CHINA in Brief


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Brief Introduction to China
China, country in East Asia, south of Russia and Mongolia. It is the world's third-largest country by area and the largest by population. The capital of China is Beijing; the largest city is Shanghai. Including its more than 3400 offshore islands, China has a total land area of about 9,571,300 sq km (about 3,695,500 sq mi).

Land and Resources
China's six major geographic regions encompass a great diversity of landscapes, natural resources, climates, and plant and animal life. The Northwest region consists of the lofty Tien Shan (a mountain system) and two basins: the fertile Junggar Pendi and the Tarim Pendi, which contains the vast Takla Makan, the driest desert in Asia. The Mongolian Steppe in north central China is a plateau desert region that grades eastward into steppe lands. The Northeast region incorporates the fertile Manchurian Plain and the Liaodong Peninsula. North China, between the Mongolian Steppe and the Yangtze River Basin, consists of the Huangtu Plateau, the fertile North China Plain, and the peninsular Shandong Plateau.

South China embraces the valley of the Yangtze River, Asia's longest river, and the regions to the south: the Yunnan Plateau with its steep-walled gorges; eastern Guizhou's scenic limestone pinnacles and pillarlike peaks; the largely deforested and severely eroded Nan Ling hills; the infertile, hilly Xi Jiang Basin; the rugged Southeastern Highlands; and a broad delta plain, sometimes called the Canton delta. In remote southwestern China is the Tibetan Plateau, the world's highest plateau region, dotted with salt lakes and marshes. Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world, rises in the Himalayas on the border of Nepal and Tibet.

The Asian monsoon (prevailing winds) exerts the primary control on China's climate. Summer temperatures are remarkably uniform throughout most of the country, but extreme temperature differences between north and south characterize the winters. Precipitation generally declines with distance from the sea.

China has a wide variety of animal life, including some species that survive only in China. Among these are the paddlefish, the giant panda, and the Chinese water deer (found only in China and Korea). China also possesses an extremely wide array of mineral resources. Among the world's leaders in production of tin, antimony, and tungsten, the country claims to be second only to Saudi Arabia in oil reserves.

China has a population ( July 8th, 2001 official statistic number) of 1,275,690,593 (HongKong Macao and Taiwan are not included). Some 69 percent of the people are classified as rural. Approximately 92 percent of the people are ethnic, or Han, Chinese, but the minority population of non-Han peoples is significant in that its members have settled over nearly 60 percent of China's area. More than 70 million people belong to 56 national minorities, distinguished from the Han Chinese by language or religion rather than by physical characteristics. The principal minorities are the Thai-related Zhuang; the Hui, or Chinese Muslims; the aboriginal Miao; the Turkic-speaking Uygur; the aboriginal (but largely assimilated) Yi; the Mongols; and the Tibetans.

More than one-fifth of the world's total population lives within China's borders. Government efforts at population control include limiting each Chinese family to having only one child. The national minorities have generally been excluded from the government's birth-control program, in keeping with a policy of allowing the non-Han peoples a maximum of cultural independence.

The Chinese have had a written language for more than 3000 years. Although there are more than a dozen major dialects, the official spoken language of the Chinese is Putongua (standard speech), sometimes known to Westerners as Mandarin. China's minority groups have their own spoken languages, which include Mongolian, Tibetan, Miao, Tai, Uygur, and Kazak. The Mandarin-based dialect is taught in schools, and knowledge of it is requisite throughout China. See Chinese Language.

After it gained control of China in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party officially eliminated organized religion. Previously the dominant religions had been Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. The 1982 constitution allows residents freedom of religious belief and protects legitimate religious activities.

Education and Cultural Activity
One of the most ambitious programs of the Communist Party has been the establishment of universal public education for such a large population. Primary and secondary schools now encompass 12 years of education. Because of China's so-called key-point system, under which the most promising students are placed in selected schools, university education remains difficult to attain. As many as two million students compete each year through entrance examinations for 500,000 university openings. Since the mid-1970s the official attitude toward the arts has relaxed, prompting the reappearance of previously banned foreign literature and the rise of modernized popular music. However, the climate for cultural expression remains delicate.

