Located in East Asia, on the western shore of the Pacific Ocean, the People's Republic of China (PRC) 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 measures some 5,500 km, stretching from the center of the Heilongjiang River north of the town of Mohe (latitude 53° 30' N) to the Zengmu Reef at the southernmost tip of the Nansha Islands (latitude 4° N). When north China is still covered with snow, people in south China are busy with spring plowing. From west to east, the nation extends about 5,200 km from the Pamirs (longitude 73° 40'E) to the confluence of the Heilongjiang and Wusuli rivers (longitude 135° 05' E), with a time difference of over four hours. When the Pamirs are cloaked in night, the morning sun is shining brightly over east China. China has land borders 22,800 km long, with 15 contiguous countries: Korea to the east; the People's Republic of Mongolia to the north; Russia to the northeast; Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan and Tajikistan to the northwest; Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan to the west and southwest; and Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar to the south. Across the seas to the east and southeast are the Republic of Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.
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 vast 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. Diaoyu and Chiwei islands, located to the northeast of Taiwan Island, are China's easternmost islands. The many islands, islets, reefs and shoals on the South China Sea, known collectively as the South China Sea Islands, are subdivided into the Dongsha, Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha island groups.
The geographical situation of China can be got to know by following information.
► Topography China's topography is varied and complicated, with towering mountains, basins of different sizes, undulating plateaus and hills, and flat and fertile plains.
A bird's-eye view of China would indicate that China's terrain descends in four steps from west to east.
The top of this four-step “staircase” is the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Averaging more than 4,000 m above sea level, it is often called the “roof of the world.” Rising 8,848 m above sea level is Mt. Qomolangma, the world's highest peak and the main peak of the Himalayas.
The second step includes the Inner Mongolia, Loess and Yunnan-Guizhou plateaus, and the Tarim, Junggar and Sichuan basins, with an average elevation of between 1,000 m and 2,000 m.
The third step, about 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. 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 less than 200 m deep.
China abounds in rivers. More than 1,500 rivers each drain 1,000 sq km or larger areas. More than 2,700 billion cu m of water flow along these rivers, 5.8 percent of the world's total. Most of the large rivers find their source in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and 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 for the exterior rivers that empty into the oceans accounts for 64 percent of the country's total land area. The Yangtze, Yellow, Heilongjiang, Pearl, Liaohe, Haihe, Huaihe and Lancang 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 Grand Yarlungzangbo Canyon, the largest canyon in the world, 504.6 km long and 6,009 m deep. The Ertix River flows from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to the Arctic Ocean. The catchment area for the interior rivers that flow into inland lakes or disappear into deserts or salt marshes makes up 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 is the largest river in China, and the third- longest in the world, next only to the Nile in northeast Africa and the Amazon in South America. It is 6,300 km long, and has a catchment area of 1.809 million sq km. The middle and lower Yangtze River's warm and humid climate, plentiful rainfall and fertile soil make the area an important agricultural region. Known as the “golden waterway,” the Yangtze is a transportation artery linking west and east. The Yellow River is the second-largest river in China, 5,464 km in length, with a catchment area of 752,000 sq km. The Yellow River valley was one of the birthplaces of ancient Chinese civilization. It has lush pastureland and abundant mineral deposits. The Heilongjiang River is north China's largest. It has a total length of 4,350 km, of which 3,101 km are within China. The Pearl River is the largest river in south China, with a total length of 2,214 km. In addition to those endowed by nature, China has a famous man-made river—he Grand Canal, running from Beijing in the north to Hangzhou in the south. Work first began on the Grand Canal as early as in the fifth century B.C. 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.
► Land and Mineral Resources
The composition and distribution of China's land resources have three major characteristics: (1) variety in type--cultivated land, forests, grasslands, deserts and tideland; (2) many more mountains and plateaus than flatlands and basins; (3) unbalanced distribution: farmland mainly concentrated in the east, grasslands largely in the west and north, and forests mostly in the far northeast and southwest.
