China doubled from 130 in 2009 to 271 in 2010, giving China the world’s second-highest number of billionaires. China’s retail market was worth RMB 8.9 trillion (US$1.302 trillion) in 2007, and is growing at 16.8% annually. China is also now the world’s second-largest consumer of luxury goods behind Japan, with 27.5% of the global share.
Nanjing Road, a major shopping street in Shanghai.
The PRC’s growth has been uneven, with some geographic regions growing faster than others, and a pronounced urban-rural income gap contributing to a national Gini coefficient of 46.9%. Development has been mainly concentrated in the heavily urbanised eastern coastal regions, while the remainder of the country has lagged behind. To counter this, the government has promoted development in the western, northeastern, and central regions of China.
In recent years, China’s rapid economic growth has contributed to severe consumer inflation, causing the prices of basic goods to rise steeply. Food prices in China increased by over 21% in the first four months of 2008 alone. To curb inflation and moderate rising property prices, the Chinese government has instituted a number of fiscal regulations and amendments, raising interest rates and imposing limits on bank loans. In September 2011, consumer prices rose by 6.1% compared to a year earlier, marking a reduction in inflation from the peak of 6.5% in July 2011. A side-effect of increased economic regulation was a slowdown in overall growth – China’s quarterly GDP growth fell to 9.1% in October 2011, down from 9.5% in the previous quarter.
The Chinese economy is highly energy-intensive and inefficient—on average, industrial processes in China use 20%–100% more energy than similar ones in OECD countries. China became the world’s largest energy consumer in 2010, but still relies on coal to supply about 70% of its energy needs. Coupled with lax environmental regulations, this has led to massive water and air pollution, leaving China with 20 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities. Consequently, the government has promised to use more renewable energy, planning to make renewables constitute 30% of China’s total energy production by 2050. In 2010, China became the largest wind energy provider in the world, with a total installed wind power capacity of 41.8 GW. In January 2011, Russia began scheduled oil shipments to China, pumping 300,000 barrels of oil per day via the Eastern Siberia – Pacific Ocean oil pipeline.
Science and technology
Main articles: Science and technology in the People’s Republic of China and Chinese space program
Ancient Chinese inventors were responsible for pioneering a vast number of technologies. These included papermaking, woodblock printing and movable type printing, the early lodestone and needle compass, gunpowder, toilet paper, early seismological detectors, matches, pound locks, the double-action piston pump, blast furnace and cast iron, the iron plough, the multi-tube seed drill, the suspension bridge, natural gas as a fuel, the differential gear for the South Pointing Chariot, the hydraulic-powered armillary sphere and trip hammer, the mechanical chain drive and belt drive, the raised-relief map, the propeller, the crossbow, the cannon, and the multistage rocket.
Chinese astronomers were among the first to record observations of a supernova. Chinese mathematics evolved independently of Greek mathematics and is therefore of great interest in the history of mathematics. Moreover, the Chinese were keen on documenting all of their technological achievements, such as in the Tiangong Kaiwu encyclopedia written by Song Yingxing (1587–1666).
Despite its earlier sophistication, China’s grasp of science and technology had fallen behind that of Europe by the 17th century. Political, social and cultural reasons have been given for this, although recent historians focus more on economic causes, such as the high level equilibrium trap. Since the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms, China has grown increasingly connected to the global economy and information sphere, and the government has placed a heavy emphasis on the development of science and technology.
After the Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s and ’70s, China started to develop its own nuclear weapons and delivery systems, successfully detonating its first surface nuclear test in 1964 at Lop Nur. A natural outgrowth of this was a satellite launching program, which culminated in 1970 with the launching of Dong Fang Hong I, the first Chinese satellite. This made the PRC the fifth nation to independently launch a satellite. China has the world’s second-largest research and development budget, and invested over $136 billion in science and technology in 2006, an increase of more than 20% over 2005. Stem cell research and gene therapy, which some in the Western world see as controversial, face minimal regulation in China. China has an estimated 926,000 researchers, second only to the 1.3 million in the United States.
