China stretches some 5,026 kilometers across the East Asian landmass. China is bordered by seas and waters eastward, with the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, Taiwan Strait, and South China Sea, and bordered by landmasses on its 3 other sides, from North Korea to Vietnam. China has been officially and conveniently divided into 5 homogeneous physical macro-regions: Eastern China (subdivided into the northeast plain, north plain, and southern hills), Xinjiang-Mongolia, and the Tibetan-highlands. Its physical features are multiples. The eastern and southern half of the country, its seacoast fringed with offshore islands, is a region of fertile lowlands and foothills with most of the agricultural output and human population. The western and northern half of China is a region of sunken basins (Gobi, Taklamakan), rolling plateaus, and towering massifs, including a portion of the highest tableland on earth (Tibetan Plateau) with lower agricultural possibilities and thus, far less populated.
Traditionally, the Chinese population centered around the Chinese central plain and oriented itself toward its own enormous inland market, developing as an imperial power whose center lay in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River on the northern plains. More recently, the 18,000-kilometers coastline have been used extensively for export-oriented trade, making a power shift, with the coastline provinces becoming the leading economic center.
With an area of about 9.6 million km², the People’s Republic of China is the 3rd largest country in total area behind Russia and Canada, and very similar to the United States. This figure is sometimes challenged by border disputes, most notably about Taiwan, Aksai Chin, the Trans-Karakoram Tract, and South Tibet.
The People’s Republic of China is the second-largest country in the world by land area after Russia, and is either the third- or fourth-largest by total area, after Russia, Canada and, depending on the definition of total area, the United States. China’s total area is generally stated as being approximately 9,600,000 km2 (3,700,000 sq mi). Specific area figures range from 9,572,900 km2 (3,696,100 sq mi) according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, 9,596,961 km2 (3,705,407 sq mi) according to the UN Demographic Yearbook, to 9,596,961 km2 (3,705,407 sq mi) according to the CIA World Factbook.
The Taihang forms the western side of the triangular North China Plain. The other two sides are the Pacific Coast to the east and the Yangtze River to the southwest. The vertices of this triangle are Beijing to the north, Shanghai to the southeast and Yichang to the southwest. This alluvial plain, fed by the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers, is one of the most heavily populated regions of China. The only mountains in the plain are the Taishan in Shandong and Dabie Mountains of Anhui.
Beijing, situated at the north tip of the North China Plain, is shielded by the intersection of Taihang and Jingdu Mountains. Further north are the drier grasslands of the Inner Mongolian Plateau, traditionally home to pastoralists. To the south are agricultural regions, traditionally home to sedentary populations. The Great Wall of China was built in the mountains across the mountains that mark the southern edge of the Inner Mongolian Plateau. The Ming-era walls run 2,000 km east-to-west from Shanhaiguan on the Bohai Coast to the Hexi Corridor in Gansu.East of the Tibetan Plateau, deeply folded mountains fan out toward the Sichuan Basin, which is ringed by mountains in 1,000-3,000 m elevation. The floor of the basin has an average elevation of 500m and is home to one of the most densely farmed and populated regions of China. The Sichuan Basin is capped in the north by the eastward continuation of the Kunlun range, the Qinling and Dabashan. The Qinling and Dabashan ranges form a major north-south divide across China Proper, the traditional core area of China. Southeast of the Tibetan Plateau and south of the Sichuan Basin is the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, which occupy much of southwest China. This plateau, with an average elevation of 2,000 m, is known for limestone karst landscape.
South of the Yangtze, the landscape is more rugged. Like Shanxi Province to the north, each of Hunan and Jiangxi has a provincial core in a river basin that is surrounded by mountains. The Wuling range separates Guizhou from Hunan. The Luoxiao and Jinggang divides Hunan from Jiangxi, which is separated from Fujian by the Wuyi Mountains. The southeast coastal provinces, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong have rugged coasts, with pockets of lowland and mountainous interior. The Nanling, an east-west mountain range, across northern Guangdong, seals off Hunan and Jiangxi from Guangdong.
China is one of 17 megadiverse countries, lying in two of the world’s major ecozones: the Palearctic and the Indomalaya. By one measure, China has over 34,687 species of animals and vascular plants, making it the third-most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil and Colombia. The country signed the Rio de Janeiro Convention on Biological Diversity on 11 June 1992, and became a party to the convention on 5 January 1993. It later produced a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, with one revision that was received by the convention on 21 September 2010.
China is home to at least 551 species of mammals (the third-highest such number in the world), 1,221 species of birds (eighth), 424 species of reptiles (seventh) and 333 species of amphibians (seventh). China is the most biodiverse country in each category outside of the tropics. Wildlife in China share habitat with and bear acute pressure from the world’s largest population of homo sapiens. At least 840 animal species are threatened, vulnerable or in danger of local extinction in China, due mainly to human activity such as habitat destruction, pollution and poaching for food, fur and ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine. Endangered wildlife is protected by law, and as of 2005, the country has over 2,349 nature reserves, covering a total area of 149.95 million hectares, 15 percent of China’s total land area.
China has over 32,000 species of vascular plants, and is home to a variety of forest types. Cold coniferous forests predominate in the north of the country, supporting animal species such as moose and Asian black bear, along with over 120 bird species. The understorey of moist conifer forests may contain thickets of bamboo. In higher montane stands of juniper and yew, the bamboo is replaced by rhododendrons. Subtropical forests, which are predominate in central and southern China, support as many as 146,000 species of flora. Tropical and seasonal rainforests, though confined to Yunnan and Hainan Island, contain a quarter of all the animal and plant species found in China. China has over 10,000 recorded species of fungi, and of them, nearly 6,000 are higher fungi.