China’s landscape is vast and diverse, ranging from the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts in the arid north to subtropical forests in the wetter south. The Himalaya, Karakoram, Pamir and Tian Shan mountain ranges separate China from much of South and Central Asia. The Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, the third- and sixth-longest in the world, respectively, run from the Tibetan Plateau to the densely populated eastern seaboard. China’s coastline along the Pacific Ocean is 14,500 kilometers (9,000 mi) long and is bounded by the Bohai, Yellow, East China and South China seas. China connects through the Kazakh border to the Eurasian Steppe which has been an artery of communication between East and West since the Neolithic through the Steppe route – the ancestor of the terrestrial Silk Road(s).
Landscape and climate
The territory of China lies between latitudes18° and 54° N, and longitudes73° and 135° E. China’s landscapes vary significantly across its vast width. In the east, along the shores of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, there are extensive and densely populated alluvial plains, while on the edges of the Inner Mongolian plateau in the north, broad grasslands predominate. Southern China is dominated by hills and low mountain ranges, while the central-east hosts the deltas of China’s two major rivers, the Yellow River and the Yangtze River. Other major rivers include the Xi, Mekong, Brahmaputra and Amur. To the west sit major mountain ranges, most notably the Himalayas. High plateaus feature among the more arid landscapes of the north, such as the Taklamakan and the Gobi Desert. The world’s highest point, Mount Everest (8,848m), lies on the Sino-Nepalese border. The country’s lowest point, and the world’s third-lowest, is the dried lake bed of Ayding Lake (−154m) in the Turpan Depression.
China’s climate is mainly dominated by dry seasons and wet monsoons, which lead to pronounced temperature differences between winter and summer. In the winter, northern winds coming from high-latitude areas are cold and dry; in summer, southern winds from coastal areas at lower latitudes are warm and moist. The climate in China differs from region to region because of the country’s highly complex topography.
A major environmental issue in China is the continued expansion of its deserts, particularly the Gobi Desert. Although barrier tree lines planted since the 1970s have reduced the frequency of sandstorms, prolonged drought and poor agricultural practices have resulted in dust storms plaguing northern China each spring, which then spread to other parts of east Asia, including Korea and Japan. China’s environmental watchdog, SEPA, stated in 2007 that China is losing 4,000 km2 (1,500 sq mi) per year to desertification. Water quality, erosion, and pollution control have become important issues in China’s relations with other countries. Melting glaciers in the Himalayas could potentially lead to water shortages for hundreds of millions of people
China is one of 17 megadiverse countries, lying in two of the world’s major ecozones: the Palearctic and the Indomalaya. By one measure, China has over 34,687 species of animals and vascular plants, making it the third-most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil and Colombia. The country signed the Rio de JaneiroConvention on Biological Diversity on 11 June 1992, and became a party to the convention on 5 January 1993.It later produced a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, with one revision that was received by the convention on 21 September 2010.
China is home to at least 551 species of mammals (the third-highest such number in the world), 1,221 species of birds (eighth), 424 species of reptiles (seventh) and 333 species of amphibians (seventh). Wildlife in China share habitat with and bear acute pressure from the world’s largest population of Homo sapiens. At least 840 animal species are threatened, vulnerable or in danger of local extinction in China, due mainly to human activity such as habitat destruction, pollution and poaching for food, fur and ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine. Endangered wildlife is protected by law, and as of 2005, the country has over 2,349 nature reserves, covering a total area of 149.95 million hectares, 15 percent of China’s total land area. The Baiji has recently been confirmed extinct.
China has over 32,000 species of vascular plants, and is home to a variety of forest types. Cold coniferous forests predominate in the north of the country, supporting animal species such as moose and Asian black bear, along with over 120 bird species. The understorey of moist conifer forests may contain thickets of bamboo. In higher montane stands of juniper and yew, the bamboo is replaced by rhododendrons. Subtropical forests, which are predominate in central and southern China, support as many as 146,000 species of flora. Tropical and seasonal rainforests, though confined to Yunnan and Hainan Island, contain a quarter of all the animal and plant species found in China. China has over 10,000 recorded species of fungi, and of them, nearly 6,000 are higher fungi.
