China, or the People's Republic of China, a country in eastern Asia. It is sometimes called Communist China or Mainland China to distinguish it from the Republic of China, or Nationalist China, situated on the offshore island of Taiwan. Both governments claim to be the rightful rulers of all China, but the Communists have been in firm control of the mainland since 1949 and since 1971 have been recognized by the United Nations as the legal rulers.

The name China, like the earlier name Cathay, is European in origin and is unknown to most Chinese. For thousands of years they have called their country Zhongguo, which means Middle Kingdom. The name reflects the traditional Chinese belief that China is the geographic and cultural center of the world, with all other nations on the periphery.

ChinaChina is a large country in eastern Asia.

Physical Geography

Size and Location

China is the third largest nation in the world, with a total area of 3,705,407 square miles (9,596,960 km2). It is slightly more than half the size of Russia. Maximum distances are about 2,700 miles (4,300 km) east-west and 1,800 miles (2,900 km) north-south—approximately the same maximum dimensions as the United States, excluding Hawaii and Alaska.

China's land boundaries have a total length of almost 13,800 miles (22,200 km). China shares its borders with 14 countries—the largest number of any nation in the world. Counterclockwise from the north, these countries are North Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma, Laos, and Vietnam. Taiwan lies 100 miles (160 km) offshore. Some of the boundaries were imposed on China during periods of weakness and are not recognized by the present government. Among those disputed, are parts of the Russian and Indian borders. On its seaward side China fronts primarily on three great arms of the Pacific: the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, and the South China Sea. Smaller bodies of water include the Gulf of Tonkin, the Taiwan Strait, and the Bo Gulf.


China may be divided into two major geographic regions: Tibet-Xinjiang-Inner Mongolia, spanning the west and the north, and China Proper, occupying the rest of the country.

Tibet-Xinjiang-Inner Mongolia is a sparsely populated region of lofty mountains, high plateaus, and great basins occupied by steppes and deserts.

Most of the mountains are in Tibet and Xinjiang, where they rise as majestic towering ranges capped by ice and snow. The two highest chains, the Himalayas and the Karakoram Range, lie along China's southwestern border and attain heights of more than 28,000 feet (8,500 m). Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, rises 29,035 feet (8,850 m) above sea level on the Nepal border in the Himalayas; K2 (Godwin Austen), in the Karakoram Range, reaches 28,250 feet (8,611 m).

Two other massive ranges, cresting at 25,000 feet (7,600 m), are the Kunlun Mountains and the Tien Shan. The Qilian and the Altun Mountains have elevations exceeding 19,000 feet (5,800 m). Considerably lower are the Altai Mountains along the Mongolian border.

Between the western ranges lie the great plateaus, basins, and deserts of China. The Plateau of Tibet, roughly a fourth of China's area, is the highest and most extensive tableland on earth. It is a cold, desolate, windswept area lying at elevations of more than 15,000 feet (4,600 m).

North of the Plateau of Tibet are the great basins of China—the Tarim, the Junggar, and the Qaidam. Each contains uninhabited deserts; the largest one is the Taklimakan. Covered mainly by sand and shifting dunes, it is largely unexplored and rarely crossed. Also in Xinjiang, at the eastern tip of the Tien Shan, is the Turpan Depression. The lowest point in China, 505 feet (154 m) below sea level, is here.

From eastern Xinjiang a broad belt of semiarid and arid land extends eastward through Inner Mongolia into Manchuria. Much of it lies within the Gobi, a desert edged on the south by the Great Wall of China. Around the great bend of the Huang He lie the Tengger and Mu Us deserts.

China Proper consists of all the land east of a line running southwestward from Heilongjiang province in the north to Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in the south. It is made up partly of lowland plains and basins and partly of hills and mountains. Except for the highest and most remote parts, the land has been densely populated and intensively cultivated for centuries.

The lowlands form the core of China: here are most of the nation's cropland, industry, and population. The largest lowland areas are the Manchurian Plain, the North China Plain, the Yangtze Valley, and the Sichuan, or Red, Basin. Smaller lowland areas include river valleys and deltas and isolated pockets and basins. Probably the most economically important of these is the Xi River delta, site of Guangzhou, in the south.