Traditionally the economic mainstay of China, agriculture remains the most important sector of the national economy, supporting the vast majority of the population. In the early 1980s the government restructured the agricultural sector, dismantling the system of communes and production brigades put in place by the early Communist government. Instead, households became responsible for producing a certain amount of crops. Any additional output was available to sell on the open market. The large majority of farmed land is devoted to food crops, primarily rice. In the mid-1990s China's annual production of rice was the largest in the world. Other important crops are wheat, tea, and oilseeds, particularly soybeans and peanuts.

The Chinese textile industry is the largest in the world, and the country is the world's leading cotton producer. China maintains a valuable livestock population, and the fishing industry is important. The country has rich mineral resources, especially coal and petroleum. It is the world's largest producer of coal and natural graphite. The unit of currency is the yuan (8.31 yuan equal U.S.$1; 1996).

China is a socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, led by the world's largest Communist party, with more than 52 million members (only a small percentage of the total population). The office of president is largely ceremonial. Executive powers rest with the State Council, headed by the premier. Generally, the positions of greatest authority are those of premier and general secretary of the Communist Party, with power depending largely on individual personalities in such positions. In the early 1990s, however, Deng Xiaoping, who did not hold any official post, was the most powerful figure in the Chinese government. The indirectly elected National People's Congress officially holds legislative power, but in practice it has little real power. When it is not in session, a committee elected from its membership acts in its place.

Tradition names the Huaxia or Hsia (2205?-1766? BC) as the first hereditary Chinese dynasty. However, the Shang dynasty (1766?-1122 BC) is the earliest one for which reliable historical evidence exists; it was followed by the Zhou dynasty (1122?-256 BC).

During the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC), from which the name China is derived, a standardized system of written characters was adopted and the Great Wall, a barrier along the northern and northwestern frontier, was completed. Subsequent dynasties were the Earlier Han (206 BC-AD 8); the Hsin (AD 9-23); the Later Han (25-220); the Wei, Shu, and Wu dynasties, each holding parts of China during the third century; the Western Jin (265-316); the Northern Wei (386-534); the Sui (589-618); and the Tang (T’ang) (618-907).

The Song dynasty (960-1279) is usually divided into the Northern Song (960-1126) and the Southern Song (1127-1279), when it controlled only South China. Mongol leader Kublai Khan conquered the Southern Song, and he and his successors ruled as the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) until being overthrown by the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

Under the Manchu, or Qing dynasty (1644-1912), the power of the Chinese Empire reached the highest point in its 2000-year history and then collapsed, partly from internal decay and partly from external pressures exerted by the West. The two Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860) resulted in the so-called unequal treaties, which ceded Hong Kong and Kowloon to Great Britain and established a devastating network of foreign control over the entire Chinese economy. In 1911 a revolutionary movement, led by Sun Yat-sen and dedicated to establishing a republican government, began armed rebellion against the Manchu dynasty. When General Yuan Shikai, head of the Manchu forces, negotiated for a position as president of a new republican government, the Manchus ceded power, and China became a republic in 1912.

During World War I (1914-1918) Japan sought to take control of China. Many Chinese expected that the United States would offer its backing, but at the conference of the Treaty of Versailles after the war, President Woodrow Wilson withdrew U.S. support of China when Japan withdrew its demand for a controversial clause in the League of Nations Covenant. Chinese youth and intellectuals, who had looked increasingly to Western models for reform, were crushed by what they considered Wilson's betrayal.

