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Land and Resources

Position and Area

China is situated in the eastern part of Asia, on the west coast of the Pacific Ocean.

China has a total land area of 9.6 million square kilometres, next only to Russia and Canada. From north to south, it measures some 5,500 kilometres, stretching from the central line of the Heilong River north of the town of Mohe to the Zengmu Reef at the southernmost tip of the Nansha Islands. From west to east, the territory of China extends about 5,200 kilometres from the Pamirs to the confluence of the Heilong and Wusuli rivers.

China's land border is 22,800 kilometres long. The nation is bordered by Korea in the east; Mongolia in the north; Russia in the northeast; Kazakhstan, Kirghizia and Tadzhikistan in the northwest; Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan in the west and southwest; and Myanmar, Laos and Viet Nam in the south. Across the seas to the east and southeast are the Republic of Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The Chinese mainland is flanked by the Bohai, the Huanghai (Yellow Sea), and the East China and South China seas in the east and south. The territorial waters of the People's Republic of China extend 12 nautical miles out from the base line drawn where China's land territories and interior waters border the sea. More than 5,000 islands are scattered over China's vast territorial seas, the largest being Taiwan with an area of 36,000 square kilometres, and the next largest, Hainan with an area of 34,000 square kilometres. Taiwan and Hainan are two provinces of China.

The coast of the mainland, 18,000 kilometres long, is dotted with excellent barbours and ports, the most famous of them, from north to south, being Dalian, Qinhuangdao, Tianjin, Yantai, Qingdao, Lianyungang, Nantong, Shanghai, Ningbo, Wenzhou, Fuzhou, Xiamen, Guangzhou, Zhanjiang and Beihai. Among them Shanghai is the largest city in China with a population of 13.56 million and well-developed industry, commerce, finance and ocean transportation.

Topography and Mountain Ranges 

    

China's surface slopes down from west to east in a four-step staircase.

The top of the staircase is the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, with an average elevation of more than 4,000 metres and known as "the roof of the world." The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is composed of rows of snow-capped peaks and glaciers. The major mountain ranges are the Kunlun, Gangdise and Himalaya.

The second step consists of the Inner Mongolia, Loess and Yunnan-Guizhou plateaus, and the Tarim, Junggar and Sichuan basins, on an altitude of 1,000-2,000 metres.

The third step, about 500-1,000 metres in elevation, begins at the line from the Greater Hinggan, Taihang, Wushan and Xuefeng mountain ranges eastward to the sea coast. Here, running from north to south are the Northeast Plain, the North China Plain, and the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain. Interspersed amongst the plains are hills and foothills.

To the east of the third step the shallow waters of the continental shelf, an extension of the land into the ocean, form the fourth step of the staff case. The depth of the water here is less than 200 metres. Great quantities of mud and sand have been carried here by the rivers on the mainland.

China's many mountains are well known throughout the world. Her mountain ranges can be divided into five basic categories according to the directions in which they run: (1) west to east mountain ranges, including the Tianshan-Yinshan-Yanshan mountain system, the Kunlun-Qinling-Dabie mountain system, and the Nanling mountain system; (2) north to south mountain ranges, including the Helan, Liupan, and Hengduan ranges; (3) northeast to southwest mountain ranges, including the Changbai, Greater Hinggan, Taihang, and Wushan ranges; (4) northwest to southeast mountain ranges, including the Altay, Qilian and Gangdise ranges; and (5) arc-shaped mountain ranges, including the Himalayas and Taiwan Mountains. 

Rivers and Lakes

Most of China's rivers flow from west to east into the Pacific Ocean except a few in southwest China that flow to the south. The rivers in China total 220,000 kilometres in length and more than 1,500 of them drain an area of 1,000 square kilometres or larger each. The total flow of these rivers is 2,700 billion cubic metres, almost the same as the total flow of the rivers in Europe. The nation's largest rivers originate on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and thus have a high drop. Accordingly, China is rich in hydropower resources, leading the world with 680 million kilowatts hydropower reserves.

The Yangtze River (Changjiang), 6,300 kilometres long, is the largest river in China. It has a catchment area of 1,800,000 square kilometres, and is the major inland-river transport artery in China. The Yellow River (Huanghe), stretching over 5,464 kilometres, is China's second largest. Its catchment area, covering more than 750,000 square kilometres, is the birthplace of ancient Chinese civilization and has a wealth of historic sites and relics, many of them buried underground.

China also has a famous man-made waterway, the Grand Canal, running from Beijing in the north to Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, in the south, totalling 1,801 kilometres in length. It was dug in the 5th century B.C. and repeatedly extended and dredged, becoming a major thoroughfare for water transport in subsequent dynasties. In ancient times, materials were transported from south to north and emperors went from north to south on pleasure trips through this canal.

China has many natural lakes, most of them scattered in the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. China's largest freshwater lake is Lake Poyang with an area of 3,583 square kilometres and the largest salt lake is Lake Qinghai in the west with an area of 4,583 square kilometres. 