The mountains of China Proper form an intricate system of rough terrain, separating the lowland areas. Among the more prominent ranges are the Da Hinggan Mountains in the north, the Wutai Mountains and other ranges in the vicinity of Beijing, the Qin Mountains in the west, and the Nan Mountains in the south. The Yunnan Plateau in the south-west, with its deep, steep-sided valleys and mountains of more than 16,000 feet (4,900 m), is especially rugged.


China's two major rivers, the Huang He and the Yangtze, begin at high elevations in the Tibetan highlands and flow eastward to the sea. The Huang He (Chinese for Yellow River, referring to the color of its silt-laden water) follows a 2,900-mile (4,670-km) course, through northern China to the Bo Gulf, an arm of the Yellow Sea. Devastating floods occur periodically along the lower course, explaining the river's nickname of “China's Sorrow.” Few large cities lie on the banks of the river.

The Yangtze, some 3,400 miles (5,470 km) long and the nation's largest river, winds through central China to the East China Sea. From the Sichuan Basin eastward, it flows through some of China's most productive farmland and passes many of its largest cities, including Chongqing, Wuhan, and Nanjing. Shanghai, China's largest city, lies near the mouth of the river. Unlike the Huang He, the Yangtze has many tributaries. They drain most of central and southern China.

Other large rivers are the Songhua and the Liao in Manchuria, the Huai on the North China Plain, and the Xi in the far south. The principal river of Xinjiang, where virtually all the rivers disappear in the deserts, is the Tarim.

Some of Asia's largest rivers originate within China and flow great distances before crossing into other countries. They include the Yarlung (Brahmaputra) in southern Tibet and the Mekong and Salween in eastern Tibet and Yunnan province. For more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) the Amur River forms the northeastern boundary, separating China and Russia.

There are few lakes except in Tibet and the lower Yangtze Valley. The Tibetan lakes, situated high on Tibet's cold, bleak plateau, are numerous and relatively small. Some are freshwater; many are brackish or somewhat salty. Lakes in the Yangtze Valley, including Dongting and Poyang, fluctuate greatly in size since they receive the seasonal overflow of the Yangtze and serve as natural reservoirs. China's largest lake is Qinghai Lake, a shallow, brackish body of water in eastern Qinghai province.


In many ways the climates of the various parts of China are comparable to those found in the United States, excluding Pacific coast states. Both countries lie at about the same latitude, have a similar continental location, and experience roughly the same atmospheric conditions. Summers in China, however, tend to be warmer than those in the United States, winters colder, and annual precipitation less.

Many factors—including latitude, proximity to the sea, elevation, and the height and orientation of mountain ranges—are important in determining the climate in any one part of China. Probably the chief factor, however, is the strong monsoonal wind system of Asia. It is marked by an outflow of bitterly cold, dry air from the continent's interior toward the sea during the winter and by a reverse flow of warm, moist air from the sea during summer.

Frigid air blankets all the northern and western parts of China during winter. Some areas, such as Manchuria, have average January temperatures below 0° F. (-18° C.). To the south winter becomes less severe. In the Yangtze Valley of central China winter is only moderately cold, January temperatures averaging about 40° F. (4° C.). In southern China, especially south of the Nan Mountains, winter is a time of subtropical warmth—much like that of southern Florida.

High temperatures are common in summer. Except at high elevations and in the far north and west, July temperatures average between 75° and 85° F. (24° and 29° C.). Extremely high temperatures, often well over 100° F. (38° C.), occur in the desert areas of western and northern China. High humidity accompanies the heat in many localities, particularly the Yangtze Valley and southern China.

Precipitation during winter is scant virtually everywhere; except in the south, it falls mainly as snow. During summer the inflow of warm, moist air from the sea causes heavy rains throughout much of eastern China. Amounts decline from as much as 80 inches (2,030 mm) in the south to 40 or 50 inches (1,015–1,270 mm) in the Yangtze Valley and 20 or 30 inches (510–760 mm) in Manchuria. Western China is extremely dry and is little affected by the summer monsoon, mainly because of its distance from the sea, high elevation, and protective mountain barriers.

Typhoons along the coastal areas and winter dust storms in the north are among the storms that occasionally strike China.

Plants and Animals

Vegetation is scant throughout much of China. In the west, where precipitation is limited, there are extensive areas with meager grassland, steppe, and desert vegetation, much of it drought-resistant. Also scantily covered or barren are many of the high mountains. Some of the slopes and valleys, however, are forested.

