The term "China" can narrowly mean China proper, or, more usually and inclusively, China proper and Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and Xinjiang (see map in Political divisions of China). In many contexts, "China" is commonly used to refer to the People's Republic of China or mainland China, while "Taiwan" is used to refer to the Republic of China. Sometimes informally, especially in the English and Chinese business world, "the Greater China region" (大中华地區) refers to China as defined broadly in the introduction.
The EnglishwordChina and prefixSino- probably came from "Qin" (pronounced halfway between "Chin" and "Tsin"). Others believe that China may have been derived from the Chinese word for Tea (Cha) or Silk. In any circumstance, the word China passed through many languages along the Silk Road before it finally reached Europe. (See also: China in world languages)
China was one of the earliest centers of human civilization, and became a large united country with an advanced culture at a very early stage, outpacing most of the world in areas such as art and science.
Since around 1000 BC China consisted of many small kingdoms. All of these were unified under one emperor in 221 BC by the Qin state, ushering in the Qin Dynasty. Over the course of centuries, China underwent periods of unity and disunity, order and disorder.
In the 18th century, China achieved a decisive technological advantage over the peoples of Central Asia, while simultaneously falling behind Europe technologically. This set the stage for the 19th century, in which China
adopted a defensive posture against European imperialism while simultaneously extending control into Central Asia.
After the Qin Empire unification, China experienced about 13 more dynasties, many of which includes extensive system of kingdoms, principalities, dukedoms, earldoms, and marquisates. However, ultimately, the emperor had the centralized authority. The emperor also consulted civil and martial ministers, especially the prime minister. Sometimes political power, however, fell into the hands of the officials, eunuchs, or relatives.
Political relations with dependencies (tributary kingdoms) were maintained by international marriages, military aids, and gifts. (see section "Geography, Political" below for examples).
Originally in the Zhou Dynasty, China was the region around the Yellow River. The territory since then had been expanding from the West outward in all directions, and was largest during the Tang, Yuan, and Qing Dynasties. From the Chinese point of view, the "Chinese" Empire included parts of modern far eastern Russia and Central Asia during the strongest periods of the Yuan, although China was merely one of many territories of the Mongol Empire.
Like provincial administrators, some foreign monarchs sent envoys to offer gifts to the Emperor of China and the Emperor returned compliments to them. The Chinese ostensibly saw that barbarians attached themselves to the virtue of the Emperor, while the foreign governments sometimes had different perspectives. Since the end of the 19th century, China has tried to interpret this relationship as suzerainty-dependency based on Western international law.
China contains a large variety in landscapes, with mostly plateaux and mountains in the west, and lower lands on the east. As a result, principal rivers flow from west to east (Chang Jiang (Yangtze), the Huang He (of central-east), the Amur (of northeast), etc), sometimes to south (Pearl River, Mekong River, Brahmaputra, etc). All rivers empty into the Pacific.
Most of China's arable lands lie along the two major rivers, the Chang Jiang (Yangtze) and the Huang He, and each are the centers around which are founded China's major, ancient civilizations.
In the east, along the shores of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea are found extensive and densely populated alluvial plains; the shore of the South China Sea is more mountainous and southern China is dominated by hill country and lower mountain ranges.
To the west, the north has a great alluvial plain, and the south has a vast calcareous tableland traversed by hill ranges of moderate elevation, with the Himalaya, containing highest point Mount Everest. The southwest also has high plateaus feature among the more arid landscape of deserts such as the Takla-Makan and the Gobi Desert, which has been expanding. Due to a prolonged drought and perhaps poor agricultural practices dust storms have become usual in the spring in China.
During many dynasties, the southwestern border of China has been the high mountains and deep valleys of Yunnan, which separate modern China from Burma, Laos and Vietnam.
Over a hundred ethnic groups have existed in China. In terms of numbers, however, the predominant ethnic group in China is the Han. Throughout history, many ethnic groups have been assimilated into neighbouring ethnicities or disappeared without a trace. Several previously distinct ethnic groups have Sinicized into the Han, making its population increasing dramatically. The Han, however, continue to speak several mutually unintelligible languages (see Chinese languages). The government of the PRC recognizes 56 total ethnic groups.
Chinese literature have the longest continuous history and had been more numerous than other cultures' for centuries because of the Chinese invention of printmaking. Prior to that, manuscripts of the Classics and religious texts (mainly Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist) were manually written by ink brushes and distributed. To comment on these works, printed or written, scholars formed numerous academies, many of which were sponsored by the empire, and some royalties constantly participated in the discussions.
Chinese philosophers, writers, and poets have been mostly highly respected, and considered to be those preserving and promoting the culture of the empire. Some classical scholars, however, were noted for their daring depictions of lives of the common people. (See List of Chinese authors, and List of Chinese language poets).