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The Chinese call their country Zhongguo which means "Middle Kingdom" is officially named the People's Republic of China. China has more than 60 cities in which the population of the urban area exceeds 1 million. China's capital, Beijing is also the cultural, economic, and communications center. Shanghai with 20 million people is the largest industrial and commercial city and China's leading port. Other major cities: Tianjin, a port city lying at the juncture of the Hai River and the Grand Canal; Shenyang, a center of heavy industry in northeastern China; Wuhan, a port city situated at the confluence of the Han and Yangtze rivers; Guangzhou, a port city on the Zhu Jiang (Pearl River); and Chongqing, a major inland port on the Yangtze River.

As a result of the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, the Chinese economy grew at almost 10 percent a year from 1980 to 2005 propelling China into one of the largest economies in the world.

China's population of 1.3 billion people represent 20 percent of the world's population. The Han are descendants of people who settled the plains and plateaus of northern and central China more than 5,000 years ago, and of the people in southern China who were absorbed by the northerners more than 2,000 years ago. Han Chinese represent 92 percent however China also includes 55 national minorities, including Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs, Zhuang, Miao, Yi, and many smaller ethnic groups.

Artistic production in China goes back to about 6000 bc. For the last 2,000 years, the art form that has enjoyed the greatest prestige has been calligraphy. China is the home of the world's longest continuous tradition of writing, dating from the first use of Chinese characters during the Shang dynasty (1570-1045 bc). The ability to write poetry was seen as one of the marks of an educated man. The second most important art form in China after calligraphy is painting. Drama flourished during the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), when plays were often enjoyed as written literature as well as performed on the stage. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the short story and the novel developed. Peking Opera combines various theatrical forms including speech, music, acrobatics, dance, mime, and martial arts to tell stories from Chinese history and folklore. Now modern Chinese films have found success with international audiences.

China's provincial capitals have museums and a library, as well as sites of historical or cultural importance. Beijing is home to the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City, the former residence of the imperial family and court. Shanghai Museum contains one of China's most important historic art collections. The tomb of Chinese emperor Qin Shihuangdi, located just outside Xian in Shaanxi Province includes a terra-cotta army of more than 6,000 life-size figures, buried with the emperor upon his death in 210 bc.

Academic education is very important to China. Engineering and science are most popular while other fields such as medicine, economics, literature and law, have grown considerably in recent years. Students finishing secondary school may also attend junior colleges and a variety of technical and vocational schools. The most prominent comprehensive universities in China are Peking University(1898), Tsinghua University (1911), in Beijing; Fudan University (1905), in Shanghai; Nanjing University (1902); Nankai University (1919), in Tianjin; Wuhan University (1893); Northwest University (1912), in Xian; and Sun Yat-Sen University (1924), in Guangzhou. Prestigious science and technical universities include the Beijing Institute of Technology (1940), Tongji University (1907) in Shanghai, and the University of Science and Technology of China (1958) in Hefei.

Chinese geographic classification divides the country into seven large natural regions: Northeast China, North China, Subtropical East Central China, Tropical South China, Inner Mongolian Grassland, Northwest China, and the Tibetan Plateau. Deserts and steppes lie across the northwest and north central parts of China. China has three agricultural regions are 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. China's central territory forms three giant steps that descend from high mountains, plateaus, and great basins in the west to a central band of lower mountains, hills, and plateaus, then to lowlands, plains, and foothills near the eastern coast.

China is well endowed with energy resources with estimated coal reserves of 115 billion metric tons, oil reserves are estimated at 18.3 billion barrels, oil-shale deposits and substantial proven reserves of natural gas. Reserves of metallic mineral ores include iron-ore reserves of 40 billion metric tons, aluminum ores at more than 1 billion metric tons, tin reserves at 2 million metric tons, the world?s largest reserves of antimony, magnesite, and tungsten. China also holds abundant reserves of molybdenum, mercury, manganese, lead, zinc, copper and uranium.

Forests now cover 21 percent of China's total area compared with 33 percent in the United States and 34 percent in Canada. 15 percent of China's total area is arable, or suitable for cultivation. China's water resources are enormous however crop irrigation and the demand for water in urban areas greatly reduce the supply.

China's climates have regional contrasts from the tropics to temperate conditions. In northern China's winter, cold, dry winds blow clockwise east and south from the high-pressure system of central Siberia. Winter temperatures dip to -25C. In China's south and centre typhoons are common between July and November, bringing high winds and heavy rains to the coastal areas. Precipitation declines rapidly with increasing distance from the eastern coast. The remote deserts of Northwest China receive little precipitation.

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