China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a unitary sovereign state in East Asia and the world's most populous country, with a population of around 1.404 billion. Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometres (3.7 million square miles), it is the world's second-largest state by land area and third- or fourth-largest by total area.

Governed by the Communist Party of China, it exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing) and the Special Administrative Regions Hong Kong and Macau, also claiming sovereignty over Taiwan. China is a great power and a major regional power within Asia, and has been characterized as a potential superpower.

China emerged as one of the world's earliest civilizations in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. For millennia, China's political system was based on hereditary monarchies, or dynasties, beginning with the semi-legendary Xia dynasty. Since then, China has expanded, fractured, and re-unified numerous times. In 1912, the Republic of China (ROC) replaced the last dynasty and ruled the Chinese mainland until 1949, when it was defeated by the communist People's Liberation Army in the Chinese Civil War. The Communist Party established the People's Republic of China in Beijing on 1 October 1949, while the ROC government retreated to Taiwan with its present de facto capital in Taipei. Both the ROC and PRC continue to claim to be the legitimate government of all China, though the latter has more recognition in the world and controls more territory.

Since the introduction of economic reforms in 1978, China's economy has been one of the world's fastest-growing. As of 2016, it is the world's second-largest economy by nominal GDP and largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). China is also the world's largest exporter and second-largest importer of goods. China is a recognized nuclear weapons state and has the world's largest standing army and second-largest defense budget.

The PRC is a member of the United Nations, as it replaced the ROC as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council in 1971. China is also a member of numerous formal and informal multilateral organizations, including the WTO, APEC, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the BCIM and the G20.

Landscape and climate

The territory of China lies between latitudes 18° and 54° N, and longitudes 73° and 135° E. China's landscapes vary significantly across its vast width. In the east, along the shores of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, there are extensive and densely populated alluvial plains, while on the edges of the Inner Mongolian plateau in the north, broad grasslands predominate. Southern China is dominated by hills and low mountain ranges, while the central-east hosts the deltas of China's two major rivers, the Yellow River and the Yangtze River. Other major rivers include the Xi, Mekong, Brahmaputra and Amur. To the west sit major mountain ranges, most notably the Himalayas. High plateaus feature among the more arid landscapes of the north, such as the Taklamakan and the Gobi Desert. The world's highest point, Mount Everest (8,848m), lies on the Sino-Nepalese border.

The country's lowest point and the world's third-lowest, is the dried lake bed of Ayding Lake (−154m) in the Turpan Depression.

China's climate is mainly dominated by dry seasons and wet monsoons, which lead to pronounced temperature differences between winter and summer. In the winter, northern winds coming from high-latitude areas are cold and dry; in summer, southern winds from coastal areas at lower latitudes are warm and moist. The climate in China differs from region to region because of the country's highly complex topography.

A major environmental issue in China is the continued expansion of its deserts, particularly the Gobi Desert.

 Although barrier tree lines planted since the 1970s have reduced the frequency of sandstorms, prolonged drought and poor agricultural practices have resulted in dust storms plaguing northern China each spring, which then spread to other parts of east Asia, including Korea and Japan. China's environmental watchdog, SEPA, stated in 2007 that China is losing 4,000 km2 (1,500 sq mi) per year to desertification.

Water quality, erosion, and pollution control have become important issues in China's relations with other countries. Melting glaciers in the Himalayas could potentially lead to water shortages for hundreds of millions of people.

Environmental issues

Wind power generation is mainly from the windy Northwest China: the Dabancheng project in Xinjiang is one of Asia's largest wind farms; while Jiuquan wind farm in Gansu is the largest in the world.

In recent decades, China has suffered from severe environmental deterioration and pollution. While regulations such as the 1979 Environmental Protection Law are fairly stringent, they are poorly enforced, as they are frequently disregarded by local communities and government officials in favor of rapid economic development. Urban air pollution is a severe health issue in the country; the World Bank estimated in 2013 that 16 of the world's 20 most-polluted cities are located in China. China is the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter. The country also has significant water pollution problems: 40% of China's rivers had been polluted by industrial and agricultural waste by late 2011.In 2014, the internal freshwater resources per capita of China reduced to 2,062m3, and it was below 500m3 in the North China Plain, while 5,920m3 in the world.

