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The People's Republic of China, commonly known as China (Listeni/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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Song Taizu.jpg

The Song dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 959–1276 AD; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, and was followed by the Yuan dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a permanent standing navy. The Song dynasty is divided into two distinct periods: the Northern Song and Southern Song. During the Northern Song, the Song capital was in the northern city of Bianjing and the dynasty controlled most of inner China. The Southern Song refers to the period after the Song lost control of northern China to the Jin dynasty. During this time, the Song court retreated south of the Yangtze river and established their capital at Lin'an. The Southern Song Dynasty considerably bolstered naval strength to defend its waters and land borders and to conduct maritime missions abroad. To repel the Jin (and later the Mongols), the Song developed revolutionary new military technology augmented by the use of gunpowder. In 1234, the Jin dynasty was conquered by the Mongols, who took control of northern China, maintaining uneasy relations with the Southern Song. After two decades of sporadic warfare, Kublai Khan's armies conquered the Song dynasty in 1279. China was once again unified, under the Yuan dynasty.

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The Great Wall of China in 1907
Credit: Herbert Ponting

The Great Wall of China is a 6,352 km (3,948 miles) long Chinese fortification built over a span of nearly 2,000 years, in order to protect the various dynasties from raids coming from areas in modern-day Mongolia and Manchuria. Along most of its arc, it roughly delineates the border between North China and Inner Mongolia. Although it is commonly said that the wall is visible to the naked eye from space, it is more accurate to say that it is visible under favorable viewing conditions, if one knows exactly where to look.

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Tholing Monastery

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Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong (1905–1961) was an American actress, the first Chinese-American movie star, and the first Asian-American to become an international star. Her long and varied career spanned film, television, stage, and radio. During the silent film era, her more notable roles were in The Toll of the Sea (1922), one of the first movies made in color; Douglas Fairbanks' The Thief of Bagdad (1924), and Piccadilly (1929). Frustrated by the stereotypical supporting roles she reluctantly played in Hollywood, she left for Europe in the late 1920s, and starred in several notable films and plays. She paid less attention to her film career during the war years, when she devoted her time and money to helping the Chinese cause against Japan. Wong returned to the public eye in the 1950s in several television appearances as well as her own series in 1951, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong, the first U.S. television show starring an Asian-American. She had been planning to return to film in Flower Drum Song when she died in 1961, at the age of 56. Her life and career were re-evaluated in the years around the centennial of her birth, in three major literary works and film retrospectives.

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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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