China had the largest economy in the world for most of the past two thousand years, during which it has seen cycles of prosperity and decline. Since economic reforms began in 1978, China has developed into a highly diversified economy and one of the most consequential players in international trade. Major sectors of competitive strength include manufacturing, mining, steel, textiles, automobiles, energy generation, banking, electronics, telecommunications, real estate, e-commerce, and tourism. As of 2017, China has the world’s second-largest economy in terms of nominal GDP, totalling approximately US$12.014 trillion according to the International Monetary Fund. In terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP, China’s economy has been the largest in the world since 2016. It ranks behind over 70 countries (out of around 180) in per capita economic output, making it a middle income country. Additionally, its development is highly uneven. Its major cities and coastal areas are far more prosperous compared to rural and interior regions.
Economic history and growth
From its founding in 1949 until late 1978, the People’s Republic of China was a Soviet-style centrally planned economy. Following Mao’s death in 1976 and the consequent end of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping and the new Chinese leadership began to reform the economy and move towards a more market-oriented mixed economy under one-party rule. Agricultural collectivization was dismantled and farmlands privatized, while foreign trade became a major new focus, leading to the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOEs) were restructured and unprofitable ones were closed outright, resulting in massive job losses. Modern-day China is mainly characterized as having a market economy based on private property ownership, and is one of the leading examples of state capitalism.The state still dominates in strategic “pillar” sectors such as energy production and heavy industries, but private enterprise has expanded enormously, with around 30 million private businesses recorded in 2008.
Since economic liberalization began in 1978, China has been among the world’s fastest-growing economies, relying largely on investment- and export-led growth. According to the IMF, China’s annual average GDP growth between 2001 and 2010 was 10.5%. In the years immediately following the financial crisis of 2007, China’s economic growth rate was equivalent to all of the G7 countries’ growth combined. According to the Global Growth Generators index announced by Citigroup in February 2011, China has a very high 3G growth rating. Its high productivity, low labor costs and relatively good infrastructure have made it a global leader in manufacturing. However, the Chinese economy is highly energy-intensive and inefficient; China became the world’s largest energy consumer in 2010, relies on coal to supply over 70% of its energy needs, and surpassed the US to become the world’s largest oil importer in 2013. In addition, official GDP figures are seen as unreliable and there have been several well-publicized cases of data manipulation. In the early 2010s, China’s economic growth rate began to slow amid domestic credit troubles, weakening international demand for Chinese exports and fragility in the global economy.
China’s e-commerce industry took off in 2009, marked by the growth of internet giants Tencent and Alibaba – purveyors of products such as WeChat and Tmall that have become ubiquitous in contemporary Chinese life. China is also second only to the United States in venture capital activity and is home to a large number of unicorn startup companies. Tourism is a major contributor to the economy. In 2017, this sector contributed about CNY 8.77 trillion (US$1.35 trillion), 11.04% of the GDP, and contributed direct and indirect employment of up to 28.25 million people. There were 139.48 million inbound trips and five billion domestic trips.
Since the late 1990s, China’s national road network has been significantly expanded through the creation of a network of national highways and expressways. In 2011 China’s highways had reached a total length of 85,000 km (53,000 mi), making it the longest highway system in the world. In 1991, there were only six bridges across the main stretch of the Yangtze River, which bisects the country into northern and southern halves. By October 2014, there were 81 such bridges and tunnels. China has the world’s largest market for automobiles, having surpassed the United States in both auto sales and production. Auto sales in 2009 exceeded 13.6 million and may reach 40 million by 2020. A side-effect of the rapid growth of China’s road network has been a significant rise in traffic accidents, with poorly enforced traffic laws cited as a possible cause—in 2011 alone, around 62,000 Chinese died in road accidents. In urban areas, bicycles remain a common mode of transport, despite the increasing prevalence of automobiles – as of 2012, there are approximately 470 million bicycles in China.
China’s railways, which are state-owned, are among the busiest in the world, handling a quarter of the world’s rail traffic volume on only 6 percent of the world’s tracks in 2006.As of 2013, the country had 103,144 km (64,091 mi) of railways, the third longest network in the world. All provinces and regions are connected to the rail network except Macau. The railways strain to meet enormous demand particularly during the Chinese New Year holiday, when the world’s largest annual human migration takes place. In 2013, Chinese railways delivered 2.106 billion passenger trips, generating 1,059.56 billion passenger-kilometers and carried 3.967 billion tons of freight, generating 2,917.4 billion cargo tons-kilometers.
