China's topography is varied and complicated, with towering mountains, basins of different sizes, undulating plateaus and hills, and flat and fertile plains.
A bird's-eye view of China would indicate that China's terrain descends in four steps from west to east.
The top of this four-step "staircase" is the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Averaging more than 4,000 m above sea level, it is often called the "roof of the world." Rising 8,848 m above sea level is Mt. Qomolangma, the world's highest peak and the main peak of the Himalayas.
The second step includes the Inner Mongolia, Loess and Yunnan-Guizhou plateaus, and the Tarim, Junggar and Sichuan basins, with an average elevation of between 1,000 m and 2,000 m.
The third step, about 500-1,000 m in elevation, begins at a line drawn around the Greater Hinggan, Taihang, Wushan and Xuefeng mountain ranges and extends eastward to the coast. Here, from north to south, are the Northeast Plain, the North China Plain and the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain. Interspersed amongst the plains are hills and foothills.
To the east, the land extends out into the ocean, in a continental shelf, the fourth step of the staircase. The water here is less than 200 m deep.