The Geography and Modern History of China

Important Facts About China's Government and Economy

Group of Chinese people at a sporting event

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China is the third-largest country in the world in terms of area but it is the world's largest based on population. The country is a developing nation with a capitalist economy that is controlled politically by communist leadership. Chinese civilization began more than 5,000 years ago and the nation has played a crucial role in world history and is continuing to do so today.

Fast Facts: China

  • Official Name: People's Republic of China
  • Capital: Beijing
  • Population: 1,384,688,986 (2018)
  • Official Language: Standard Chinese or Mandarin 
  • Currency: Renminbi yuan (RMB)
  • Form of Government: Communist Party-led state
  • Climate: Extremely diverse; tropical in south to subarctic in north
  • Total Area: 3,705,390 square miles (9,596,960 square kilometers)
  • Highest Point: Mount Everest at 29,029 feet (8,848 meters) 
  • Lowest Point: Turpan Pendi at -505 feet (-154 meters)

China's Modern History

Chinese civilization originated in the North China Plain in about 1700 BCE with the Shang Dynasty. However, because Chinese history dates so far back, it is too long to include in its entirety in this overview. This article focuses on modern Chinese history beginning in the 1900s.

Modern Chinese history began in 1912 after the last Chinese emperor abdicated the throne and the country became a republic. After 1912, political and military instability was common in China and it was initially fought over by different warlords. Shortly thereafter, two political parties or movements began as a solution to the country's problems. These were the Kuomintang, also called the Chinese National Party and the Communist Party.

Problems later began for China in 1931 when Japan seized Manchuria—an act that eventually began a war between the two nations in 1937. During the war, the Communist Party and the Kuomintang cooperated with each other to defeat Japan but later in 1945, a civil war between the Kuomintang and the communists broke out. This civil war killed more than 12 million people. Three years later, the civil war ended with a win by the Communist Party and leader Mao Zedong, which then led to the establishment of the People's Republic of China in October 1949.

During the early years of communist rule in China and the People's Republic of China, mass starvation, malnutrition, and disease were common. In addition, there was an idea for a highly planned economy at this time and the rural population was divided into 50,000 communes, each of which was responsible for farming and running different industries and schools.

In an effort to further jump-start China's industrialization and political change Chairman Mao began the "Great Leap Forward" initiative in 1958. The initiative failed, however, and between 1959 and 1961, famine and disease again spread throughout the country. Shortly thereafter in 1966, Chairman Mao began the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which put local authorities on trial and attempted to change historic customs to give the Communist Party more power.

In 1976, Chairman Mao died and Deng Xiaoping became China's leader. This led to economic liberalization but also a policy of government-controlled capitalism and a still strict political regime. Today, China remains much the same, as every aspect of the country is heavily controlled by its government.

Government of China

China's government is a communist state with a unicameral legislative branch called the National People's Congress that is made up of 2,987 members from the municipal, regional, and provincial levels. There is also a judicial branch comprised of the Supreme People's Court, Local People's Courts, and Special People's Courts.

China is divided into 23 provinces, five autonomous regions, and four municipalities. National suffrage is 18 years of age and the main political party in China is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). There are also smaller political parties in China, but all are controlled by the CCP.

Economics and Industry in China

China's economy has changed rapidly in recent decades. In the past, it was focused around a highly planned economic system with specialized communes and was closed to international trade and foreign relations. In the 1970s however, this began to change and today China is more economically tied to the world's countries. In 2008, China was the world's second-largest economy.

Today, China's economy is 43% agriculture, 25% industrial, and 32% service-related. Agriculture consists mainly of items like rice, wheat, potatoes, and tea. Industry is focused on raw mineral processing and the manufacturing of a wide variety of items.

Geography and Climate of China

China is located in Eastern Asia with its borders along several countries and the East China Sea, Korea Bay, the Yellow Sea, and the South China Sea. China is divided into three geographic regions: the mountains to the west, the various deserts and basins in the northeast, and the low lying valleys and plains in the east. Most of China, however, consists of mountains and plateaus such as the Tibetan Plateau, which leads into the Himalayan Mountains and Mount Everest.

Because of its area and variations in topography, China's climate is also varied. In the south, it is tropical, while the east is temperate and the Tibetan Plateau is cold and arid. The northern deserts are also arid and the northeast is cold temperate.

More Facts about China

  • China instituted a One Child Policy in 1979 to control its growing population
  • The majority of Chinese are non-denominational in religion, but 10% are Buddhist
  • China's population is expected to peak in 2026 at 1.4 billion. India will surpass China as the world's most populous country in 2025.


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Briney, Amanda. "The Geography and Modern History of China." ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2021, Briney, Amanda. (2021, September 8). The Geography and Modern History of China. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "The Geography and Modern History of China." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 30, 2023).