In 1992, the Shenzhou manned spaceflight program was authorized. After four unmanned tests, Shenzhou 5 was launched on 15 October 2003, using a Long March 2F launch vehicle and carrying Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei, making the PRC the third country to put a human being into space through its own endeavors. In 2008, China successfully completed the Shenzhou 7 mission, making it the third country to have the capability to conduct a spacewalk. China maintains an active lunar exploration program – it successfully launched the Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 lunar survey probes in 2007 and 2011 respectively, and is planning to launch a lunar rover in 2013, as a precursor to a possible manned lunar landing in the 2020s. In September 2011, the first Chinese space station module, Tiangong-1, was successfully launched, marking the first step in a decade-long project to construct a large manned space station. China is furthermore considering a manned mission to Mars, and made its first attempt at robotic exploration of Mars in November 2011.
China is also actively developing its software, semiconductor and energy industries, including renewable energies such as hydroelectric, wind and solar power. In an effort to reduce pollution from coal-burning power plants, China has been pioneering the deployment of pebble bed nuclear reactors, which run cooler and safer than conventional nuclear reactors, and have potential applications for the hydrogen economy. In 2010, China developed Tianhe-IA, for a time the world’s fastest supercomputer, at the National Supercomputing Center of Tianjin. China also operates the Nebulae supercomputer, which was also among the world’s top 10 supercomputers in 2010.
Main article: Telecommunications in the People’s Republic of China
China currently has the most cellphone users of any country in the world, with over 800 million users as of July 2010. It also has the world’s largest number of internet and broadband users. By December 2010, China had around 457 million internet users, an increase of 19% over the previous year, and by July 2011 the number of internet users had reached 485 million. According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), China’s average internet connection speed is 100.9 kbit/s, less than half of the global average of 212.5 kbit/s.
China Telecom and China Unicom, the country’s two largest broadband providers, accounted for 20% of global broadband subscribers, whereas the world’s ten largest broadband service providers combined accounted for 39% of the world’s broadband customers. China Telecom alone serves 55 million broadband subscribers, while China Unicom serves more than 40 million. The massive rise in internet use in China continues to fuel rapid broadband growth, whereas the world’s other major broadband ISPs operate in the mature markets of the developed world, with high levels of broadband penetration and rapidly slowing subscriber growth.
Main article: Transport in the People’s Republic of China
G5 Expressway near exit 10, outside Beijing. There are 74,000 km (45,980 mi) of divided expressways in China, making the expressway network just 1,000 miles shorter than the US Interstate Highway System.
A high-speed maglev train leaving Pudong International Airport, Shanghai.
Transportation in mainland China has been prioritised by the government in recent decades, and has undergone intense state-led development since the late 1990s. The national road network has been massively expanded through the creation of a network of expressways, known as the National Trunk Highway System (NTHS). By 2011, China’s expressways had reached a total length of 74,000 km (46,000 mi), second only to the road network of the United States.
China possesses the world’s longest high-speed rail network, with over 4,618 mi (7,432 km) of service routes. Of these, 601 mi (967 km) serve trains with top speeds of 220 mph (350 km/h).
Private car ownership is growing rapidly, with China surpassing the United States as the largest automobile market in the world in 2009, with total car sales of over 13.6 million.
Domestic air travel has also increased significantly, but remains too expensive for most. Long-distance transportation is dominated by railways and charter bus systems. Railways are the vital carrier in China; they are monopolized by the state, divided into various railway bureaux in different regions. Due to huge demand, the system is regularly subject to overcrowding, particularly during holiday seasons, such as Chunyun during the Chinese New Year.
Rapid transit systems are also rapidly developing in China’s major cities, in the form of networks of underground or light rail systems. Hong Kong has one of the most developed transport systems in the world, while Shanghai has a high-speed maglev rail line connecting the city to its main international airport, Pudong International Airport.
Main article: Demographics of the People’s Republic of China
A population density map of the People’s Republic of China. The eastern, coastal provinces are much more densely populated than the western interior.