The natural vegetation in China Proper, especially in the lowlands and the more accessible parts of the mountains, was cleared centuries ago for use as fuel and to make way for farming. Probably the largest and best stands of timber that remain are those in the mountains of Manchuria, where pine, spruce, fir, birch, oak, and other trees are cut in large amounts. There are also sizable forests in Sichuan province and in the more rugged parts of the south. Bamboo, a fast-growing tall, woody grass, is wide-spread in the south; it is one of China's most useful plants. A rich, tropical kind of vegetation grows in the extreme south.


Large wild animals are found only in the more remote parts of China. Many of them are becoming rare and some are almost extinct. The far north, especially Manchuria, is the habitat of the Siberian tiger, bear, elk, deer, wild sheep, and many fur-bearing animals, including fox, mink, marten, and otter.

Parts of the mountain and plateau lands of western China are inhabited by pandas, snow leopards, yaks, antelopes, and wild sheep and goats. Wild camels, horses, and asses are occasionally found on the dry Mongolian plains. Animals in subtropical southern locales include tigers, leopards, bears, and monkeys.



As in the past, producing enough food for its huge population is one of the most urgent concerns of China. This is especially difficult as only slightly more than 10 per cent of the land is suitable for farming. About 64 per cent of the people work in agriculture. Virtually all of the farmland is in eastern China. In many areas steep hillsides are terraced for growing crops. Nearly everywhere cultivation is intensive, involving much hand labor. Normally, crop yields are quite high, but droughts and floods frequently inflict great damage upon crops.

In efforts to improve agriculture, the Communists have made drastic changes. They first abolished the large holdings of landowners, which were traditionally rented in small plots, and distributed them among peasants and farm laborers. This program was followed in the early 1950's by a gradual merging of farm plots into cooperatives and later, beginning in 1958, into communes.

Each commune covered a large area and included many villages. The land was worked by production teams of perhaps 30 to 40 families. In the early 1980's the commune system was phased out. Commune land was divided among households, and, although some quotas were imposed by the state, families were given considerable freedom in running their own farms.

In order to help increase agricultural production, technical and mechanical improvements—such as the increased use of chemical fertilizers, electric irrigation pumps, improved seeds and insecticides, and modern tools and machinery—have been given a high priority by the government.


Grain is China's chief agricultural product. In rice production China far surpasses any other nation. Rice is grown mainly in southern China, where irrigation and warm weather allow two, sometimes three, rice crops to be grown on the same plot each year.

Wheat and corn are also major crops; both are grown mainly in the north, where conditions are generally unsuited for rice. Other grains include kaoliang (a grain sorghum), millet, and barley. Also grown in large amounts are sweet potatoes, white potatoes, beans, peas, peanuts, soybeans, tea, sugarcane, and many fruits.

China also produces numerous industrial crops, both for domestic use and for export. Of these, cotton is the leader. Other fibers—silk, ramie, jute, and hemp—are also major industrial crops, as are various oil seeds and tobacco.


In China Proper, especially in the farming areas, the raising of livestock has always been a sideline rather than a principal endeavor, mainly because of the necessity for growing food crops. Traditionally, most farm animals are raised for a variety of purposes in addition to providing meat. They provide many products, such as milk, eggs, and wool; many are used as beasts of burden. Manure is widely used as fertilizer.

Pigs and poultry, primarily chickens and ducks, are the most numerous and widely raised animals. Oxen and water buffalo are found throughout southern China, where they are used mainly for plowing and hauling. In the north, horses, donkeys, and mules are more commonly used for these purposes. In the dry outer regions of China—Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia—many people subsist by herding sheep and goats and, to a lesser extent, cattle, horses, and camels.


China's annual catch of fish is the largest in the world. For many Chinese, fish is one of the few protein-rich foods available. Much of the catch is obtained in shallow coastal waters, mainly south of the Yangtze's mouth. Equally important is the freshwater catch, taken from rivers, streams, lakes, and flooded rice paddies. Fish are also obtained in great quantities through fish culture—the breeding and raising of fish in ponds.


When the Communists came to power in 1949, after decades of intermittent conflict, China's manufacturing industries were in disarray, with many facilities destroyed or severely damaged. Heavy industry, developed largely by the Japanese during the 1930's, was centered in southern Manchuria. Light industry, developed by Europeans and other foreigners, clustered in leased areas and ports along the coast, such as Shanghai, Tianjin, and Guangzhou.