China’s high-speed rail (HSR) system started construction in the early 2000s. Today it has over 19,000 kilometers (11,806 miles) of dedicated lines alone, a length that exceeds rest of the world’s high-speed rail tracks combined, making it the longest HSR network in the world. With an annual ridership of over 1.1 billion passengers in 2015 it is the world’s busiest. The network includes the Beijing–Guangzhou–Shenzhen High-Speed Railway, the single longest HSR line in the world, and the Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Railway, which has three of longest railroad bridges in the world. The HSR track network is set to reach approximately 16,000 km (9,900 mi) by 2020. The Shanghai Maglev Train, which reaches 431 km/h (268 mph), is the fastest commercial train service in the world.
Since 2000, the growth of rapid transit systems in Chinese cities has accelerated. As of January 2016, 26 Chinese cities have urban mass transit systems in operation and 39 more have metro systems approved with a dozen more to join them by 2020. The Shanghai Metro, Beijing Subway, Guangzhou Metro, Hong Kong MTR and Shenzhen Metro are among the longest and busiest in the world.
There were approximately 200 airports in 2015 with around 240 planned by 2020. More than two-thirds of the airports under construction worldwide in 2013 were in China, and Boeing expects that China’s fleet of active commercial aircraft in China will grow from 1,910 in 2011 to 5,980 in 2031. With rapid expansion in civil aviation, the largest airports in China have also joined the ranks of the busiest in the world. In 2013, Beijing’s Capital Airport ranked second in the world by passenger traffic (it was 26th in 2002). Since 2010, the Hong Kong International Airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport have ranked first and third in air cargo tonnage.
Some 80% of China’s airspace remains restricted for military use, and Chinese airlines made up eight of the 10 worst-performing Asian airlines in terms of delays. China has over 2,000 river and seaports, about 130 of which are open to foreign shipping. In 2012, the Ports of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Ningbo-Zhoushan, Guangzhou, Qingdao, Tianjin, Dalian ranked in the top in the world in container traffic and cargo tonnage.
When we talk about painting in the People’s Republic of China we can start the historical review at the neolithic period, that is with the bowls of the neolithic Yangshao culture (5000-3000 BCE),as well as the Majiayao culture (3000-1900 BCE). Bowls found at the sites of these cultures are decorated with geometric patterns drawn with confident brushstrokes that tell us about the extraordinary art of painting of our neolithic craftsmen.
In general, the history of painting in the People’s Republic of China is extremely rich with testimonies about the master painters from the distant past. The murals found in tombs from the times of the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 AD) testify on their confident brush strokes, but, unfortunately, a large part of the paintings from the early dynasties perished because the material on which they were made did not withstood the passing of time. Nevertheless, today we know a lot about the rich history of the early dynasty painting due to a vast written material which has survived: the oldest surviving treatises on painting and painters together with the anthology of painters’ categorization and descriptions of their work date from the 4th century. From this material we can learn the names of several masters, where they lived and how some of their paintings looked. Plenty of paintings came to us in the form of copies. Copying the old masters had more than a didactic function, by copying them one approached not so much the aesthetic sample as did the moral ideal.
The term guohua denotes the traditional Chinese painting. Two major subspecies of guohua painting refer to two techniques that were profiled during the Traditional China (221 BCE – 1911 AD) – gongbi and shue. Gongbi is the name of a painting technique used mainly at the imperial court’s workshops, in which painters painted meticulous strokes of colours on silk, on paintings used to decorate the royal chambers. In this technique all members of the imperial family tried painting. Shue painting emerged from the practice of literati painting – educated people during the Traditional China who mainly worked in the administration from the 11th century onwards and took paintings of landscapes with no desire to sell or show their work to anyone other than their friends. Since being highly educated, and some of them are extremely talented, they founded one of the most beautiful painting genres shanshui or landscape painting of the literati. They painted using the material found in their daily administrative work – indian ink and a soft brush made of animal hair on porous paper, making this type of painting directly associated with Chinese calligraphy. Today when we say wenrenhua, we mean the painting of the literati.
When complained that what they were doing was not real painting because they were not trained as painters, they would have just replied that they did not have to learn how to paint because they had already known how to use a brush because they had used it daily in their work. They tried to avoid the use of colour and a simple allure of the silk as a base, and they preferred the porous rice paper as a surface of their work. Their priority was not to create an authentic copy of a given geographical areas, but to see what kind of man was the one who had painted the work. They said they were just ‘borrowing’ natural forms to express their feelings. Over time the thematic elements and motives in paintings, based on individual stroke of the brush on a rice paper, became other than landscape. At first it was the motive of ‘birds and flowers’, but today when we talk about shuimo painting we think, in the first place, of the technique because the number of painterly motifs is practically unlimited. The most important figure among the literati painters was Su Shi, who lived in the formative period of the Song Dynasty (960 AD to 1279 AD). Su Shi was an imperial administrator, a poet, calligrapher and a painter. Unfortunately, today we have preserved only one painting that is assumed it could be his.
