Geography

Land Area

 

With a landmass of 9,600,000 sq km, China is the third largest country in the world.

Located in the east of the Asian continent, on the western shore of the Pacific Ocean, the People's Republic of China has a land area of about 9.6 million sq km, and is the third-largest country in the world, next only to Russia and Canada.

From north to south, the territory of China stretches from the center of the Heilong River north of the town of Mohe to the Zengmu Reef at the southernmost tip of the Nansha Islands, covering a distance of 5,500 km. From east to west, the nation extends from the confluence of the Heilong and Wusuli rivers to the Pamirs, covering a distance of 5,200 km.

With a land boundary of some 22,800 km, China is bordered by Korea to the east; Mongolia to the north; Russia to the northeast; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the northwest; Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan to the west and southwest; and Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to the south. Across the seas to the east and southeast are the Republic of Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.

China's mainland coastline measures approximately 18,000 km, with a flat topography, and many excellent docks and harbors, most of which are ice-free all year round. The Chinese mainland is flanked to the east and south by the Bohai, Yellow, East China and South China seas, with a total maritime area of 4.73 million sq km. The Bohai Sea is China's continental sea, while the Yellow, East China and South China seas are marginal seas of the Pacific Ocean.

A total of 5,400 islands dot China's territorial waters. The largest of these, with an area of about 36,000 sq km, is Taiwan, followed by Hainan with an area of 34,000 sq km. The Diaoyu and Chiwei islands, located to the northeast of Taiwan Island, are China's easternmost islands. The many islands, islets, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea, known collectively as the South China Sea Islands, are China's southernmost island group. They are called the Dongsha (East Sandbar), Xisha (West Sandbar), Zhongsha (Middle Sandbar) and Nansha (South Sandbar) island groups according to their geographical locations.

Physical Features

China's topography was formed around the emergence of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the most important geological event over the past several million years. Taking a bird's-eye view of China, the terrain gradually descends from west to east like a staircase. Due to the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau rose continuously to become the top of the four-step "staircase," averaging more than 4,000 m above sea level, and called "the roof of the world." Soaring 8,848 m above sea level on the plateau is Mount Qomolangma (Mount Everest), the world's highest peak and the main peak of the Himalayas. The second step includes the gently sloping Inner Mongolia Plateau, the Loess Plateau, the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, the Tarim Basin, the Junggar Basin and the Sichuan Basin, with an average elevation of between 1,000 m and 2,000 m. The third step, dropping to 500-1,000 m in elevation, begins at a line drawn around the Greater Hinggan, Taihang, Wushan and Xuefeng mountain ranges and extends eastward to the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Here, from north to south, are the Northeast Plain, the North China Plain and the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain. Interspersed amongst the plains are hills and foothills. To the east, the land extends out into the ocean, in a continental shelf, the fourth step of the staircase. The water here is mostly less than 200 m deep.

Rivers and Lakes

China abounds in rivers. More than 1,500 rivers each drain 1,000 sq km or larger areas. Most of the large rivers have their source on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and drop greatly between source and mouth. As a result, China is rich in water-power resources, leading the world in hydropower potential, with reserves of 680 million kw.

China's rivers can be categorized as exterior and interior systems. The catchment area of the exterior rivers that empty into the oceans accounts for 64 percent of the country's total land area. The Yangtze, Yellow, Heilong, Pearl, Liaohe, Haihe and Huaihe rivers flow east, and empty into the Pacific Ocean. The Yarlungzangbo River in Tibet, which flows first east and then south into the Indian Ocean, boasts the Yarlungzangbo Grand Canyon, the largest canyon in the world, 504.6 km long and 6,009 m deep. The Ertix River flows north from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to the Arctic Ocean. The catchment area of the interior rivers that flow into inland lakes or disappear into deserts or salt marshes makes up about 36 percent of China's total land area. Its 2,179 km make the Tarim River in southern Xinjiang China's longest interior river.

The Yangtze, 6,300 km long, is the largest river in China, and the third largest in the world, next only to the Nile in Africa and the Amazon in South America. Passing through high mountains and deep valleys, the upper section of the Yangtze River is abundant in water resources. Known as the "golden waterway," the Yangtze is a transportation artery linking west and east, its navigation benefiting from excellent natural channels. The middle and lower Yangtze River areas have a warm and humid climate, plentiful rainfall and fertile soil, making them important agricultural regions. The Yellow River is the second largest river in China with a length of 5,464 km. The Yellow River valley was one of the birthplaces of ancient Chinese civilization. It has lush pasturelands along its banks, flourishing agriculture and abundant mineral deposits. The Heilong River is a large river in north China with a total length of 4,350 km, of which, 3,101 km are in China. The Pearl River (Zhujiang), 2,214 km long, is a large river in south China. In addition to those bestowed by nature, China has a famous man-made river - the Grand Canal, running from Beijing in the north to Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province in the south. Work first began on the Grand Canal as early as in the fifth century A.D. It links five major rivers: the Haihe, Yellow, Huaihe, Yangtze and Qiantang. With a total length of 1,801 km, the Grand Canal is the longest as well as the oldest man-made waterway in the world.