Climate

Most of China is situated in the temperate zone. Some parts of south China are located in tropical and subtropical zones while the northern part is near the frigid zone. In north China, summers are warm and short and winters long and cold. In the tropical and subtropical south, trees and other vegetation remain green all year. The eastern coastal regions of China are warm and humid and have four distinct seasons. But the temperatures in the interior areas of northwest China change greatly during the daytime. There is a saying: "People wear fur coats in the morning and silk at noon." Because of its high elevation, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau area, a special alpine-cold zone, has low temperatures all year round. 

Land Resources

China has 95.1 million hectares of cultivated land, mostly in the Northeast, North China, and Middle-Lower Yangtze plains, the Pearl River (Zhujiang) Delta and the Sichuan Basin. The Northeast Plain with fertile black soil is ideal for crop growth--wheat, maize, sorghum, soybeans, sugar beets and flax. The North China Plain has level terrain and deep topsoil, where major crops include wheat, maize, millet, sorghum and cotton, along with apples, pears, grapes, persimmons and other fruits. The Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain abounds in rice, rapeseed, broad beans, tangerines and freshwater fish. This area is called "land of fish and rice."

China has 128.63 million hectares of forest cover. The Greater Hinggan, Lesser Hinggan and Changbai mountain ranges in northeast China are the largest natural forest areas that produce large stands of coniferous trees, such as Korean pine and latch, and broad-leaf trees, such as white birch, oak, northeast China ash, poplar and elm. Southwest China is another natural forest area, where the following varieties thrive: dragon spruce, fix, Yunnan pine, teak, red sandalwood, camphorwood, nanmu and padauk.

Grasslands cover 400 million hectares. Grasslands stretch 3,000 kilometres across China from the northeast to the southwest. Animal husbandry bases are located in the grasslands. Inner Mongolian grassland is the largest natural pastureland in China where the Sanhe horse, Sanhe cattle and Mongolian sheep are raised. South and north of the Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang, there are also famous natural pasturelands ideal for livestock. The famous Ili horse and the Xinjiang fine-wool sheep are raised here. 

Fauna and Flora

China has the greatest diversity of wildlife in the world. There are more than 2,000 species of terrestrial vertebrates, more than 10 percent of the world's total. There are 1,189 known species of birds, nearly 500 animal species, more than 210 species of amphibians and 320 species of reptiles. Among the wild animals, there are many rare species found only in China. These include the giant panda, golden monkey, white-lipped deer, takin, Chinese river dolphin and Chinese alligator.

Giant pandas, recognized as one of China's ."national treasures," live in the remote mountain areas of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi provinces and feed on bamboo. The panda, called a "living fossil," is a remnant species which thrived during the glacier period of the Quaternary.

China has 7,000 species of woody plants, of which 2,800 are arbors. The metasequoia, China cypress, cathaya, silver fir, China fir, golden larch, Taiwan flousiana, Fujian cypress, and eucommia are trees found only in China. The metasequoia grows to 35 metres in height. Commonly found in East Asia, North America and Europe one hundred million years ago, it became extinct by the glacial period of the Quaternary. In 1941, China discovered more than a thousand metasequoias on the Sichuan-Hubei border. This was one of the greatest botanical discoveries of the 20th century. After 1949, metasequoias were introduced to other countries of the world.

In a concerted effort to protect the nation's zoological and botanical resources, China had established 763 nature reserves covering 66.18 million hectares by 1994. Sichuan's Wolong, Jilin's Changbai Mountains, Guangdong's Dinghu Mountains, Guizhou's Fanjing Mountains, Fujian's Wuyi Mountains, Hubei's Shennongjia, Inner Mongolia's Xilingol, Xinjiang's Mt. Bogda, Yunnan's Xishuangbanna and Jiangsu's Yancheng serve as bases for in- ternational scientific research projects; Heilongjiang's Zhalong, Jilin's Xianghai, Dongting Lake in eastern Hunan, Jiangxi's Poyang Lake, Qinghai's Bird Island and Hainan's Dongzhai Harbour have been included in the listing of the world's important waterfowl wetlands. In addition, rescue centres for animals close to extinction have been established in Beijing, Kunming, Guangzhou and elsewhere. To date, China has succeeded in breeding more than 60 species of animals close to extinction, a great contribution to the world's efforts to save such creatores. 

Mineral Resources

China is rich in mineral resources, with total reserves ranking third in the world. It has deposits of all the world's known minerals. To date, geologists have verified reserves of 148 different minerals. The nation's 1,001.9 billion tons of coal reserves are found mainly in Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning and Heilongjiang. Oil resources are widely distributed throughout most of the country, and more than 370 oilfields and more than 110 gas fields have been discovered. Progress has been made in offshore oil exploration since the 1980s. Large oil basins have been discovered in Bohai Sea, Yellow Sea, East China Sea, the Pearl River estuary, and the Beibu Bay and Yingge Sea in the South China Sea. Iron ore is widely dispersed throughout China, with confirmed reserves of 48.7 billion tons. China is among the countries that lead the world in such nonferrous metals as tungsten, tin, antimony, zinc, molybdenum, lead, and mercury, whereas its rare earth metal reserves far exceed the world's total.

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