China is the world’s most populous country with more than 1.3 billion people—20 percent of the Earth’s population. Occupying most of East Asia, it is the fourth largest country in area (after Russia, Canada, and the U.S.). China’s geography is highly diverse, with hills, plains, and river deltas in the east and deserts, high plateaus, and mountains in the west. Climate is equally varied, ranging from tropical in the south (Hainan) to subarctic in northeastern China (Manchuria).
China’s geography causes an uneven population distribution; 94 percent live in the eastern third of the country. Shandong province, with its mild coastal climate, has more than 90 million people, but Tibet, with its harsh mountain plateau climate, has less than 3 million. The coastal regions are the most economically developed—acting as a magnet for an estimated 150 million Chinese migrants from the poor rural interior. This figure, from 2008, grows by an estimated 10 million Chinese each year.
China has perhaps the world’s longest continuous civilization; for more than 40 centuries its people created a culture with strong philosophies, traditions, and values. The start of the Han dynasty 2,200 years ago marked the rise of military power that created an empire—one that provided a golden age in art, politics, and technology. Ethnic Chinese still refer to themselves as the “People of Han,” and Han Chinese constitute 92 percent of the country’s population.
The first half of the 20th century saw the fall of the last Chinese emperor, Japanese invasion, World War II, and civil war between Chinese Communist and Nationalist forces—ending with the retreat of the Nationalists to Taiwan. The People’s Republic of China from 1949 to 1976 imposed state control on the economy. Since 1979, China has reformed its economy and allowed competition, and today it has one of the world’s highest rates of growth, averaging nearly 10 percent since the late 1970s.