Disillusioned by the self-interest of the Western powers, some Chinese became more interested in Marxist-Leninist thought in the quest to rid China of imperialism and to reestablish national unity. The Chinese Communist Party organized in 1921, numbering among its original members Mao Zedong. In the 1920s much of the country was ruled by local warlords. Following Sun's death in 1925, General Chiang Kai-shek sought to unite China under the leadership of the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang. In 1928 the Kuomintang established a national government at Nanjing, excluding the Communists.

Headed by Mao, the Communists took to the countryside of central China, mobilized the peasant so-called Red army, and set up several local governments. Late in 1934, under pressure from Chiang, the Communists fought their way across the country on the so-called Long March. By 1938 Japan had seized control of much of China. During World War II (1939-1945), the Kuomintang government suffered serious debilitation, while the Communists, with support from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), significantly expanded their territorial bases, military forces, and party membership.

In 1945, shortly after Japan surrendered to end the war, fighting erupted between Communist and Kuomintang troops, and in 1949 Kuomintang resistance collapsed. The government, with the forces it could salvage, sought refuge on the island of Taiwan. The new Communist regime, called the People's Republic of China, was officially proclaimed on October 1, 1949, under the leadership of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. The basic policy of the Communist government was to transform China into a socialist society, using Marxist-Leninist education and propaganda, as well as terror campaigns to eliminate all opposition. Some foreign authorities estimated that by the end of 1951, close to two million so-called counterrevolutionaries had been executed.

The first task of the Communists was to reconstruct the economy. Farmers were organized into agricultural collectives, and private industry was gradually brought under state control. China and the USSR signed a treaty of friendship and alliance in 1950. The regime also attempted to regain areas it considered to be within the historic boundaries of China. In 1950 Chinese troops take back Tibet. In 1954 Zhou Enlai officially declared the liberation of Taiwan as one of his principal objectives. Subsequent fighting occurred between the Communists and the Nationalists. Since 1958 a cease-fire has been generally observed by both sides, although the Communist government has never forsworn the use of force to reclaim Taiwan.

In 1959, after growing division between him and government moderates, Mao retired as head of state but retained the party chairmanship. The division became a public struggle in 1966, when Mao and his supporters launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to eradicate the remains of so-called bourgeois ideas and customs.

The Cultural Revolution was marked by great strife between a student-led, pro-Maoist group called the Red Guards, and their targets, made up of intellectuals, bureaucrats, party officials, and urban workers. Despite the tensions, Mao emerged victorious; however, others held real power. In 1975 the moderate Deng Xiaoping, a rehabilitated victim of the Cultural Revolution, was named deputy to Premier Zhou Enlai.

During this period China's foreign relations improved dramatically. In 1971 it was admitted to the United Nations (UN) upon the expulsion of Taiwan. In 1972 U.S. president Richard M. Nixon made an official visit to China, during which full diplomatic relations, and the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Taiwan, were agreed upon.

Deng Xiaoping was the dominant figure in China throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, retaining behind-the-scenes influence even as he steadily surrendered his public titles. Eager to expand trade and industry, Deng and other aging leaders took a far less dogmatic stance on economic policy than on political questions.

Leadership changes came in the late 1980s after a wave of student demonstrations calling for increased democratization and freedom of expression. The death of former Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang in 1989 sparked a new wave of pro-democracy demonstrations, which swelled when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Beijing to end the 30-year rift between the USSR and China. The protesters occupied Beijing's Tiananmen Square for seven weeks, until the morning of June 4. In the ensuing political crackdown, Zhao Ziyang, Communist Party general secretary, was stripped of his posts and was replaced by Jiang Zemin. The Eighth National People's Congress elected Jiang president in March 1993.

Jiang emerged as China's paramount leader in 1997 when the Communist Party named him head of the all-powerful Politburo. His main rival, Qiao Shi, a leading advocate of political reform, was edged out of top positions in the party. In 1998 Premier Li Peng completed his final term in office and Zhu Rongji, China's economic chief, succeeded him.

---The article above was extracted from the Microsoft Bookshelf 2000 and some details are reedit by me.


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