As of July 2010, the People’s Republic of China has an estimated total population of 1,338,612,968. About 21% of the population (145,461,833 males; 128,445,739 females) are 14 years old or younger, 71% (482,439,115 males; 455,960,489 females) are between 15 and 64 years old, and 8% (48,562,635 males; 53,103,902 females) are over 65 years old. The population growth rate for 2006 was 0.6%.
By end of 2010, the proportion of mainland Chinese people aged 14 or younger was 16.60%, while the number aged 60 or older grew to 13.26%, giving a total proportion of 29.86% dependents. The proportion of the population of workable age was thus around 70%.
With a population of over 1.3 billion and dwindling natural resources, the PRC is very concerned about its population growth and has attempted, with mixed results, to implement a strict family planning policy. The government’s goal is one child per family, with exceptions for ethnic minorities and a degree of flexibility in rural areas. It is hoped that population growth in China will stabilize in the early decades of the 21st century, though some projections estimate a population of anywhere between 1.4 billion and 1.6 billion by 2025. China’s family planning minister has indicated that the one-child policy will be maintained until at least 2020.
Population of China from 1949 to 2008.
The one-child policy is resisted, particularly in rural areas, because of the need for agricultural labour and a traditional preference for boys (who can later serve as male heirs). Families who breach the policy often lie during the census. Official government policy opposes forced sterilization or abortion, but allegations of coercion continue as local officials, who are faced with penalties for failing to curb population growth, may resort to forcible measures, or manipulation of census figures.
The decreasing reliability of PRC population statistics since family planning began in the late 1970s has made evaluating the effectiveness of the policy difficult. Data from the 2010 census implies that the total fertility rate may now be around 1.4. The government is particularly concerned with the large imbalance in the sex ratio at birth, apparently the result of a combination of traditional preference for boys and family planning pressure, which led to a ban on using ultrasound devices in an attempt to prevent sex-selective abortion.
According to the 2010 census, there were 118.06 boys born for every 100 girls, which is 0.53 points lower than the ratio obtained from a population sample survey carried out in 2005. However, the gender ratio of 118.06 is still beyond the normal range of around 105 percent, and experts warn of increased social instability should this trend continue. For the population born between the years 1900 and 2000, it is estimated that there could be 35.59 million fewer females than males. Other demographers argue that perceived gender imbalances may arise from the underreporting of female births. A recent study suggests that as many as three million Chinese babies are hidden by their parents every year. According to the 2010 census, males accounted for 51.27 percent of the total population, while females made up 48.73 percent of the total.
Main articles: List of ethnic groups in China, Ethnic minorities in China, and Ethnic groups in Chinese history
The PRC officially recognizes 56 distinct ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Han Chinese, who constitute about 91.51% of the total population. The Han Chinese outnumber the minority groups in every province, municipality and autonomous region except Tibet and Xinjiang, and are descended from ancient Huaxia tribes living along the Yellow River.
Ethnic minorities account for about 8.49% of the population of China, according to the 2010 census. Compared with the 2000 population census, the Han population increased by 66,537,177 persons, or 5.74%, while the population of the 55 national minorities combined increased by 7,362,627 persons, or 6.92%.
The 2010 census recorded a total of 593,832 foreign citizens living in China. The largest such groups were from South Korea (120,750), the United States (71,493) and Japan (66,159).
Main article: Languages of China
Most languages in China belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family, spoken by 29 ethnicities. There are also several major linguistic groups within the Chinese language itself. The most spoken varieties are Mandarin (spoken by over 70% of the population), Wu (includes Shanghainese), Yue (includes Cantonese and Taishanese), Min (includes Hokkien and Teochew), Xiang, Gan, and Hakka. Non-Sinitic languages spoken widely by ethnic minorities include Zhuang, Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur, Hmong and Korean. Standard Mandarin, a variety of Mandarin based on the Beijing dialect, is the official national language of China and is used as a lingua franca between people of different linguistic backgrounds.
