The third-largest country in the world, occupying most of eastern Asia and bounded by North Korea, Kazakhstan and Mongolia on the north, Russia on the west, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan on the south-west and Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and Vietnam on the south-east.
China's coastline adjoins the South and East China Seas and the Yellow Sea. In the north-west lies Xinjiang (Sinkiang), an area of mountains and desert, and in the south-west is the mountainous region of Tibet. The remainder of China is divided laterally by the Yangtze (Chang) River. In the north-east lies Manchuria, on higher ground and with many rivers and lakes. In the west are the mountains and plateaux surrounding the red clay basin of Sichuan, which is well watered and supports a mass of paddy fields. Huge lakes occupy low-lying land to the south of the Yangtze, while southward the terrain rises to many ranges of high hills. Here the climate is subtropical. The plateaux support tea plantations, many of the slopes are terraced for rice, and the deep valleys are full of natural forests of bamboo. The province of Gansu in the north-west region is the principal centre of earthquakes in China, where major earthquakes take place on an average of once every 65 years.
In the late 1970s China adopted pragmatic policies of liberalizing the economy, which have accelerated over subsequent decades. Four Special Economic Zones were established to attract foreign investment, direct state control of factories has been loosened, stockmarkets have been set up, and responsibility for agriculture switched from collective farms to individual households. China's economy is predominantly agricultural, with rice, wheat, and pigs the main products. Agriculture prospers, although there is a need for investment in irrigation and fertilizers. Mineral extraction is important: crude oil is refined and exported, there are large coal, tin, and iron ore deposits, and China leads the world in tungsten ore production. Several nuclear energy plants are under construction. Industry has seen rapid expansion, and major industrial products include textiles and clothing, cement, chemicals, steel, and consumer electrical goods. There has been a massive increase in foreign trade and tourism is of growing importance.
China has a recorded history beginning nearly 4000 years ago, with the Shang who settled in the Huang He (Yellow River) valley. Under the Eastern Zhou, from the 6th century bc, Confucius and Mencius formulated ideas that became the framework of Chinese society. Daoism, founded by Laozi, appeared during the 3rd century bc. Gradually Chinese culture spread out from the Huang He valley. A form of writing with characters representing meanings rather than sounds – and required by Shi Huangdi, the first ruler of a unified China, to be written in a uniform style – bound together people divided by geography and different spoken dialects. From the Qin the concept of a unified empire prevailed, surviving periods of fragmentation and rule by non-Chinese dynasties such as the Yuan. Under strong dynasties such as the Han and the Tang China's power extended far west into Turkistan and south into Annam. On its neighbours, particularly Korea and Annam, it exercised a powerful influence. Barbarian invaders and dynasties usually adopted Chinese cultural traditions.