The educated people (the literati) in the Traditional China sought to develop all of their talents. This way one and the same person tended to be a talented painter, writer and a calligrapher. For those who achieved this it would have been said to possess the “three perfections”, or sanjue. Testimony to such talents was presented in the form of a landscape painting on which poetry would be calligraphically inscribed. All from the same author. The poetry has always had a connection with the motif of the painting and the mood of the author at the time it was made.The earliest such work known to us dates from the Yuan Dynasty (1279 AD -1368 AD), and the author of the work is Zhao Mengfu.
Dong Qichang (1555 AD -1636 AD), a painter, calligrapher and an art theorist, concluded in the 17th century that the landscape painting could be divided into the North and the South School. He described the characteristics specified to both schools, and the differentiator being art, not a geographical or temporal element. When we talk about the traditional Chinese landscape painting we use these divisions even today. However, the most interesting among the traditional painters are the, so called, individualists. They have developed a unique and distinctive style and escape labeling. Once seen, their paintings are impossible to forget, and their characteristic ‘handwriting’ will be recognized even in the case of paintings that the viewer has not seen before. The most important among the individualistic painters were Bada Shanren (Zhu Da) (about 1626 AD – l705 AD), the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD -1644 AD) and the early Qing Dynasty (1644 AD -1911 AD), together with Qi Baishi (1864 AD -1957 AD) from the early 20th century.
There is so much we can say about the historical development of Chinese painting, but still escape the hidden essence of what the Chinese themselves value in their traditional paintings. Given that the most valued kind of the Chinese traditional painting developed from the Chinese calligraphy, what attracts the attention of an observer the most are the strokes. The strokes, or the moves, are, in fact, the main theme of the painting. Direct, unique, incorrigible ‘touch’ of which testifies the indian ink on porous surfaces, will give us the information (or maybe just an illusion) of what the artist’s intention were, why a picture needed to be painted (or it might tell us more about ourselves). Such perception of a painting is significantly different than ours. In the European painting tradition the way the brush was used, with respect to the most common medium – oil painting – was usually not that important. In the foreground was the credibility of the presented forms taking into account the colour of light and the shadow. This is still used today by many professionals, mostly when it comes to research about the authenticity of a work.
Artists in China are using all sorts of possible materials and art forms, and they are often more imaginative than their colleagues in Europe and America. Today art academies in China offer two different directions of study to its students: painting in the European tradition, where the program is not different from art academies we know, and the Chinese traditional painting where the techniques of the traditional Chinese painting and the Chinese calligraphy are taught.
Since 1986, compulsory education in China comprises primary and junior secondary school, which together last for nine years. In 2010, about 82.5 percent of students continued their education at a three-year senior secondary school. The Gaokao, China’s national university entrance exam, is a prerequisite for entrance into most higher education institutions. In 2010, 27 percent of secondary school graduates are enrolled in higher education. This number increased significantly over the last years, reaching a tertiary school enrollment of 48.4 percent in 2016. Vocational education is available to students at the secondary and tertiary level.
In February 2006, the government pledged to provide completely free nine-year education, including textbooks and fees. Annual education investment went from less than US$50 billion in 2003 to more than US$250 billion in 2011. However, there remains an inequality in education spending. In 2010, the annual education expenditure per secondary school student in Beijing totalled ¥20,023, while in Guizhou, one of the poorest provinces in China, only totalled ¥3,204. Free compulsory education in China consists of primary school and junior secondary school between the ages of 6 and 15. In 2011, around 81.4% of Chinese have received secondary education. By 2007, there were 396,567 primary schools, 94,116 secondary schools, and 2,236 higher education institutions in China.
As of 2010, 94% of the population over age 15 are literate. In 1949, only 20% of the population could read, compared to 65.5% thirty years later. In 2009, Chinese students from Shanghai achieved the world’s best results in mathematics, science and literacy, as tested by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance. Despite the high results, Chinese education has also faced both native and international criticism for its emphasis on rote memorization and its gap in quality from rural to urban areas.
