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China, officially the People’s Republic of China (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo), country in East Asia, the world’s largest country by population and one of the largest by area, measuring about the same size as the United States. The Chinese call their country Zhongguo, which means “Central Country” or “Middle Kingdom.” The name China was given to it by foreigners and is probably based on a corruption of Qin (pronounced “chin”), a Chinese dynasty that ruled during the 3rd century bc.

China proper centers on the agricultural regions drained by three major rivers—the Huang He (Yellow River) in the north, the Yangtze (Chang Jiang) in central China, and the Zhu Jiang (Pearl River) in the south. The country’s varied terrain includes vast deserts, towering mountains, high plateaus, and broad plains. Beijing, located in the north, is China’s capital and its cultural, economic, and communications center. Shanghai, located near the Yangtze, is the most populous urban center, the largest industrial and commercial city, and mainland China’s leading port.

One-fifth of the world’s population—1.3 billion people—live in China. More than 90 percent of these are ethnic Han Chinese, but China also recognizes 55 national minorities, including Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs, Zhuang, Miao, Yi, and many smaller groups. Even among the ethnic Han, there are regional linguistic differences. Although a common language called Putonghua is taught in schools and used by the mass media, local spoken languages are often mutually incomprehensible. However, the logographic writing system, which uses characters that represent syllables or words rather than pronunciation, makes it possible for all Chinese dialects to be written in the same way; this greatly aids communication across China.

In ancient times, China was East Asia’s dominant civilization. Other societies—notably the Japanese, Koreans, Tibetans, and Vietnamese—were strongly influenced by China, adopting features of Chinese art, food, material culture, philosophy, government, technology, and written language. For many centuries, especially from the 7th through the 14th century ad, China had the world’s most advanced civilization. Inventions such as paper, printing, gunpowder, porcelain, silk, and the compass originated in China and then spread to other parts of the world.

China’s political strength became threatened when European empires expanded into East Asia. Macao, a small territory on China’s southeastern coast, came under Portuguese control in the mid-16th century, and Hong Kong, nearby, became a British dependency in the 1840s. In the 19th century, internal revolts and foreign encroachment weakened China’s last dynasty, the Qing, which was finally overthrown by Chinese Nationalists in 1911. Over the course of several decades, the country was torn apart by warlords, Japanese invasion, and a civil war between the Communists and the Nationalist regime of the Kuomintang, which established the Republic of China in 1928.

In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland. The Kuomintang fled to the island province of Taiwan, where it reestablished the Nationalist government. The Nationalist government controlled only Taiwan and a few outlying islands but initially retained wide international recognition as the rightful government of all of China. Today, most countries recognize the PRC on the mainland as the official government of China. However, Taiwan and mainland China remain separated by different administrations and economies. Therefore, Taiwan is treated separately in Encarta Encyclopedia. In general, statistics in this article apply only to the area under the control of the PRC.

After coming to power in 1949, the Communist government began placing agriculture and industry under state control. Beginning in the late 1970s, however, the government implemented economic reforms that reversed some of the earlier policies and encouraged foreign investment. As a result of the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, the Chinese economy grew almost 10 percent a year from 1980 to 2005, making it one of the largest economies in the world in the early 21st century.

In 1997 Hong Kong was transferred from Britain to China under an agreement that gave the region considerable autonomy. Portugal recognized Macao as Chinese territory in the late 1970s and negotiated the transfer of Macao’s administration from Portugal to China in 1999. Macao, too, was guaranteed a special degree of autonomy.


For younger readers

Barber, Nicola. Beijing. World Almanac, 2004. For readers in grades 4 to 7.

Dramer, Kim. People's Republic of China. Children's Press, 1999. For readers in grades 5 and up.

Green, Robert. China. Lucent, 1999. For readers in grade 6 and up.

Hall, Eleanor J. Ancient Chinese Dynasties. Lucent, 2000. For readers in grades 7 to 10.

Hoyt-Goldsmith, Diana, and Lawrence Migdale. Celebrating Chinese New Year. Holiday House, 1999. A photo essay, for readers in grades 2 to 5.

Kort, Michael. China Under Communism. Millbrook, 1995. For high school readers.

Malaspina, Ann. The Chinese Revolution and Mao Zedong in World History. Enslow, 2004. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

O'Connor, Jane. The Emperor's Silent Army. Viking, 2002. For readers in grades 4 to 6.

Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. The Incredible Story of China's Buried Warriors. Marshall Cavendish, 1999. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

Chinese philosophy

Cua, A. S. Encyclopedia of Chinese Philosophy. Routledge, 2002. Covers both history and recent trends in Chinese philosophy.

Dainian, Zhang. Key Concepts in Chinese Philosophy. Trans. Edmund Ryden. Yale University Press, 2002. Provides a good introduction to 25 centuries of Chinese thought.

