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The People's Republic of China, commonly known as China (/ˈnə/ (About this sound listen); 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 Tiananmen Square self-immolation incident took place in Tiananmen Square in central Beijing on 23 January 2001. The details surrounding the incident are disputed: the official Chinese press agency, Xinhua News Agency, stated that five members of Falun Gong, a banned spiritual movement, set themselves on fire to protest the unfair treatment of Falun Gong by the Chinese government. The Falun Dafa Information Center stated the incident was a hoax staged by the Chinese government to turn public opinion against the group and to justify the torture and imprisonment of its practitioners. The incident received international news coverage, and video footage was broadcast later in the People's Republic of China by China Central Television. A wide variety of opinions and interpretations of what may have happened emerged: the event may have been set up by the government, it may have been an authentic protest, or the self-immolators may have been "new or unschooled" practitioners, among others. The campaign of state propaganda that followed the event eroded public sympathy for Falun Gong, and the government began sanctioning "systematic use of violence" against the group.

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Hong Kong skyline
Credit: David Iliff

The night skyline of Hong Kong, Victoria Harbour and Kowloon, as seen from Victoria Peak, the tallest mountain on Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong is located on China's south coast on the Pearl River Delta, and borders Guangdong province in the north and faces the South China Sea in the east, west and south. It has a population of 6.9 million people, and is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

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Luo Yixiu (October 20, 1889 – February 11, 1910) was the first wife of the future Chinese communist revolutionary and political leader Mao Zedong, to whom she was married from 1908 until her death. Coming from the area around Shaoshan, Hunan, in south central China – the same region as Mao – her family were impoverished local landowners. Most of what is known about their marriage comes from an account Mao gave to American reporter Edgar Snow in 1936, which Snow included in his book Red Star Over China. According to Mao, he and Luo Yixiu were the subject of an arranged marriage organised by their respective fathers, Mao Yichang and Luo Helou. Luo was eighteen and Mao just fourteen years old at the time of their betrothal. Although Mao took part in the wedding ceremony, he later stated that he was unhappy with the marriage, never consummating it and refusing to live with his wife. Socially disgraced, she lived with Mao's parents for two years until she died of dysentery, while he moved out of the village to continue his studies elsewhere, eventually becoming a founding member of the Communist Party of China. Various biographers have suggested that Mao's experience of this marriage affected his later views, leading him to become a critic of arranged marriage and a vocal feminist. He would marry three more times throughout his life, to Yang Kaihui, He Zizhen and Jiang Qing.

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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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