Classical Chinese was the written standard in China for thousands of years, and allowed for written communication between speakers of various unintelligible languages and dialects in China. Written vernacular Chinese, or baihua, is the written standard based on the Mandarin dialect and first popularized in Ming Dynasty novels. It was adopted with significant modifications during the early 20th century as the national standard. Classical Chinese is still part of the high school curriculum and is thus intelligible to some degree to many Chinese. Since its promulgation by the government in 1956, Simplified Chinese characters have become the official standardized written script used to write the Chinese language within mainland China, supplanting the use of Traditional Chinese characters used earlier there.
Since 2000, China’s cities have expanded at an average rate of 10% annually. It is estimated that China will add 400 million to its urban population, accounting for 64 percent of the total population by 2025. The country’s urbanization rate increased from 17.4% to 46.8% between 1978 and 2009, a scale unprecedented in human history. Between 150 and 200 million migrant workers work part-time in the major cities, returning home to the countryside periodically with their earnings.
Today, the People’s Republic of China has dozens of cities with one million or more long-term residents, including the three global cities of Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. The figures in the table below are from the 2008 census, and are only estimates of the urban populations within administrative city limits; a different ranking exists when considering the total municipal populations (which includes suburban and rural populations). The large “floating populations” of migrant workers make conducting censuses in urban areas difficult; the figures below do not include the floating population, only long-term residents
Tsinghua University in Beijing.
In 1986, China set the long-term goal of providing compulsory nine-year basic education to every child. As of 2007, there were 396,567 primary schools, 94,116 secondary schools, and 2,236 higher education institutions in the PRC. In February 2006, the government advanced its basic education goal by pledging to provide completely free nine-year education, including textbooks and fees. Free compulsory education in China consists of elementary school and middle school, which lasts for 9 years (ages 6–15); almost all children in urban areas continue with three years of high school.
As of 2007, 93.3% of the population over age 15 are literate. In 2000, China’s literacy rate among 15-to-24-year-olds was 98.9% (99.2% for males and 98.5% for females). In March 2007, the Chinese government declared education a national “strategic priority”; the central budget for national scholarships was tripled between 2007 and 2009, and 223.5 billion yuan (US$28.65 billion) of extra state funding was allocated between 2007 and 2012 to improve compulsory education in rural areas.
In 2009, Chinese students from Shanghai achieved the world’s best results in mathematics, science and literacy, as tested by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance.
The quality of Chinese colleges and universities varies considerably across the country. The consistently top-ranked universities in mainland China are:
Main article: Public health in the People’s Republic of China
The Ministry of Health, together with its counterparts in the provincial health bureaux, oversees the health needs of the Chinese population. An emphasis on public health and preventive medicine has characterized health policy since the early 1950s. At that time, the Communist Party started the Patriotic Health Campaign, which was aimed at improving sanitation and hygiene, as well as treating and preventing several diseases. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid and scarlet fever, which were previously rife in China, were nearly eradicated by the campaign.
After Deng Xiaoping began instituting economic reforms in 1978, the health of the Chinese public improved rapidly due to better nutrition, although many of the free public health services provided in the countryside disappeared along with the People’s Communes. Healthcare in China became mostly privatised, and experienced a significant rise in quality. The national life expectancy at birth rose from about 35 years in 1949 to 73.18 years in 2008, and infant mortality decreased from 300 per thousand in the 1950s to around 23 per thousand in 2006. Malnutrition as of 2002 stood at 12% of the population, according to United Nations FAO sources.
Despite significant improvements in health and the construction of advanced Western-style medical facilities, China has several emerging public health problems, such as respiratory illnesses caused by widespread air pollution and hundreds of millions of cigarette smokers, a possible future HIV/AIDS epidemic, and an increase in obesity among urban youths. China’s large population and densely populated cities have led to serious disease outbreaks in recent years, such as the 2003 outbreak of SARS, although this has since been largely contained.