Reconstruction and expansion began soon after the Communists came to power. The period of the First Five-Year Plan (1953–57) was one of rapid growth, especially in heavy industry, which had high priority. The Second Five-Year Plan began in 1958, but was soon replaced for political and ideological reasons by an accelerated program called the Great Leap Forward. After several years, this program collapsed despite enormous efforts to greatly increase production. Another setback in development occurred in the early 1960's, when the Soviet Union withdrew its assistance because of a growing ideological dispute with China.

After a relatively slow recovery, the economy began to expand again. China launched its Third Five-Year Plan in 1966. Another downturn came with the disturbances caused by the Cultural Revolution (an attempt to increase Communist zeal among the people) in 1966–68. By 1970, however, recovery was generally complete and many of China's industries were producing at record levels. Long-range economic planning continues. In the 1980's and 1990's manufacturing was increasingly managed at local levels and operated on a profit-making basis.

The development of heavy industry, such as the making of iron and steel, has long been a major goal of the Chinese. Establishing new industrial centers inland, while expanding the older ones in Manchuria and along the coast, has been another major long-standing objective. Of more recent importance has been the development and expansion of industries that produce consumer goods, both for domestic consumption and for export.

Major Industrial Areas

Industrial development, though widespread, has generally been greatest in China's coastal provinces, which account for more than 60 per cent of the country's industrial output. The government has aided this development by establishing six “special economic zones” along China's southeastern coast. These zones have open trade policies that have attracted large amounts of investment, from both domestic and foreign sources.

Manchuria is China's foremost center of heavy industry. The region is the country's largest producer of electric power, iron and steel, aluminum, refined petroleum, timber, paper, and trucks. Among the chief cities in the region are Shenyang, Anshan, Fushun, and Harbin.

The region around the Yangtze's mouth and lower course, which includes Shanghai, Nanjing, and Hangzhou, is a leading center for the production of textiles and other consumer goods. The region also ranks high in the production of ships, iron and steel, and machinery. Much of the region's productive capacity is located in Shanghai, China's largest industrial and commercial metropolis.

The Beijing-Tianjin-Tangshan area, in the north, is also a major industrial complex. Items manufactured here include machine tools, electronic equipment, agricultural machinery, textiles, and chemicals.

Other areas of industrial importance include Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Kunming, and Hong Kong in the south; Wuhan and Changsha in the Yangtze Valley; Chongqing and Chengdu in the Sichuan Basin; Taiyuan, Qingdao, and Jinan on or near the North China Plain; Xi'an and Lanzhou in the west; and Baotou in Inner Mongolia.


China is relatively well endowed with most minerals, and has sufficient reserves to support major industrial expansion. Before 1949 most of the mining was done in southern Manchuria and in the coastal provinces. Extensive geological exploration, however, has resulted in a much wider development, especially in the interior.

Much of China's current effort in the mining industry is directed to increasing production through construction of processing facilities, purchase of new equipment abroad, and introduction of new techniques. The industry is also rapidly training technicians and workers.

Metals and Minerals

China is one of the world's largest producers of iron ore. Nonetheless, it does not produce enough to supply its massive steel industry and needs to import some iron ore. The ore deposits are fairly widespread, particularly north of the Yangtze Valley. Major ore-producing mines include those located in Liaoning, Hebei, and Sichuan provinces.

China ranks among the world's top five producers of several other minerals, including tin, lead, manganese, zinc, and nickel. Other minerals produced include copper, tungsten, bauxite, fluorite, graphite, and gold.


China is the world's largest producer of coal. Coal is found in virtually every province, but is most abundant in the east, north of the Yangtze's mouth. Coal is used to generate about 75 per cent of the electric power in China. Hydroelectric power, developed best in the south and southwest, and nuclear power account for the rest.

Since the 1950's, China has greatly expanded its petroleum production and now ranks as the world's fifth largest producer. Production, however, does not meet domestic demand and oil must be imported. The principal producing fields are in Manchuria, in the Huang He Basin, in the Bo Gulf shoreline area, and in scattered sites in Xinjiang province. Natural gas production has also grown rapidly, especially in Sichuan province.


A modern transportation system is one of the goals of China, and much has been done to build new facilities and modernize old ones. Though greatly improved, transportation is still poorly developed in all but a few areas.

