Dragon dances have been performed in China for over 2,000 years and are believed to bring about good fortune.
Photograph by Guangliang Huo, Dreamstime
The Forbidden City holds the Palace Museum and is in the center of Beijing.
Photograph by Steve Allen, Dreamstime
Vendors sell fruits and vegetables at local markets in China.
Photograph by Hung Chung Chih, Shutterstock
Dragon well green tea, or Longjing, is grown in the city of Hangzhou, China.
Photograph by Zhaojiankang, Dreamstime
Beijing is home to hutong neighborhoods, which consist of narrow roads and alleyways.
Photograph by Tim Martin, Dreamstime
National Geographic Maps
OFFICIAL NAME: People's Republic of China
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Communist state
CAPITAL: Beijing (Peking)
OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: Standard Chinese, Mandarin
MONEY: Yuan (or renminbi)
AREA: 3,705,405 square miles (9,596,960 square kilometers)
MAJOR MOUNTAIN RANGES: Himalaya
MAJOR RIVERS: Yangtze, Yellow
Map of China
Stretching 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) from east to west and 3,400 miles (5,500 kilometers) from north to south, China is a large country with widely varying landscapes. Its territory includes mountains, high plateaus, sandy deserts, and dense forests.
One-third of China's land area is made up of mountains. The tallest mountain on Earth, Mount Everest, sits on the border between China and Nepal.
China has thousands of rivers. The Yangtze and the Yellow Rivers are the most important. At 3,915 miles (6,300 kilometers) long, the Yangtze is the world's third largest river.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
With a population of 1.3 billion, China has more people than any other country on Earth. About a third of the population lives in cities. The rest of the people live in the country.
Arts and crafts have a long history in China. Thousands of years ago the Chinese were some of the first people to use silk, jade, bronze, wood, and paper to make art. The artistic writing called calligraphy was invented in China.
Much of China's modern beliefs and philosophies are based on the teachings of a government official who lived nearly 3,000 years ago. Kongfuzi, also known as Confucius, taught people the value of such things as morality, kindness, and education.
China's diverse habitats are home to hundreds of species of animals and plants. More than 3,800 species of fish and hundreds of amphibians and reptile species live in the rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.
China's forest wildlife is threatened by logging and clear-cutting (clearing the land of all trees) for farmland. Expanding deserts in the north also shrink animal habitats. The Chinese government has created more than 1,200 reserves to protect plant and animal species.
The giant panda lives in the misty mountains of southwest China and nowhere else on Earth. They eat bamboo and usually live near stands of the woody evergreen plant. Pandas have been hunted and only about 1,600 remain in the wild.
Photograph by Asafta, Dreamstime
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
China is an authoritarian state ruled by a very powerful central government. A huge workforce and lots of natural resources have driven economic change. This has forced the communist government to permit more economic and personal freedoms, but it has come at a huge cost to the environment.
Many experts predict that the 21st century will be the "Chinese century." Whether or not that proves to be true, there is no doubt that what happens in China will affect many other nations.
China is the home of one of the world's oldest civilizations, but it has only recently become a "modern" nation. In the last 20 years, China has changed faster than any other country in the world.
Chinese history is divided into dynasties, each of which marks the period when a line of emperors ruled. The first empire was the Qin dynasty and began in 221 B.C. The last emperor was overthrown in 1912, and China became a republic. The communist government began its rule in 1949 following a civil war with the Chinese Nationalists.
Ancient China was a land of invention. For centuries, China was way ahead of most other countries in science and technology, astronomy, and math. The Chinese invented paper, the magnetic compass, printing, porcelain, silk, and gunpowder, among other things.