China is a cultural region, ancient civilization, and nation in East Asia. It is
one of the world's oldest civilizations, consisting of states and cultures
dating back more than six millennia. The stalemate of the last Chinese Civil War
has resulted in two political states using the name China: the People's Republic
of China (PRC), commonly known as "China," which controls mainland China, Hong
Kong, and Macau; and the Republic of China (ROC), commonly known as "Taiwan,"
which controls the island of Taiwan and its surrounding islands. Most foreign
governments officially recognise the PRC as the single legitimate government of
"China", including the areas administered by the ROC; for details on the
dispute, see Political status of Taiwan.
China is one of the world's oldest continuous civilizations. It has the world's
longest continuously used written language system, and has been the source of
some of the world's great inventions, including the Four Great Inventions of
ancient China: paper, the compass, gunpowder, and printing.
Republic of China
On January 1, 1912, the Republic of China was established, heralding the end of
the Qing Dynasty. Sun Yat-sen of the Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Party), was
proclaimed provisional president of the republic. However, Yuan Shikai, a former
Qing general who had defected to the revolutionary cause, soon usurped the
presidency by forcing Sun to step aside. Yuan then attempted to have himself
instated emperor of a new dynasty, but died of natural causes before securing
power over all of the Chinese empire.
After Yuan Shikai's death, 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, moving the
nation's capital to Nanjing (Nanking) and implementing "political tutelage", an
intermediate stage of political development outlined in Sun Yat-sen's program
for transforming China into a modern, democratic state. Effectively, political
tutelage meant one-party rule by the Kuomintang.
The Sino-Japanese War of 1937–1945 (part of World War II) forced an uneasy
alliance between the Nationalists and the Communists as well as causing around
10 million Chinese civilian deaths. 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 on the
Geography and climate
China ranges from mostly plateaus and mountains in the west to lower lands in
the east. Principal rivers flow from west to east, including the Yangtze
(central), the Huang He (Yellow river, north-central), and the Amur (northeast),
and sometimes toward the south (including the Pearl River, Mekong River, and
Brahmaputra), with most Chinese rivers emptying into the Pacific Ocean.
In the east, along the shores of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea there are
extensive and densely populated alluvial plains. On the edges of the Inner
Mongolian plateau in the north, grasslands can be seen. Southern China is
dominated by hills and low mountain ranges. In the central-east are the deltas
of China's two major rivers, the Huang He and Yangtze River. Most of China's
arable lands lie along these rivers; they were the centers of China's major
ancient civilizations. Other major rivers include the Pearl River, Mekong,
Brahmaputra and Amur. Yunnan Province is considered a part of the Greater Mekong
Subregion, which also includes Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
In the west, the north has a great alluvial plain, and the south has a vast
calcareous tableland traversed by hill ranges of moderate elevation, and the
Himalayas, containing Earth's highest point, Mount Everest. The northwest also
has high plateaus with more arid desert landscapes such as the Takla-Makan and
the Gobi Desert, which has been expanding. During many dynasties, the
southwestern border of China has been the high mountains and deep valleys of
Yunnan, which separate modern China from Burma, Laos and Vietnam.
Confucianism was the official philosophy throughout most of Imperial China's
history, and mastery of Confucian texts was the primary criterion for entry into
the imperial bureaucracy. China's traditional values were derived from various
versions of Confucianism. A number of more authoritarian strains of thought have
also been influential, such as Legalism. There was often conflict between the
philosophies, e.g. the Song Dynasty Neo-Confucians believed Legalism departed
from the original spirit of Confucianism. Examinations and a culture of merit
remain greatly valued in China today. In recent years, a number of New
Confucians (not to be confused with Neo-Confucianism) have advocated that
democratic ideals and human rights are quite compatible with traditional
Confucian "Asian values".
With the rise of Western economic and military power beginning in the mid-19th
century, non-Chinese systems of social and political organization gained
adherents in China. Some of these would-be reformers totally rejected China's
cultural legacy, while others sought to combine the strengths of Chinese and
Western cultures. In essence, the history of 20th century China is one of
experimentation with new systems of social, political, and economic organization
that would allow for the reintegration of the nation in the wake of dynastic
Hundreds of ethnic groups have existed in China throughout its history. The
largest ethnic group in China by far is the Han. This group is diverse in itself
and can be divided into smaller ethnic groups that share some traits.