Railways are concentrated primarily in Manchuria and on the North China Plain. The southeast also has fairly extensive trackage. The rest of China Proper has only a few north-south and east-west lines linking the major cities. China continues to expand trackage to remote areas, especially in the west. The Trans-Xinjiang line runs northwestward across Xinjiang to the Kazakhstan border.

The road system provides the chief means for passenger transportation and is of growing importance for freight. Only a small portion of China's roads are paved; the remainder are mainly dirt or gravel. Expanding and improving the road network has become an important priority, especially because of increasing use of automobiles. Some of the country's large cities have expressway systems. Bicycles are a major form of transportation in cities.

Rivers and canals are traditional arteries of commerce and transportation, carrying the largest share of the country's freight. The Yangtze, which is navigable far inland, is the most intensively used river. Also significant are the Xi in the south; the Huang He, the Huai, and the Grand Canal in the north; and the Amur, Ussuri, and Songhua in Manchuria. The Manchurian rivers are closed by ice for as much as 180 days each year. Use of the Huang He and other northern waterways is limited by silting and by very low water during spring and winter.

The nation's largest seaport is Shanghai, which serves much of central China. Also prominent are the ports of Guangzhou in the south, Qingdao and Tianjin in the north, and Dalian in Manchuria. Many other cities, both coastal and on rivers, have sizable ports.

Domestic air service, which has increased, is provided to scores of cities by many Chinese airlines. The largest Chinese air carrier, for both domestic and international flights, is Air China, which is owned and operated by the government. The busiest international airports are those serving Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

Many traditional means of transportation are still used in China. They include animal-and human-drawn carts, pack animals, and sampans and junks.


All communications systems in China are operated and controlled by the government. Beijing, the chief broadcasting center, is the home of China National Radio, the chief station for domestic programs, and China Radio International, which broadcasts throughout the world in many languages. There are also local broadcasting stations. Television is somewhat less developed than radio.

Although much progress has been made since the 1980's, China's telephone network is still far less developed than the networks of the industrial countries of the West. Outside of major cities, telephones are not widely available.

The Chinese press is tightly controlled by the government. There are more than 1,700 newspapers and a daily newspaper is published in each province. Newspapers with the largest circulations include People's Daily and Sichuan Daily.


China's basic currency unit is the yuan, which is divided into 10 jiao.


China traded primarily with other Communist countries until the early 1960's, but most of its trade later shifted to Japan and other industrialized nations. Its foreign trade greatly increased after it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.

The major part of China's purchases consists of chemicals, iron and steel, petroleum and petroleum products, and machinery. Its major exports include clothing, machinery, textiles, footwear, and agricultural products.

When the Communists came to power in 1949, China's economy was backward and suffering from many years of war and civil strife. Agriculture was disrupted and producing at a low level. Modern factories, then located in only a few places, lay idle or in ruins.

Since the Communist takeover, agriculture has been reorganized and production increased, and modern industry has been greatly expanded. New mineral resources have been discovered, production of electric power increased, and transportation improved.

In general, China's development has been guided by five-year plans, patterned originally after those used in the Soviet Union. The state owns most industry and controls the financial system. Since the late 1970's, however, the centralization of economic decision-making has lessened and greater use has been made of market forces. In 1979 four “special economic zones” were established by the government (Shenzhen, Shantou, Zhuhai, and Xiamen). In these areas foreign investment is encouraged by government tax concessions and by lessened government control over the local economy. Since 1979, many other special economic zones have been established. Most are located on the coast.

Although accomplishments have been considerable, development has not been continuous. Many setbacks have occurred and much remains to be done in order to raise the relatively low standard of living.

The People


China's population is the largest in the world. The resident population according to the 2000 census was 1,242,612,226. China's average annual growth rate between 1990 and 2000 was .96 per cent, which is low relative to the rates of other Asian countries. The government aimed to achieve zero population growth by the year 2000.

More than 95 per cent of the people live in China Proper, where the average population density exceeds 555 persons per square mile (217 per km 2 ). In level to rolling areas of good agricultural land, densities run far higher. The most heavily populated large areas are the Manchurian Plain, the North China Plain, the lower Yangtze Valley, and the Sichuan Basin.

