China is one of the biggest countries in the world. It has an area of about 9.6 million square kilometers which comprises about 6.5 per cent of the world total land area. Its population of more than one billion accounts for 23 per cent of the world's population. China is the world's oldest continuous civilization. World Travel Organization predicts that by year 2020, China will become the number one travel destination in the world.
China is situated in the eastern part of Asia on the west coast of the Pacific Ocean. It is the third largest country in the world (after Canada and Russia). The distance from east to west measures over 5,200 kilometers and from north to south, over 5,500 kilometers. When the sun shines brightly over the Wusuli River in the east, the Pamire Plateau in the west is in the very early morning. When blizzards wrap the north along the Heilongjiang River in the winter, spring sowing is underway on Hainan Island in the south.
China has a land border of 22,143.34 kilometers long and is bordered by twelve countries: Korea in the east; Russian in the northeast and the northwest; Mongolia in the north; India, Pakistan, Bhutan and Nepal in part of the west and southwest; Burma, Laos and Vietnam in the south.
Beside a vast land area, there are also extensive neighboring seas and numerous islands. The coastline extends more than 14,500 kilometers. Across the East China Sea to the east and South China Sea to the southeast are Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. More than 5,000 islands are scattered over China's vast territorial seas; the largest being Taiwan and the second largest, Hainan. One territorial sea and three neighboring seas altogether constitute 4.73 million square kilometers.
China is a mountainous country with two thirds of its total land area covered by mountains, hills and plateaus. Out of the world's twelve highest peaks of more than 8,000 meters, seven are located in China. The Highest peak in the world, Mount Qomolangma (8,828m) stands on the border between China and Nepal.
There are five major mountain systems in China. These mountain systems, together with numerous intermontane plateaus, basins and plains are interwoven into three macrolandform complexes in China. Therefore, the topography of China from the Qinghai-Xizang Plateau eastward, is broadly arranged into four great steps descending step- by-step from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the coastal area in the east.
1. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the top of the staircase, covers 2.2 million square kilometers and averages 4,000 meters above sea level. It is the highest and largest plateau on earth and is popularly called "roof of the world".
2. From the eastern margin of Qinghai-Xizang Plateau eastward up to the Da Hinggan-Taihang-Wushan mountains line, composed mainly of plateau and basins with elevation from 2,000 to 1,000 kilometers.
3. From the above mentioned line eastward up to the coast are the largest plains of China. The plains are also interspersed with hills generally below 500 kilometers in elevation.
4. The continental shelf, with an elevation that is generally less than 200 kilometers.
The west of China is comprised of mountains and deserts as well as plateaus that do not provide much arable land for agriculture. Throughout most of history, the civilization that grew up to the east in what is today China, was not surrounded by other nearby major civilizations. To this extent, the Chinese were "isolated" from competing civilizations although there was a broad and fluid frontier zone on the western margins.
Although the mountains and deserts of the west limited contact between early imperial dynasties and other centers of civilization in Inner Asia, Middle East, South Asia, and Europe, there were some important and notable exchanges of culture. The legendary Silk Road facilitated the exchange of goods and ideas between China and each of these areas.
Rivers in China
China has a great number of rivers. The inland river system accounts for 36 per cent of the total land area in China, more than 1,500 square kilometers of which have a catchment area exceeding 1,000 square kilometers. Among these, the Yangtze River, Yellow River, Heilongjiang River, Pearl River, and Huaihe River are the major ones.
China is also a country with numerous lakes; approximately 2,800 natural lakes with a total area of more than 80,000 square kilometers.
China's two Major Rivers, the Huang He (Yellow River) and the Chang Jiang (Yangzi or Yangtze River), as well as the Pearl River (Zhu Jiang) in southeastern China, have provided the framework for agricultural development and population growth throughout China's history. Another river, the Heilong Jiang (known also as the Amur River, its Russian name) marks the border between China and Russia. Because some of China's largest rivers have their source regions on the high Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and drop great distances over their middle and lower courses, China is rich in hydroelectric resources.
Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) As China's "main street," this artery courses over 6300 km through several of China's most economically developed regions. Excellent river ports --Shanghai, Zhenjiang, Nanjing, Wuhan, Yichang, and Chongqing--are located near or along the Chang Jiang making it one of the world's busiest inland waterways. As much as 40% of the country's total grain production, 70% of the rice output and more than 40% of China's population are associated with its vast basin that includes more than 3,000 tributaries. The flow of the Chang Jiang is some 20 times greater than that of the Huang He.
With its numerous tributaries, the Chang Jiang drains nearly 20% of China's total area. Its upper reaches tap the uplands of the Tibetan Plateau before sweeping across the enormous and agriculturally productive Sichuan Basin that supports nearly 10% of China's total population. It is in the middle course of the Chang Jiang, the Three Gorges Dam project is being constructed. That is also the area the popular Yangtze River Cruise sails along the Yangtze.
Huang He (Yellow River) China's second longest river, Yellow River rises in Qinghai province and flows some 5,464 km to the Yellow Sea. Crystal clear lakes and lazy meandering are characteristic in its upper reaches. Along the Great Bend of the Yellow River in its middle course, the unruly river carves its way through the loessial plateau with substantial erosion taking place. As the river erodes the loess, it becomes a "river of mud", causing serious flooding almost every year.
What was once a scourge that plagued the Chinese people throughout much of their history continues to be one of China's great natural challenges preventing both flooding and drought in a region with more than 100 million people. Siltation at the mouth of the Yellow River extended the length of the river by approximately 35 km (20 miles) between 1975 and 1991.