Estimates of excess deaths in China from environmental pollution (apart from smoking) are placed at 760,000 people per annum from air and water pollution (including indoor air pollution). In 2007, China overtook the United States as the world’s biggest producer of carbon dioxide. Some 90% of China’s cities suffer from some degree of water pollution, and nearly 500 million people lacked access to safe drinking water in 2005. Reports by the World Bank and the New York Times have claimed industrial pollution, particularly of the air, to be a significant health hazard in China.
Main article: Religion in China
Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are one, a 12th-century Song Dynasty litang-style painting portraying three men laughing by a river stream.
The Round Mound Altar, the altar of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, where the Emperor was said to commune with Heaven.
In mainland China, the government allows a degree of religious freedom to members of state-approved religious organizations. An accurate number of religious adherents is hard to obtain because of a lack of official data, but there is general consensus that religion has been enjoying a resurgence over the past 20 years. A survey by Phil Zuckerman on Adherents.com found that in 1998, 59% (over 700 million) of the population was irreligious. A later survey, conducted in 2007, found that there are 300 million believers in China, constituting 23% of the population, as distinct from an official figure of 100 million.
Despite the surveys’ varying results, most agree that China’s traditional religions—Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese folk religions—are the dominant faiths. According to a number of sources, Buddhism in China accounts for between 660 million (~50%) and over 1 billion (~80%) while Taoists number 400 million (~30%). However, because of the fact that one person may subscribe to two or more of these traditional beliefs simultaneously and the difficulty in clearly differentiating Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese folk religions, the number of adherents to these religions can be overlaid. In addition, subscribing to Buddhism and Taoism is not necessarily considered religious by those who follow the philosophies in principle but stop short of believing in any kind of deity or divinity.
Saint Sophia Cathedral in Harbin, northeast China. Harbin had a sizable Russian population, totalling around 100,000, by 1921, feeding the growth of Christianity in the city.
Most Chinese Buddhists are merely nominal adherents, because only a small proportion of the population (around 8% or 100 million) may have taken the formal step of going for refuge. Even then, it is still difficult to estimate accurately the number of Buddhists because they do not have congregational memberships and often do not participate in public ceremonies. Mahayana (大乘, Dacheng) and its subsets Pure Land (Amidism), Tiantai and Chán (better known in the west by its Japanese pronunciation Zen) are the most widely practiced denominations of Buddhism. Other forms, such as Theravada and Tibetan, are practiced largely by ethnic minorities along the geographic fringes of the Chinese mainland.
Christianity was first introduced to China during the Tang Dynasty, with the arrival of Nestorian Christianity in 635 CE. This was followed by Franciscan missionaries in the 13th century, Jesuits in the 16th century, and finally Protestants in the 19th century. Of China’s minority religions, Christianity is one of the fastest-growing. The total number of Christians is difficult to determine, as many belong to unauthorized house churches, but estimates of their number have ranged from 40 million (3% of the total population) to 54 million (4%) to as many as 130 million (10%). Official government statistics put the number of Christians at 16 million, but these count only members of officially sanctioned church bodies. China is believed to now have the world’s second-largest evangelical Christian population—behind only the United States—and if current growth rates continue, China will become a global center of evangelical Christianity in coming decades.
The Masjid and Islamic Centre in Kowloon.
Islam in China dates to a mission in 651, only 18 years after Muhammad’s death. Muslims came to China for trade, becoming prominent in the trading ports of the Song Dynasty. They became influential in government circles, including Zheng He, Lan Yu and Yeheidie’erding. Nanjing became an important center of Islamic study. Statistics are hard to find, and most estimates give a figure of between 20 and 30 million Muslims (1.5% to 2% of the population).
China also plays host to numerous minority religions, including Hinduism, Dongbaism, Bön, and a number of more modern religions and sects (particularly Xiantianism). In July 1999, the Falun Gong spiritual practice was officially banned by the authorities, and many international organizations have criticized the government’s treatment of Falun Gong that has occurred since then. There are no reliable estimates of the number of Falun Gong practitioners in China, although informal estimates have given figures as high as 70 million.