Trade relations

In recent decades, China has played an increasing role in calling for free trade areas and security pacts amongst its Asia-Pacific neighbours. China became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 11 December 2001. In 2004, it proposed an entirely new East Asia Summit (EAS) framework as a forum for regional security issues.

 The EAS, which includes ASEAN Plus Three, India, Australia and New Zealand, held its inaugural summit in 2005. China is also a founding member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), along with Russia and the Central Asian republics.

Emerging superpower status

China is regularly hailed as a potential new superpower, with certain commentators citing its rapid economic progress, growing military might, very large population, and increasing international influence as signs that it will play a prominent global role in the 21st century. Others, however, warn that economic bubbles and demographic imbalances could slow or even halt China's growth as the century progresses. Some authors also question the definition of "superpower", arguing that China's large economy alone would not qualify it as a superpower, and noting that it lacks the military power and cultural influence of the United States.

Sociopolitical issues, human rights and reform

See also: Human rights in China, Hukou system, Social welfare in China, Elections in the People's Republic of China, Censorship in China, and Feminism in China.

The Chinese democracy movement, social activists, and some members of the Communist Party of China have all identified the need for social and political reform. While economic and social controls have been significantly relaxed in China since the 1970s, political freedom is still tightly restricted. The Constitution of the People's Republic of China states that the "fundamental rights" of citizens include freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, universal suffrage, and property rights. However, in practice, these provisions do not afford significant protection against criminal prosecution by the state. Although some criticisms of government policies and the ruling Communist Party are tolerated, censorship of political speech and information, most notably on the Internet are routinely used to prevent collective action. In 2005, Reporters Without Borders ranked China 159th out of 167 states in its Annual World Press Freedom Index, indicating a very low level of press freedom.In 2014, China ranked 175th out of 180 countries.

Rural migrants to China's cities often find themselves treated as second-class citizens by the hukou household registration system, which controls access to state benefits. Property rights are often poorly protected,and taxation disproportionately affects poorer citizens. However, a number of rural taxes have been reduced or abolished since the early 2000s, and additional social services provided to rural dwellers.

Military

Liaoning, the first aircraft carrier commissioned into the People's Liberation Army Navy Surface Force, and its carrier battle group are navigating in the South China Sea

With 2.3 million active troops, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is the largest standing military force in the world, commanded by the Central Military Commission (CMC).

The PLA consists of the Ground Force (PLAGF), the Navy (PLAN), the Air Force (PLAAF), and the People's Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF). According to the Chinese government, China's military budget for 2014 totaled US$132 billion, constituting the world's second-largest military budget, although the military expenditures-GDP ratio is below world average.

Economy

The Shanghai Stock Exchange building in Shanghai's Lujiazui financial district. Shanghai has the 25th-largest city GDP in the world, totalling US$304 billion in 2011.

China had the largest economy in the world for most of the past two thousand years, during which it has seen cycles of prosperity and decline. As of 2014, China has the world's second-largest economy in terms of nominal GDP, totalling approximately US$10.380 trillion according to the International Monetary Fund. In terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP, China's economy is the largest in the world, with a 2014 PPP GDP of US$17.617 trillion. In 2013, its PPP GDP per capita was US$12,880, while its nominal GDP per capita was US$7,589. Both cases put China behind around eighty countries (out of 183 countries on the IMF list) in global GDP per capita rankings.

Internationalization of

the renminbi

Following the 2008 global financial crisis, China realized the dependency on the US Dollar and the weakness of the international monetary system. The RMB Internationalization accelerated in 2009 when China established dim sum bond market and expanded the Cross-Border Trade RMB Settlement Pilot Project, which helps establish pools of offshore RMB liquidity. In November 2010, Russia began using the Chinese renminbi in its bilateral trade with China. This was soon followed by Japan, Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and Canada. As a result of the rapid internationalization of the renminbi, it became the eighth-most-traded currency in the world in 2013.

Water supply and sanitation

Water supply and sanitation infrastructure in China is facing challenges such as rapid urbanization, as well as water scarcity, contamination, and pollution. According to data presented by the Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation of WHO and UNICEF in 2015, about 36% of the rural population in China still did not have access to improved sanitation. In June 2010, there were 1,519 sewage treatment plants in China and 18 plants were added each week. The ongoing South–North Water Transfer Project intends to abate water shortage in the north.