China's territory includes numerous lakes, most of which are found on the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Freshwater lakes such as Poyang, Dongting, Taihu, and Hongze mostly lie in the former area, while in the latter are saltwater lakes, such as Qinghai, Nam Co and Siling Co. Poyang Lake, in the north of Jiangxi Province and with an area of 3,583 sq km, is the largest of its kind. Qinghai Lake, in northeast Qinghai Province and with an area of 4,583 sq km, is the largest one of its kind.

Climate

 

Most of China lies in the north temperate zone, characterized by a warm climate and distinctive seasons, a climate well suited for habitation. Most of China has a continental monsoon climate. From September to April the following year, the dry and cold winter monsoons blow from Siberia and the Mongolian Plateau, resulting in cold and dry winters and great differences between the temperatures of north and south China. From April to September, warm and humid summer monsoons blow from the seas in the east and south, resulting in overall high temperatures and plentiful rainfall, and little temperature difference between north and south China. In terms of temperature, the nation can be sectored from south to north into equatorial, tropical, subtropical, warm-temperate, temperate, and cold-temperate zones. Precipitation gradually declines from the southeastern to the northwestern inland area, and the average annual precipitation varies greatly from place to place. In southeastern coastal areas, it reaches over 1,500 mm, while in northwestern areas, it drops to below 200 mm.

Land and Mineral Resources

When describing China's cultivated land and mineral resources, people often use many huge numbers. Cultivated land, forests, grasslands, deserts and tidelands are distributed widely across China. Cultivated land is mainly located in east China, grasslands are mainly located in the north and west, and forests mainly in the remote northeastern and southwestern areas.

In China today, 130.04 million ha of land are cultivated, mainly on the Northeast Plain, the North China Plain, the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain, the Pearl River Delta and the Sichuan Basin. The fertile black soil of the Northeast Plain, the largest plain in China with an area of more than 350,000 sq km, abounds in wheat, corn, sorghum, soybeans, flax and sugarbeet. The deep, brown topsoil of the North China Plain is planted with wheat, corn, millet and cotton. The Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain's flat terrain and many lakes and rivers make it particularly suitable for paddy rice and freshwater fish, hence its designation of "land of fish and rice." This area also produces large quantities of tea and silkworms. The purplish soil of the warm and humid Sichuan Basin is green with crops in all four seasons, including paddy rice, rapeseed and sugarcane, making it known as the "land of plenty." The Pearl River Delta abounds with paddy rice, harvested 2-3 times every year.

Forests cover only 175 million ha of China. The Greater Hinggan, Lesser Hinggan and Changbai mountain ranges in the northeast are China's largest natural forest areas. Major tree species found here include conifers, such as Korean pine, larch and Olga Bay larch, and coniferous-broadleaf trees such as white birch, oak, willow, elm and Northeast China ash. Major tree species in the southwest include the dragon spruce, fir and Yunnan pine, as well as teak, red sandalwood, camphor, nanmu and padauk. Often called a kingdom of plants," Xishuangbanna in the south of Yunnan Province is a rare tropical broadleaf forest area in China, playing host to more than 5,000 plant species.

Grasslands in China cover an area of 400 million ha, stretching more than 3,000 km from the northeast to the southwest. They are the centers of animal husbandry. The Inner Mongolian Prairie is China's largest natural pastureland, and home to the famous Sanhe horses, Sanhe cattle and Mongolian sheep. The important natural pasturelands north and south of the Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang are ideal for stockbreeding. The famous Ili horses and Xinjiang fine-wool sheep are raised here.

China's cultivated lands, forests and grasslands are among the world's largest in terms of sheer area. But due to China's large population, the per-capita areas of cultivated land, forest and grassland are small, especially in the case of cultivated land -- only one third of the world's average.

China is rich in mineral resources, and all the world's known minerals can be found here. To date, geologists have confirmed reserves of 158 different minerals, putting China third in the world in terms of total reserves. Reserves of the major mineral resources, such as coal, iron, copper, aluminum, stibium, molybdenum, manganese, tin, lead, zinc and mercury, are in the world's front rank. China's basic coal reserves total 334.2 billion tons, mainly distributed in northeast China and north China, with Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Shanxi Province and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region heading the field. China's 21.24 billion tons of the basic iron ore reserve are mainly distributed in northeast, north and southwest China. The country also abounds in petroleum, natural gas, oil shale, phosphorus and sulfur. Petroleum reserves are mainly found in northwest, northeast and north China, as well as in the continental shelves of east China. The national reserves of rare earth metals far exceed the combined total for the rest of the world.