Over the last three millennia, many previously distinct ethnic groups in China
have been Sinicized into a Han identity, which over time dramatically expanded
the size of the Han population. However, these assimilations were usually
incomplete and vestiges of indigenous language and culture often are still
retained in different regions of China. Because of this, many within the Han
identity have maintained distinct linguistic and cultural traditions, though
still identifying as Han. Several ethnicities have also dramatically shaped Han
culture, e.g. the Manchurian clothing called the qipao became the new "Chinese"
fashion after the 17th century, replacing earlier Han styles of clothing such as
the Hanfu. The term Chinese nation (Zhonghua Minzu) is usually used to describe
a notion of a Chinese nationality that transcends ethnic divisions.
Languages of China
Most languages in China belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family, spoken by 29
ethnicities. There are also several major dialects within the Chinese language
itself. The most spoken dialects are Mandarin (spoken by over 70% of the
population), Wu (Shanghainese), Yue (Cantonese), Min, Xiang, Gan, and Hakka.
Non-Sinitic languages spoken widely by ethnic minorities include Zhuang (Thai),
Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur (Turkic), Hmong and Korean.
Classical Chinese was the written standard used for thousands of years in China
before the 20th century and allowed for written communication between speakers
of various unintelligible languages and dialects in China. Vernacular Chinese or
baihua is the written standard based on the Mandarin dialect first popularized
in Ming dynasty novels and was adopted (with significant modifications) during
the early 20th century as the national vernacular. Classical Chinese is still
part of the high school curriculum and is thus intelligible to some degree to
Religion in China
The "official" orthodox faith system held by most dynasties of China until the
overthrow of the last dynasty is a panentheism system, centering on the worship
of "Heaven" as an omnipotent force. This faith system pre-dated the development
of Confucianism and Taoism or the introduction of Buddhism and Christianity. It
has features of a monotheism in that Heaven is seen as an omnipotent entity,
endowed with personality but no corporeal form. "Heaven" as a supernatural force
was variously referred to as Shangdi (literally "Emperor Above"). Worship of
Heaven includes the erection of shrines, the last and greatest being the Altar
of Heaven in Beijing, and the offering of prayers. Manifestation of the powers
of Heaven include weather and natural disasters. Although it gradually
diminished in popular belief after the advent of Taoism and Buddhism, among
others, some of its concepts remained in use throughout the pre-modern period
and have been incorporated in later religions of China.
Taoism is an indigenous religion of China and is traditionally traced to the
composition of Lao Zi's Tao Te Ching (The Book of Tao and Its Virtues) or to
seminal works by Zhang Daoling. The philosophy of Taoism is centered on "the
way"; an understanding of which can be likened to recognizing the true nature of
the universe. Taoism in its unorganized form is also considered a folk religion
of China. More secular derivatives of Taoist ideas include Feng Shui, Sun Tzu's
Art of War, and acupuncture.
Buddhism was introduced from South and Central Asia during the Han dynasty and
became very popular among Chinese of all walks of life, embraced particularly by
commoners, and sponsored by emperors in certain dynasties. Mahayana (大乘, Dacheng)
is the predominant form of Buddhism practiced in China, where it was largely
Sinicized and later exported to Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Some subsets of
Mahayana popular in China include Pure Land (Amidism) and Zen. Buddhism is the
largest organized faith in China and the country has the most Buddhist adherents
in the world, followed by Japan. Many Chinese, however, identify themselves as
both Taoist and Buddhist at the same time.
Science and technology
Among the scientific accomplishments of ancient China were paper (not papyrus)
and papermaking, woodblock printing and movable type printing, the early
lodestone and magnetic compass, gunpowder, toilet paper, early seismological
detectors, matches, dry docks, pound locks, sliding calipers, the double-action
piston pump, blast furnace and cast iron, the iron plough, the multi-tube seed
drill, the wheelbarrow, the suspension bridge, the parachute, natural gas as
fuel, the escapement mechanism for clocks, the differential gear for the South
Pointing Chariot, the hydraulic-powered armillary sphere, the hydraulic-powered
trip hammer, the mechanical chain drive, the mechanical belt drive, the
raised-relief map, the propeller, the crossbow, the cannon, the rocket, the
multistage rocket, etc. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China