Since ancient times, Chinese culture has been heavily influenced by Confucianism and conservative philosophies. For much of the country’s dynastic era, opportunities for social advancement could be provided by high performance in the prestigious imperial examinations, which have their origins in the Han dynasty. The literary emphasis of the exams affected the general perception of cultural refinement in China, such as the belief that calligraphy, poetry and painting were higher forms of art than dancing or drama. Chinese culture has long emphasized a sense of deep history and a largely inward-looking national perspective. Examinations and a culture of merit remain greatly valued in China today.
The first leaders of the People’s Republic of China were born into the traditional imperial order, but were influenced by the May Fourth Movement and reformist ideals. They sought to change some traditional aspects of Chinese culture, such as rural land tenure, sexism, and the Confucian system of education, while preserving others, such as the family structure and culture of obedience to the state. Some observers see the period following the establishment of the PRC in 1949 as a continuation of traditional Chinese dynastic history, while others claim that the Communist Party’s rule has damaged the foundations of Chinese culture, especially through political movements such as the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, where many aspects of traditional culture were destroyed, having been denounced as “regressive and harmful” or “vestiges of feudalism“. Many important aspects of traditional Chinese morals and culture, such as Confucianism, art, literature, and performing arts like Peking opera, were altered to conform to government policies and propaganda at the time. Access to foreign media remains heavily restricted.
Today, the Chinese government has accepted numerous elements of traditional Chinese culture as being integral to Chinese society. With the rise of Chinese nationalism and the end of the Cultural Revolution, various forms of traditional Chinese art, literature, music, film, fashion and architecture have seen a vigorous revival, and folk and variety art in particular have sparked interest nationally and even worldwide. China is now the third-most-visited country in the world, with 55.7 million inbound international visitors in 2010. It also experiences an enormous volume of domestic tourism; an estimated 740 million Chinese holidaymakers travelled within the country in October 2012 alone.
Chinese literature is based on the literature of the Zhou dynasty. Concepts covered within the Chinese classic texts present a wide range of thoughts and subjects including calendar, military, astrology, herbology, geography and many others. Some of the most important early texts include the I Ching and the Shujing within the Four Books and Five Classics which served as the Confucian authoritative books for the state-sponsored curriculum in dynastic era. Inherited from the Classic of Poetry, classical Chinese poetry developed to its floruit during the Tang dynasty. Li Bai and Du Fu opened the forking ways for the poetic circles through romanticism and realism respectively. Chinese historiography began with the Shiji, the overall scope of the historiographical tradition in China is termed the Twenty-Four Histories, which set a vast stage for Chinese fictions along with Chinese mythology and folklore. Pushed by a burgeoning citizen class in the Ming dynasty, Chinese classical fiction rose to a boom of the historical, town and gods and demons fictions as represented by the Four Great Classical Novels which include Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West and Dream of the Red Chamber. Along with the wuxia fictions of Jin Yong and Liang Yusheng, it remains an enduring source of popular culture in the East Asian cultural sphere.
In the wake of the New Culture Movement after the end of the Qing dynasty, Chinese literature embarked on a new era with written vernacular Chinese for ordinary citizens. Hu Shih and Lu Xun were pioneers in modern literature. Various literary genres, such as misty poetry, scar literature, young adult fiction and the xungen literature, which is influenced by magic realism, emerged following the Cultural Revolution. Mo Yan, a xungen literature author, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012.
Chinese cuisine is highly diverse, drawing on several millennia of culinary history and geographical variety, in which the most influential are known as the “Eight Major Cuisines”, including Sichuan, Cantonese, Jiangsu, Shandong, Fujian, Hunan, Anhui, and Zhejiang cuisines. All of them are featured by the precise skills of shaping, heating, colorway and flavoring. Chinese cuisine is also known for its width of cooking methods and ingredients, as well as food therapy that is emphasized by traditional Chinese medicine. Generally, China’s staple food is rice in the south, wheat based breads and noodles in the north. The diet of the common people in pre-modern times was largely grain and simple vegetables, with meat reserved for special occasions. And the bean products, such as tofu and soy milk, remain as a popular source of protein. Pork is now the most popular meat in China, accounting for about three-fourths of the country’s total meat consumption. While pork dominates the meat market, there is also pork-free Buddhist cuisine and Chinese Islamic cuisine. Southern cuisine, due to the area’s proximity to the ocean and milder climate, has a wide variety of seafood and vegetables; it differs in many respects from the wheat-based diets across dry northern China. Numerous offshoots of Chinese food, such as Hong Kong cuisine and American Chinese food, have emerged in the nations that play host to the Chinese diaspora.