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The People's Republic of China, commonly known as China (/ˈnə/; Chinese: 中国; pinyin: Zhōngguó), is a sovereign state located in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population of over 1.35 billion. The PRC is a single-party state governed by the Communist Party, with its seat of government in the capital city of Beijing. It exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing), and two mostly self-governing special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau). The PRC also claims Taiwan – which is controlled by the Republic of China (ROC), a separate political entity – as its 23rd province, a claim controversial due to the complex political status of Taiwan and the unresolved Chinese Civil War.

Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometres, China is the world's second-largest country by land area, but only the third or fourth-largest by total area, depending on the method of measurement. China's landscape is vast and diverse, ranging from forest steppes and the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts in the arid north to subtropical forests in the wetter south. The Himalaya, Karakoram, Pamir and Tian Shan mountain ranges separate China from South and Central Asia. The Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, the third- and sixth-longest in the world, run from the Tibetan Plateau to the densely populated eastern seaboard. China's coastline along the Pacific Ocean is 14,500 kilometres (9,000 mi) long, and is bounded by the Bohai, Yellow, East and South China Seas.

The ancient Chinese civilization – one of the world's earliest – flourished in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. For millennia, China's political system was based on hereditary monarchies, known as dynasties, beginning with the semi-mythological Xia of the Yellow River basin (c. 2000 BCE). Since 221 BCE, when the Qin dynasty first conquered several states to form a Chinese empire, the country has expanded, fractured and been reformed numerous times. The Republic of China (ROC) overthrew the last dynasty in 1911, and ruled the Chinese mainland until 1949. After the defeat of the Empire of Japan in World War II, the Communist Party defeated the nationalist Kuomintang in mainland China and established the People's Republic of China in Beijing on 1 October 1949, while the Kuomintang relocated the ROC government to its present de facto temporary capital of Taipei. To date, the ROC and PRC claim to be the legitimate government of all of China

Since the introduction of economic reforms in 1978, China has become one of the world's fastest-growing major economies. As of 2013, it is the world's second-largest economy by both nominal total GDP and purchasing power parity (PPP), and is also the world's largest exporter and importer of goods. China is a recognized nuclear weapons state and has the world's largest standing army, with the second-largest defense budget. The PRC has been a United Nations member since 1971, when it replaced the ROC as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. China is also a member of numerous formal and informal multilateral organizations, including the WTO, APEC, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the BCIM and the G20. China is a regional power within Asia and has been characterized as a potential superpower by a number of commentators.

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The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China that lasted from 618 to 907. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire. The Tang Dynasty, with its capital at Chang'an, the most populous city in the world at the time, is regarded by historians as a high point in Chinese civilization—equal to or surpassing that of the earlier Han Dynasty—as well as a golden age of cosmopolitan culture. In Chinese history, the Tang Dynasty was largely a period of progress and stability, except during the An Shi Rebellion and the decline of central authority in the latter half of the dynasty. Like the previous Sui Dynasty, the Tang Dynasty maintained a civil service system by drafting officials through standardized examinations and recommendations to office. Two of China's most famous historical poets, Du Fu and Li Bai, belonged to this age, as well as the poets Meng Haoran, Du Mu, and Bai Juyi. Many famous visual artists lived during this era, such as the renowned painters Han Gan, Zhang Xuan, and Zhou Fang. There was a rich variety of historical literature compiled by scholars, as well as encyclopedias and books on geography. There were many notable innovations during the dynasty, including the development of woodblock printing, the escapement mechanism in horology, the government compilations of materia medicas, and improvements in cartography.

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Priest in Fribourg, c. 1860s

Pierre Rossier was a pioneering Swiss photographer whose albumen photographs, which include stereographs and cartes-de-visite, comprise portraits, cityscapes and landscapes. He was commissioned by the London firm of Negretti and Zambra to travel to Asia and document the progress of the Anglo-French troops in the Second Opium War and, although he failed to join that military expedition, he remained in Asia for several years, producing the first commercial photographs of China, the Philippines, Japan and Siam (now Thailand). He was the first professional photographer in Japan, where he trained Ueno Hikoma, Maeda Genzō, Horie Kuwajirō, as well as lesser known members of the first generation of Japanese photographers. In Switzerland he established photographic studios in Fribourg and Einsiedeln, and he also produced images elsewhere in the country. Rossier is an important figure in the early history of photography not only because of his own images, but also because of the critical impact of his teaching in the early days of Japanese photography.

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China's Politics

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Xi Jinping

The General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, officially General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, is head of the Communist Party of China and the highest-ranking official within China, a standing member of the Politburo and head of the Secretariat. The officeholder is usually considered the paramount leader of China.

According to the Constitution, the General Secretary serves as an ex officio member of the Politburo Standing Committee, China's de facto top decision-making body. Since the early 1990s, the holder of the post has been, except for transitional periods, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, making the holder the Commander-in-chief of the People's Liberation Army.

The current General Secretary is Xi Jinping (picture), who took the office at the 18th National Congress on 15 November 2012.

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