Ivanhoe, Philip J., and Bryan W. Van Norden, eds. Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy. Seven Bridges, 2000. A single-volume anthology of key works by major early Chinese philosophers.

Waley, Arthur. Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China. Allen & Unwin, 1939, 1990. Fourth-century philosophy, illustrated with fables and anecdotes.

Chinese art and architecture

Barnhart, Richard M., and others, eds. Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting. Yale University Press, 1997. Comprehensive, well-illustrated survey.

Cahill, James. The Painter's Practice: How Artists Lived and Worked in Traditional China. Columbia University Press, 1994. A social history of Chinese painting.

Clunas, Craig. Art in China. Oxford University Press, 1997. Broad coverage of all periods and forms of art.

Fong, Wen C., and James C. Y. Watt, eds. Possessing the Past: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Abrams, 1996. Catalog of an exhibition of masterpieces of imperial art.

Hung, Wu. Chinese Art at the Crossroads: Between Past and Future, Between East and West. New Art Media, 2002. An insider view of contemporary Chinese art, bringing together images, essays, and interviews.

Keswick, Maggie. The Chinese Garden. Rev. ed. Harvard University Press, 2003. Illustrated history and philosophy of landscape architecture and painting in China.

Li, He. Chinese Ceramics: A New Comprehensive Survey. Rizzoli, 1996. Copiously illustrated publication from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Sickman, Laurence, and Alexander Soper. The Art and Architecture of China. 3rd ed. Penguin, 1992. Tradition, from Shang (Yin) to Quing dynasty.

Sullivan, Michael. The Arts of China. Rev. ed. University of California Press, 2000. History including painting, sculpture, ceramics, architecture, and calligraphy.

Thorp, Robert L., and Richard Ellis Vinograd. Chinese Art and Culture. Abrams, 2001. The story of Chinese art set against the backdrop of history and culture.

Tregear, Mary. Chinese Art. Rev. ed. Thames & Hudson, 1997. A survey of the arts of China.

Xinian, Fu, and others, eds. A History of Chinese Architecture. Yale University Press, 2003. Lavishly illustrated study of Chinese architecture.

Chinese literature

Farquhar, Mary L. Children's Literature in China: From Lu Xun to Mao Zedong. Sharpe, 1999. A history of the vast, yet neglected, field of modern Chinese children's literature.

Hsia, Chih-Tsing. A History of Modern Chinese Fiction. 3rd ed. Indiana University Press, 1999. This remains the most authoritative study of 20th-century Chinese fiction today.

Lau, Joseph S. M., and Howard Goldblatt, eds. The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature. Columbia University Press, 1995. Comprehensive collection of representative works in all major genres by 20th-century Chinese writers.

McDougall, Bonnie, and Kam Louie. The Literature of China in the Twentieth Century. Columbia University Press, 1997. A comprehensive study of the written culture of 20th-century China.

Nienhauser, Jr., William, and others, eds. The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature. 2 Vols. Indiana University Press, 1986-1998. Monumental reference work that summarizes the current state of knowledge about traditional Chinese literature.

Owen, Stephen, ed. and trans. An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. Norton, 1996. A chronological anthology of the 3,000-year tradition of Chinese literature to the end of the last dynasty.

Yang, Lan. Chinese Fiction of the Cultural Revolution. Hong Kong University, 1998. A comprehensive study of the period 1966-1976, analyzing and comparing novels with fiction of the preceding period, with Soviet fiction, and with traditional Chinese and Western fiction.

Chinese culture and society

Anderson, E. N. The Food of China. Yale University Press, 1988, 1990. Overview of food and agriculture in Chinese history and culture.

Barme, Geremie. In the Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture. Columbia University Press, 1999, 2000. Account of Western influences on Chinese popular culture.

Becker, Jasper. The Chinese. Free Press, 2000. A British journalist and China-watcher describes how late-20th-century reforms affected Chinese society.

Burstein, Daniel, and Arne de Keijzer. Big Dragon: China's Future: What It Means for Business, the Economy, and the Global Order. Simon & Schuster, 1998. Balanced survey of current economic issues in China.

China 2020. 7 vols. World Bank, 1998. Specific volumes deal with issues such as development, food supply, environment, old age security, health care, and integration into a global economy.

de Bary, William T.; Irene Bloom; and Wing-T Chan, eds. Sources of Chinese Tradition. 2 vols. 2nd ed. Columbia University Press, 1998. Writings of major Chinese religious, cultural, and political figures.

Dutton, Michael Robert, ed. Streetlife China. Cambridge University Press, 1998. Glimpses into the lives of ordinary people and their daily rituals.

Gamer, Robert, ed. Understanding Contemporary China. Rienner, 1998. An outline of China's geography, cultural history, politics, and economy.