Main articles: Culture of the People’s Republic of China and Chinese culture
A traditional Beijing opera being performed.
A north corner of Beijing’s Forbidden City, showing its classical Chinese architectural style.
Since ancient times, Chinese culture has been heavily influenced by Confucianism and conservative philosophies. For centuries, opportunities for social advancement could be provided by high performance in the prestigious Imperial examinations, which were instituted in 605 AD to help the Emperor select skilful bureaucrats. 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.
A number of more authoritarian and rational strains of thought were also influential, with Legalism being a prominent example. There was often conflict between the philosophies – for instance, the individualistic Song Dynasty neo-Confucians believed that 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 claimed that modern democratic ideals and human rights are compatible with traditional Confucian values.
The first leaders of the People’s Republic of China were born into the traditional imperial order, but were influenced by the May Fourth Movement and reformist ideals. They sought to change some traditional aspects of Chinese culture, such as rural land tenure, sexism, and the Confucian system of education, while preserving others, such as the family structure and culture of obedience to the state.
Some observers see the period following the establishment of the PRC in 1949 as a continuation of traditional Chinese dynastic history, while others claim that the Communist Party’s rule has damaged the foundations of Chinese culture, especially through political movements such as the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, where many aspects of traditional culture were destroyed, having been denounced as ‘regressive and harmful’ or ‘vestiges of feudalism’. Many important aspects of traditional Chinese morals and culture, such as Confucianism, Chinese art, literature, and performing arts like Peking opera, were altered to conform to government policies and propaganda at the time.
Today, the Chinese government has accepted numerous elements of traditional Chinese culture as being integral to Chinese society. With the rise of Chinese nationalism and the end of the Cultural Revolution, 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 sparked interest nationally and even worldwide.
Prior to the beginning of maritime Sino-European trade in the 16th century, medieval China and the European West were linked by the Silk Road, which was a key route of cultural as well as economic exchange. Artifacts from the history of the Road, as well as from the natural history of the Gobi desert, are displayed in the Silk Route Museum in Jiuquan.
Main article: Chinese cuisine
Traditional Chinese food in Tianjin, including dumpling and dandan noodles.
Chinese cuisine is highly diverse, drawing on several millennia of culinary history. The dynastic emperors of ancient China were known to host banquets with over 100 dishes served at a time, employing countless imperial kitchen staff and concubines to prepare the food. Such royal dishes gradually became a part of wider Chinese culture. China’s staple food is rice, but the country is also well-known for its meat dishes. Spices are endemic to Chinese cuisine.
Numerous foreign offshoots of Chinese food, such as Hong Kong cuisine and American Chinese food, have emerged in the various nations which play host to the Chinese diaspora.
Main article: Sport in the People’s Republic of China
Dragon boat racing, a popular traditional Chinese sport.
China has one of the oldest sporting cultures in the world. There is evidence that a form of association football was played in China around 1000 AD. Besides football, some of the most popular sports in the country include martial arts, table tennis, badminton, swimming, basketball and snooker. Board games such as Go (Weiqi), Xiangqi, and more recently chess are also played at a professional level.
Physical fitness is widely emphasized in Chinese culture. Morning exercises are a common activity, with elderly citizens encouraged to practice qigong and t’ai chi ch’uan. Young people in China are also keen on basketball, especially in urban centers with limited space and grass areas. The American National Basketball Association has a huge following among Chinese youths, with Chinese players such as Yao Ming being held in high esteem.
Many more traditional sports are also played in China. Dragon boat racing occurs during the annual nationwide Dragon Boat Festival, and has since gained popularity abroad. In Inner Mongolia, sports such as Mongolian-style wrestling and horse racing are popular. In Tibet, archery and equestrianism are a part of traditional festivals.
China has participated at the Olympic Games since 1932, although it has only participated as the PRC since 1952. China hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and received 51 gold medals – the highest number of gold medals of any participating nation that year. China will host the 2013 East Asian Games in Tianjin and the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing.