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Physical Geography

 

Located in East Asia, on the western shore of the Pacific Ocean, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has a land area of about 9.6 million sq km, and is the third-largest country in the world, next only to Russia and Canada.

From north to south, the territory of China measures some 5,500 km, stretching from the center of the Heilongjiang River north of the town of Mohe (latitude 53° 30’ N) to the Zengmu Reef at the southernmost tip of the Nansha Islands (latitude 4° N). When north China is still covered with snow, people in south China are busy with spring plowing. From west to east, the nation extends about 5,200 km from the Pamirs (longitude 73° 40’E) to the confluence of the Heilongjiang and Wusuli rivers (longitude 135° 05’ E), with a time difference of over four hours. When the Pamirs are cloaked in night, the morning sun is shining brightly over east China. China has land borders 22,800 km long, with 15 contiguous countries: Korea to the east; the People’s Republic of Mongolia to the north; Russia to the northeast; Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan and Tajikistan to the northwest; Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan to the west and southwest; and Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar to 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 to the east and south by the Bohai, Yellow, East China and South China seas, with a total maritime area of 4.73 million sq km. The Bohai Sea is China’s continental sea, while the Yellow, East China and South China seas are marginal seas of the Pacific Ocean. A total of 5,400 islands dot China’s vast territorial waters. The largest of these, with an area of about 36,000 sq km, is Taiwan, followed by Hainan with an area of 34,000 sq km. Diaoyu and Chiwei islands, located to the northeast of Taiwan Island, are China’s easternmost islands. The many islands, islets, reefs and shoals on the South China Sea, known collectively as the South China Sea Islands, are subdivided into the Dongsha, Xisha, Zhongsha and Nansha island groups.

Rivers

China abounds in rivers. More than 1,500 rivers each drain 1,000 sq km or larger areas. More than 2,700 billion cu m of water flow along these rivers, 5.8 percent of the world’s total. Most of the large rivers find their source in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and as a result China is rich in water-power resources, leading the world in hydropower potential, with reserves of 680 million kw.

China’s rivers can be categorized as exterior and interior systems. The catchment area for the exterior rivers that empty into the oceans accounts for 64 percent of the country’s total land area. The Yangtze, Yellow, Heilongjiang, Pearl, Liaohe, Haihe, Huaihe and Lancang rivers flow east, and empty into the Pacific Ocean. The Yarlungzangbo River in Tibet, which flows first east and then south into the Indian Ocean, boasts the Grand Yarlungzangbo Canyon, the largest canyon in the world, 504.6 km long and 6,009 m deep. The Ertix River flows from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to the Arctic Ocean. The catchment area for the interior rivers that flow into inland lakes or disappear into deserts or salt marshes makes up 36 percent of China’s total land area. Its 2,179 km make the Tarim River in southern Xinjiang China’s longest interior river.

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Topography

China’s topography is varied and complicated, with towering mountains, basins of different sizes, undulating plateaus and hills, and flat and fertile plains.

A bird’s-eye view of China would indicate that China’s terrain descends in four steps from west to east. The top of this four-step “staircase” is the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Averaging more than 4,000 m above sea level, it is often called the “roof of the world.” Rising 8,848 m above sea level is Mt. Qomolangma, the world’s highest peak and the main peak of the Himalayas. The second step includes the Inner Mongolia, Loess and Yunnan-Guizhou plateaus, and the Tarim, Junggar and Sichuan basins, with an average elevation of between 1,000 m and 2,000 m.

The third step, about 500-1,000 m in elevation, begins at a line drawn around the Greater Hinggan, Taihang, Wushan and Xuefeng mountain ranges and extends eastward to the coast. Here, 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, the land extends out into the ocean, in a continental shelf, the fourth step of the staircase. The water here is less than 200 m deep.

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Climate

China has a marked continental monsoonal climate characterized by great variety. Northerly winds prevail in winter, while southerly winds reign in summer. The four seasons are quite distinct. The rainy season coincides with the hot season. From September to April the following year, the dry and cold winter monsoons from Siberia and Mongolia in the north gradually become weak as they reach the southern part of the country, resulting in cold and dry winters and great differences in temperature. The summer monsoons last from April to September.

The warm and moist summer monsoons from the oceans bring abundant rainfall and high temperatures, with little difference in temperature between the south and the north. China’s complex and varied climate results in a great variety of temperature belts, and dry and moist zones. In terms of temperature, the nation can be sectored from south to north into equatorial, tropical, sub-tropical, warm-temperate, temperate, and cold-temperate zones; in terms of moisture, it can be sectored from southeast to northwest into humid (32 percent of land area), semi-humid (15 percent), semi-arid (22 percent) and arid zones (31 percent).

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  Information provided by China National Tourism Administration.

 

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