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Insight Guide China

Overview of China

The People's Republic of China has the world's largest population and third largest land area.

The name China comes from the English pronunciation of Qin (pronounced "chin"). Qin was the first imperial dynasty of the country that ruled the country from 221 B.C. to 209 B.C. Present day Chinese call their country Zhongguo which means "Middle Kingdom."

China proper centers on the agricultural regions irrigated by two major rivers-the Yellow River in the north, and the Yangtze River in the south. The country's varied topography includes broad plains, towering mountains, high plateaus, and vast deserts.

Beijing, China's capital is the country's cultural, economic, and communications center. Shanghai located on the coast of the East China Sea, is China's most populous urban center, and its largest industrial and commercial city.

More than one-fifth of the world's population lives in China. Ninety percent of the people are Han. China also recognizes 55 national minorities including Tibetans, Mongols and other smaller ethnic groups. The official language is Mandarin Chinese. It uses characters instead of an alphabet, making it possible for all Chinese dialects to be written in the same way.

Anciently, the Chinese created one of the most brilliant civilizations in the world. Neighboring people, such as Koreans and Vietnamese, adopted much of Chinese art, food, philosophy, government, technology, and written language. For many centuries, especially from the 7th through the 14th, China was the world's most advanced civilization. Paper, printing, gunpowder, porcelain, silk, and the compass were invented in China, and have contributed greatly to the development of the world.

China's political strength became threatened when European civilization expanded into East Asia. In the 19th century internal revolts and foreign invasion weakened China's last dynasty, the Qing,which was overthrown by Chinese Nationalists led by Dr. Sun Yet-sen in 1911. For several decades, the country was torn apart by warlords, Japanese invasion, and a civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists. By 1928, all of China was, at least technically, under the control of the Nationalists, who established the Republic of China that year.

In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party were victorious in the on-going civil war and established the People's Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland. The Nationalist Government retreated to Taiwan Island, where it controlled Taiwan and a few neighboring islands.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Communist government placed agriculture and industry under state control. Beginning in the late 1970s, however, the government implemented economic reforms that reversed some of the earlier policies and encouraged foreign investment. Although China is still a developing country by world standards, the economy has grown dramatically as a result of the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s.

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