Grayling, A. C., and Susan Whitfield. China: A Literary Companion. Trafalgar Square, 1995. Information on history and culture selected from materials by both Western and Chinese writers.

Murowchick, Robert E. China: Ancient Culture, Modern Land. University of Oklahoma Press, 1994. Development of Chinese history from ancient to modern times.

Pan, Lynn. Sons of the Yellow Emperor: A History of the Chinese Diaspora. Little, Brown, 1990. A global account of the overseas Chinese from 1500 to the 1990s.

Pan, Lynn. Tracing it Home: A Chinese Journey. Kodansha, 1993, 1995. Combines history, social anthropology, and biography.

Patten, Christopher. East and West: China, Power, and the Future of Asia. Crown, 1998. Hong Kong's last governor discusses his five years in Hong Kong before revealing his views on economic policies, governance, and political freedoms in China.

Pearson, Margaret M. China's New Business Elite: The Political Consequences of Economic Reform. University of California Press, 1997. Interviews with Chinese-born managers provide insights into China's economic reform.

Riboud, Marc. Marc Riboud in China: Forty Years of Photography. Abrams, 1997. Four decades of traditional and contemporary images from a leading French documentary photographer.

Starr, John Bryan. Understanding China: A Guide to China's Economy, History and Political Structure. Hill, 1997. Casts doubts on the view that China will dominate the 21st century.

Van Kemenade, Willem.Trans. Diane Webb. China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Inc. Vintage, 1998. Comprehensive account of economic strengths forming within the triad.

Vogel, Ezra F., ed. Living With China: U.S./China Relations in the Twenty-First Century. Norton, 1997. Collection of essays on current relations between the United States and China.

Yang Xin, and others. Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting. Yale University Press, 1997. Chronologically organized history of Chinese painting, with 325 color plates.

Chinese history

Adshead, S.A. China in World History. 3rd ed. St. Martin's, 1999. Explores 2000 years of China's relationship with the outside world.

Bozan, Jian, and others. A Concise History of China. University Press of the Pacific, 2001. Designed for the general reader with little previous knowledge of Chinese history.

Cohen, Warren I. America's Response to China: A History of Sino-American Relations. Rev. 4th ed. Columbia University Press, 2000. Beginning in the mid-19th century, a survey of an increasingly complicated and contentious relationship.

Fairbank, John K. China: A New History. Harvard University Press, 1991,1998. China's history from prehistoric times to the 1990s.

Graff, David Andrew. A Military History of China. Westview, 2001. A basic introduction to the important role that armed conflict has played in China's history.

Paludan, Ann. Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors: The Reign-By-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial China. Thames & Hudson, 1998. History described through the stories of its powerful rulers.

Perkins, Dorothy. Encyclopedia of China: The Essential Reference to China, Its History and Culture. Facts on File, 2000. Over 1,000 entries explore all aspects of China's past, present, and future.

Roberts, J.A.G. China: Prehistory to the Nineteenth Century: An Illustrated History. Rev. ed. Sutton, 2001. A single-volume overview by a noted specialist in the field.

Roberts, J. A. G. Modern China: An Illustrated History. Sutton, 1998, 2000. Provides a survey for the non-specialist seeking an introduction to recent China history and culture.

Spence, Jonathan D. God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan. Norton, 1996. An account of the mid-19th-century Taiping Rebellion.

Spence, Jonathan D., and Ann-Ping Chin. This Chinese Century: A Photographic History of the Last Hundred Years. Random House, 1996. A treasury of period photographs reveals the China of the past.

Twitchett, Denis, and John K. Fairbank. Cambridge History of China. 10 vols. Cambridge University Press, 1986- . The standard multivolume history of China.

Wright, David Curtis. The History of China. Greenwood, 2001. For the general reader, a succinct narrative history.


Clunas, Craig, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Professor of the History of Art, University of Sussex. Author of Fruitful Sites: Garden Culture in Ming Dynasty China,Art in China, and other books.

Pannell, Clifton W., A.B., A.M., Ph.D. Professor of Geography and Associate Dean, Franklin College of Arts & Sciences, University of Georgia. Author of T’ai-chung, T’ai-wan: Structure and Function and coauthor of China: The Geography of Modemization and Development.

Ebrey, Patricia, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Professor of History, University of Washington. Author of Cambridge Illustrated History of China and Religion and Society in T’ang and Song China.

Nathan, Andrew J., B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Professor of Political Science, Columbia University. Author of China’s Transition and other books.

Yang, Tiejun, B.A., M.A. Lecturer, China and Korea Centre, The Australian National University. Former Deputy Division Chief, China—US. Economic and Trade Relations, Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade, Beijing, China. Co-author of Analysis and Forecast of the Economic Situation in Beijing and On Restructuring of State—Owned Enterprises.

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