Plants and Animals

China is one of the countries with the greatest diversity of wildlife in the world. There are more than 6,266 species of vertebrates, 10 percent of the world's total. Among them 2,404 are terrestrials and 3,862 fishes. There are more than 100 wild animal species unique to China including such well-known rare animals as the giant panda, golden-haired monkey, South China tiger, brown-eared pheasant, red-crowned crane, red ibis, white-flag dolphin and Chinese alligator. The black-and-white giant panda weighs on average 135 kg and lives on tender bamboo leaves and bamboo shoots. Because it is extremely rare --just over 1,500 are left at present -- it has become the symbol of the world's protected wild animals. The red-crowned crane, that could be as tall as 1.2 m, is covered with white feathers, with a distinctive patch of exposed red skin crowning its head and is regarded as a symbol of longevity in East Asia. The white-flag dolphin is one of only two species of freshwater whales in the world. In 1980, a male white-flag dolphin was caught for the first time in the Yangtze River, which aroused great interest among dolphin researchers worldwide.

China is also one of the countries with the most abundant plant life in the world. There are more than 32,000 species of higher plants, and almost all the major plants that grow in the northern hemisphere's frigid, temperate and tropical zones are represented in China. In addition, there are more than 7,000 species of woody plants, including 2,800-odd tree species. The metasequoia, Chinese cypress, Cathay silver fir, China fir, golden larch, Taiwan fir, Fujian cypress, dove-tree, eucommia and camplotheca acuminata are found only in China. The metasequoia, a tall species of arbor, is considered to be one of the oldest and rarest plants in the world. The golden larch, one of only five species of rare garden trees in the world, grows in the mountainous areas in the Yangtze River valley. Its coin-shaped leaves on short branches are green in spring and summer, turning yellow in autumn. China is home to more than 2,000 species of edible plants and over 3,000 species of medicinal plants. Ginseng from the Changbai Mountains, safflowers from Tibet, Chinese wolfberry from Ningxia and notoginseng from Yunnan and Guizhou are particularly well-known Chinese herbal medicines. China has a wide variety of flowering plants; the peony, a flower indigenous to China and known as the "king of flowers" is characterized by large blossoms, multiple petals and bright colors, and is treasured as one of the country's national flowers.

Topography

The topography varies greatly in China, a vast land of lofty plateau, large plains, rolling land and big and small basins surrounded by lofty mountains. All the five basic topographic types in the world exist in China to create the conditions for developing industry and agriculture.

Mountainous land and very rough terrains make up 2/3 of Chinese territory, and this has created some problems in transport and in the development of agricultural production. However such topographical features are conducive to the development of forestry, mineral and hydropower resources and tourism.

With highlands in the west and plains in the east, China has a varied topography. The lie of the land may be divided into three tiers. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau that rises more than 4, 000m above sea-level forms the highest tier. It is a land of peaks and valleys studded with innumerable lakes. Along the plateau's southwestern fringe is the Himalayan Range, on the eastern section of which looms the 8, 848. 13 meter-high Mt. Qomolangma, the world's loftiest peak. The vast area north and east of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau that drops to an elevation below 1, 100-2, 000m forms the second tier-a land interspersed with extensive basins and highlands. Here the Turpan Basin in Xinjiang is 154m below sea-level-the lowest depression in China. The third tier is a vast area of rolling hills and plains with an elevation below 500m lying east of the line running from the Greater Hinggan and Taihang ranges in the north to the foothills of the Wushan Mountains and the Yunnan-Guizhou Highlands in the south. Though some peaks in this area are as high as 2, 000m, the plains along the coast have an elevation of less than 50m. Off the Chinese coast is an extensive continental shelf richly endowed with petroleum, natural gas and marine resources.

There are many mountain ranges in China. Those extending from east to west are the Tianshan-Yinshan ranges and those in the center are the Kunlun-Qinling ranges, and those in the south are the Nanling ranges. Ranges that stretch in a NE-SW direction are, for the most part, located in the eastern part of China. They are the Greater Hinggan Range, Taihang, Wushan, Xuefengshan, Changbaishan and Wuyishan ranges. Those running in a NW-SE direction are the Altai and Qilianshan ranges. Ranges that run in a north-south direction are the Hengduanshan and Helanshan ranges. And on the border between China and India, Nepal and other countries looms the 2, 400 kilometers-long Himalayan Range with an average elevation of 6, 000m.

In China are three large plains with fertile soil, on which crops grow in luxuriant, as well as many small ones in the Chengdu area, the Pearl River Delta, western Taiwan Province and other areas:

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