Many of China's cities, especially those selected for rapid industrial development, have grown rapidly under the Communists. It is believed that as many as 30 municipalities (shihs) may have populations of more than 1,000,000. Many of them cover very very large areas—the Shanghai municipality, for example, has an area of 2,388 square miles (6,185 km 2 )—and include, in addition to the central city, small cities and towns, much farmland, and vast numbers of people living in communes. The list below gives figures for the central cities and their immediate suburbs.


Chinese, a Sino-Tibetan language, is spoken by most of the people in China. There are a large number of dialects, the chief being Cantonese, Fukienese, and Wu. The official language is the Mandarin dialect, officially called putonghua (common speech), which is understood by about 70 per cent of the people. Other languages include Tibetan, spoken in Tibet and parts of China Proper; Turkic, in Xinjiang; Mongol, in Inner Mongolia; and Thai, in parts of southern China.

Formerly, written Chinese was a classical, literary language, in which the construction and much of the vocabulary were different from those of the spoken language. This classical Chinese could be read and understood only by those trained for years in literature. The script itself consisted of thousands of characters, many of them highly complicated. The difficulty of this written Chinese was a principal obstacle to the people becoming literate.

In the 1920's pai hua, a written Chinese approximating everyday speech, began replacing the classical form; now it was possible to learn to read in a few months instead of many years. In addition, the script was simplified. Under the Communists, further steps were taken to simplify reading and writing Chinese; pai hua has replaced classical Chinese in all publications.

In the late 1970's China adopted the Pinyin System for spelling proper nouns in Roman letters; it was designed for use by foreigners and was intended to give a more accurate idea of pronunciation than earlier systems.


Fees are charged at all levels of the educational system. Elementary education lasts five or six years. Lower secondary education lasts three years; and upper secondary education, two or three years. China has an extensive adult-education program, particularly to teach literacy. About one-fifth of the population is illiterate.

China has more than 200 colleges and universities, of which about one-fourth are technical and engineering institutions. The leading institutions of higher learning include Beijing University (founded 1898), Fudan University (1905), Nanjing University (1902), and Tianjin University (1895).


After the Communists came to power in 1949 they began a policy of discouraging religious belief and of closing churches, mosques, and temples. In 1977 the government changed its policy to one of tolerance, and the constitution of 1982 guarantees freedom of religion. However, in 1999, the government outlawed the practice of a spiritual movement called Falun Gong and began arresting its members on political charges.

The religion of most Chinese is a blend of various beliefs and practices, including animism (the belief in demons and spirits) and ancestor worship. Much of the religious tradition is based on three ethical systems—Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. As practiced by the Chinese, they are religions in a limited sense, and are confined mainly to teaching a code for righteous living and fair dealing. Their teachings over the centuries have had a profound influence on Chinese customs and attitudes.

The most influential of the traditional ethical systems is Confucianism, which teaches the need for an all-inclusive morality. It especially emphasizes respect for one's parents and love for the family. Buddhism, as taught by its founder, is a way of life emphasizing freedom from desire. Buddhism is strongest in Tibet, where it is known as Lamaism. Taoism, as a philosophy, teaches of human oneness with nature and urges people to be natural and spontaneous. As practiced, Taoism is a combination of magic and ritual.

Muslims are scattered throughout China, but are found mainly in the northern and western areas. They make up about 1 to 2 per cent of the population. There are also about 3 to 4 per cent of Chinese people that practice Christianity.

Way of Life

Traditionally, the Chinese placed great emphasis on the family. The character and reputation of the individual was a reflection on the entire family. Family unity and loyalty were strong. The wife was subservient to her husband and his family. The children respected their elders and accepted marriage partners selected by their parents. The joint family, including several generations and many relatives in the same household, was considered ideal. It was headed by the eldest male. Most poor families, however, could not afford to provide the housing necessary to maintain a joint-family arrangement.

During the first half of the 20th century patterns of living underwent a considerable change as a result of Western influence and government policy. Ties among family members weakened. Many customs, such as arranged marriages, disappeared. Under the Communists, the abandonment of traditional ways was hastened. The joint family was eliminated, and women were given equal status with men. The government has a strict birth-control policy; couples who have more than one child are economically penalized, usually by receiving reduced food rations.

Clothing for both sexes consists generally of a loose cotton jacket and trousers—the traditional apparel of peasants and coolies. In the cities, Western-style suits and dresses are the fashion for many Chinese.