In China today, 94.97 million ha of land are cultivated, mainly in the Northeast Plain, the North China Plain, the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain, the Pearl River Delta Plain and the Sichuan Basin. The fertile black soil of the Northeast Plain is ideal for growing wheat, corn, sorghum, soybeans, flax and sugar beets. The deep, brown topsoil of the North China Plain is planted with wheat, corn, millet, sorghum and cotton. The Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain's 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.
Forests blanket 133.7 million ha of China. The Greater Hinggan, the Lesser Hinggan and the 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 broadleaves such as white birch, oak, willow, elm and Northeast China ash. Major tree species of the southwest include the dragon spruce, fir and Yunnan pine, as well as precious teak trees, red sandalwood, camphor trees, nanmu and padauk. Often called a “kingdom of plants,” Xishuangbanna in southern Yunnan Province is a rarity in that it is a tropical broadleaf forest 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 Sanhe horses, Sanhe cattle and Mongolian sheep. The famous natural pasturelands north and south of the Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang are ideal for stock breeding. 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 areas of cultivated land, forest and grassland per capita are small, especially in the case of cultivated land—less than 0.08 ha per capita, or 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 153 different minerals, putting China third in the world in total reserves. Proven reserves of energy sources include coal, petroleum, natural gas, and oil shale; and radioactive minerals include uranium and thorium. China's coal reserves total 1,007.1 billion tons, mainly distributed in north China, with Shanxi and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region taking the lead. Petroleum reserves are mainly in northwest and also in northeast China, north China and the continental shelves in east China. Proven reserves of ferrous metals include iron, manganese, vanadium and titanium. China's 45.9 billion tons of iron ore are mainly distributed in northeast, north and southwest China. The Anshan-Benxi Area in Liaoning, east Hebei, and Panzhihua in Sichuan are major iron producers. China has the world's largest reserves of tungsten, tin, antimony, zinc, molybdenum, lead, mercury and other nonferrous metals; its reserves of rare earth metals far exceed the total for the rest of the world.
► Fauna and Flora
China is one of the countries with the greatest diversity of wildlife in the world. There are more than 4,400 species of vertebrates, more than 10 percent of the world's total. There are nearly 500 animal species, 1,189 species of birds, more than 320 species of reptiles and 210 species of amphibians. Wildlife peculiar to China includes such well-known animals as the giant panda, golden-haired monkey, South China tiger, brown-eared pheasant, white-flag dolphin, Chinese alligator and red-crowned crane, totaling more than 100 species. The giant panda is an especially attractive sight. Heavily built, it has a docile disposition, and is delightfully adorable. The 1.2-m-tall red-crowned crane is a snow-white migratory bird. A distinctive patch of red skin tops its grey-brown head, hence its name. The white-flag dolphin is one of only two species of freshwater whale 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.
species of arbor, is considered as 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, grow in the mountain 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 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. There is a wide variety of flowering plants. A flower indigenous to China, the elegant and graceful peony is treasured as the “color of the nation and the scent of heaven.” Three famous species of flowers--the azalea, fairy primrose and rough gentian--grow in southwest China. During the flowering period, mountain slopes covered with flowers in a riot of colors form a delightful contrast with undulating ridges and peaks.
In a concerted effort to protect the nation's zoological and botanical resources, and save species close to extinction, China has established 1.146 nature reserves to protect forests and wildlife, with a total area of 88.13 million ha. The 15 nature reserves in China, namely, Sichuan's Wolong and Jiuzhaigou, Jilin's Changbai Mountains, Guangdong's Dinghu Mountains, Guizhou's Fanjing Mountains, Fujian's Wuyi Mountains, Hubei's Shennongjia, Inner Mongolia's Xilingol, Xinjiang's Mt. Bogda, Yunnan's Xishuangbanna, Jiangsu's Yancheng, Zhejiang's Tianmu Mountains Nanji and Islands Guizhou's Maolan and Heilongjiang's Fenglin, have joined the “International People and Bio-sphere Protection Network.” Heilongjiang's Zhalong, Jilin's Xianghai, Hunan's Dongting Lake, Jiangxi's Poyang Lake, Qinghai's Bird Island, Hainan's Dongzhai Harbor and Hong Kong's Mai Po have been included in the listing of the world's important.