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|Official Language||:||Simplified Chinese|
China /ˈtʃaɪnə/ (Chinese: 中国/中华; pinyin: Zhōngguó/Zhōnghuá; see also Names of China), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres (3.7 million square miles). It is the world's second-largest country by land area, and the third- or fourth-largest in total area, depending on the definition of total area.
The People's Republic of China is a single-party state governed by the Communist Party of China (CPC). The PRC exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four directly controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing), and two mostly self-governing special administrative regions (SARs), Hong Kong and Macau. Its capital city is Beijing. The PRC also claims the island of Taiwan, controlled by the government of the Republic of China (ROC), as its 23rd province, a claim controversial due to the complex political status of Taiwan and the unresolved Chinese Civil War.
China’s landscape is vast and diverse, with forest steppes and the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts occupying the arid north and northwest near Mongolia and Central Asia, and subtropical forests being prevalent in the wetter south near Southeast Asia. The terrain of western China is rugged and elevated, with the towering Himalaya, Karakorum, Pamir and Tian Shan mountain separating China from South and Central Asia. The world’s apex, Mt. Everest (8,848 m), and second-highest point, K2 (8,611 m), lie on China's borders, respectively, with Nepal and Pakistan. The country’s lowest and the world’s third-lowest point, Lake Ayding (-154 m), is located in the Turpan Depression. The Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, the third- and sixth-longest in the world, have their sources in the Tibetan Plateau and continue to the densely populated eastern seaboard. China’s coastline along the Pacific Ocean is 14,500 kilometres (9,000 mi) long (the 11th-longest in the world), and is bounded by the Bohai, Yellow, East and South China Seas.
The ancient Chinese civilization—one of the world's earliest—flourished in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. China's political system was based on hereditary monarchies, known as dynasties, beginning with the semi-mythological Xia of the Yellow River basin (approx. 2000 BCE) and ending with the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. Since the Qin Dynasty first conquered several states to form China in 221 BCE, the country has fractured and been reformed numerous times. The Republic of China (ROC), founded in 1912 after the overthrow of the Qing, ruled the Chinese mainland until 1949. In the 1946–1949 phase of the Chinese Civil War, the Chinese Communists defeated the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang) on the mainland and established the People's Republic of China in Beijing on 1 October 1949. The Kuomintang relocated the ROC government to Taiwan with its capital in Taipei. The ROC's jurisdiction is now limited to Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and several outlying islands. Since then, the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (subsequently became known as "Taiwan") have remained in dispute over the sovereignty of China and the political status of Taiwan, mutually claiming each other's territory and competing for international diplomatic recognition. In 1971, the PRC gained admission to United Nations and took the Chinese seat as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. The PRC is also a member of numerous formal and informal multilateral organizations, including the WTO, APEC, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the G-20. As of September 2011, all but 23 countries have recognized the PRC as the sole legitimate government of China.
Since the introduction of market-based economic reforms in 1978, China has become the world's fastest-growing major economy, and the world's largest exporter and second-largest importer of goods. It is the world's second-largest economy, after the United States, by both nominal GDP and purchasing power parity (PPP). On per capita terms, however, China ranked only 90th by nominal GDP and 91st by GDP (PPP) in 2011, according to the IMF. China is a recognized nuclear weapons state and has the world's largest standing army, with the second-largest defense budget. In 2003, China became the third nation in the world, after the Soviet Union and the United States, to independently launch a successful manned space mission. China has been characterized as a potential superpower by a number of academics, military analysts, and public policy and economics analysts.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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)
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
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 and 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.
Mao encouraged population growth and China's population almost doubled from around 550 to over 900 million during the period of his leadership. The economic and social plan known as the Great Leap Forward resulted in an estimated 45 million deaths. 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.
CPC General Secretary, President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji, both former mayors of Shanghai, led post-Tiananmen PRC in the 1990s. Under Jiang and Zhu's ten years of administration, the PRC'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 the PRC needs economic growth to spur its development, 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.
Since ancient times, Chinese culture has been heavily influenced by various versions of Confucianism and conservatism. 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 – the individualistic 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 have advocated 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.
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.
Over time, many royal dishes became part of everday Chinese culture. 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.
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 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.
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 approximately 9,600,000 km (3,700,000 sq mi). Specific area figures range from 9,572,900 km (3,696,100 sq mi) of Encyclopædia Britiannica, to 9,596,961 km (3,705,407 sq mi) of U.N. Demographic Yearbook, to 9,596,961 km (3,705,407 sq mi) of CIA World Factbook and 9,640,011 km (3,722,029 sq mi) that includes Aksai Chin and the Trans-Karakoram Tract, which are controlled by China and claimed by India. None of the aforementioned total area figures includes the 1,000 square kilometres (386.1 sq mi) of territory ceded to the PRC by the Tajikistan following the ratification of a Sino-Tajik border agreement by the Tajik Parliament on January 12, 2011.
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, the total area of the United States, at 9,522,055 km (3,676,486 sq mi), is slightly smaller than China. In the CIA Factbook, until the coastal waters of the Great Lakes was added to the United States' total area in 1996, China's total area was also greater than that of the United States.
China has the longest land borders 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
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-altitude areas are cold and dry; in summer, southern winds from coastal areas at lower altitudes are warm and moist. The climate in China differs from region to region because of the country's extensive and complex topography.
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.
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. Also, in 2011, the Chinese government, in its annual No.1 central document, announced plans to invest four trillion yuan (US$618.55 billion) in water infrastructure projects over a ten-year period and complete construction of a flood prevention and anti-drought system by 2020.