There is a critical housing shortage, especially in the cities. Most families live in one room. Kitchen and toilet facilities are shared by several families. In rural areas, many families still live in mud-brick huts with floors of pounded earth, but brick homes are becoming common.

Southern Chinese depend mainly upon rice as food. Millet and wheat are mainstays of the diet in the north. Soybeans and fish are the main sources of protein.

The Chinese work seven days a week, but throughout the year there are various festivals and holidays to break the routine. Traditional celebrations include New Year's in mid-winter and the Festival of the Eighth Moon in mid-autumn. Others, added by the Communists, include Labor Day, on May 1, and the anniversary of the Chinese People's Republic, on October 1.

The Arts

China's artistic tradition is one of the oldest in the world. The foundations of Chinese music were laid some 5,000 years ago, and music was highly developed by the sixth century B.C. The visual arts of China had their beginnings with jade carvings and decorated bronze vessels more than 3,000 years ago; painting with a brush was known in China 2,000 years ago. Chinese poetry dates back to about 1000 B.C. Theatrical performances—a combination of dance, song, and spoken dialogue—had royal support in the eighth century B.C. and developed into a popular form known as classical Chinese drama, or Chinese opera.

The first Oriental art works to be widely known in the West were from China. First imported into Europe in the 16th century A.D., they greatly influenced Western art. An outstanding contribution was porcelain, or china, developed by Chinese potters as early as the ninth century A.D.

A reverse influence—that of the West on Chinese culture—began to be markedly felt early in the 20th century. European musical techniques and instruments were adopted. Literature—especially fiction and poetry— showed the impact of Western concepts and forms. Realistic plays began to flourish alongside the more stylized classical ones.

After the Communist takeover in 1949, the concept of art as an end in itself was condemned and art was often judged accoerdng to its contribution to revolutionary thought. Realistic drama was used to further political aims. Traditional landscape painting gave way to paintings of mines and factories, peasants and industrial workers. Traditional sculptural forms were replaced by representations of Communist heroes and events.

The Cultural Revolution of 1966–68 set even greater limits to artistic expression. For a while all entertainment was banned. Traditional poetry and fiction were denounced. Museums and art galleries were closed, and a number of historical and artistic treasures were defaced. The years that followed saw a relaxing of restrictions. Museums were reopened and historical and artistic works were restored. Ancient writings were republished, and popular forms of entertainment were agein allowed.

Classical plays, puppet shows, acrobatic shows, and ballets are especially popular in China. Western-style music, particularly classical music and marches, is prevalent. With young people, rock music is gaining in popularity. In the years after the Cultural Revolution, China developed a new literature, called “the literature of the wounded,” dealing with the abuses of power that took place during the late 1960's and early 1970's. China has a well-developed motion picture industry that began to gain international acclaim in the late 1990's.

Many artists are trained at the Central Institute of Fine Arts, and many musicians are trained at the Conservatory of China. Both institutions are in Beijing.

Almost all inhabitants of China are of Mongoloid descent, and ethnic distinctions are largely linguistic and cultural rather than racial. The Chinese, also known as the Han or Han Chinese, make up about 92 per cent of the population. More than 50 other ethnic groups make up the remainder. The Chuang, a Thai-related people living in southern China, are the most populous ethnic minority. In Tibet, Xinjiang, and other frontier areas, minority groups outnumber the Han Chinese. Most numerous of these people are Manchus, Huis, Miaos, Uigurs (also spelled Uighurs), and Yis.


The People's Republic of China consists of 23 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, and 4 municipalities (China considers Taiwan to be its 23rd province). Under the constitution of 1982, the legislative body is the National Party Congress. Members are elected for five-year terms. A standing committee of the Congress enacts decrees and ratifies treaties. The Congress selects a president (head of state), who serves a five-year term, and also appoints the State Council (cabinet), headed by a premier. The highest judicial authority is the Supreme People's Court.

In practice, all power is exercised by the Communist party through its Politburo, Politburo standing committee, and Central Committee. The chairman of the party is ordinarily China's most powerful person.

Although the constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, these freedoms exist only in a very restricted sense. All adult citizens are allowed to vote, but for each office there is only one candidate, chosen by the party.

China's army, with a strength of about 2,900,000, is the largest in the world. Its navy is designed for coastal defense and consists mainly of submarines, destroyers, frigates, missile boats, and patrol craft. The air force has about 4,500 combat planes.