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The People's Republic of China (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo) is the third largest country in the world and shares borders with twelve other countries. China (Zhonguo - 'Middle Kingdom') resumed sovereignty over the former British colony of Hong Kong in 1997, and has done so over the former Portuguese territory of Macao in 1989.
The land ranges from high plateaux in the north-west and vast plains in the north, with bitterly cold winters, to the hilly country of south China with a hot, humid climate ideal fro rice growing. The Yellow (Huang-He) and the Yangtze (Chiangjang) are important rivers. Shanghai is China's largest city (over 13 million inhabitants), followed by the capital, Beijing (over 11 million). Obviously, God (Shangdi) loves the Chinese people very much - that's why He made so many of them!
Over 90% of China's population of over 1.3 billion people (1999 estimate) belong to the Han ethnic group. Mandarin Chinese is the language used in government and education: it shares a common written language with other Chinese dialects. More than 50 other ethnic groups speak their own languages. Religions include Buddhism, Taoism, ancestor worship and folk religions and Christianity, which is undergoing an amazing revival.
The development of Chinese civilization can be traced back five thousand years. Throughout its history, China has been riled by a series of dynasties. The name China probably comes from the Qi'n (Ch'in) dynasty which first unified the region around 221 BC. Major Chinese inventions included paper, printing and the magnetic compass, but China remained relatively isolated. European trade with China increased in the 19th century. This contact, and the humiliating defeats by Western nations and Japan, fostered the growth of groups seeking reform. China's last emperor was overthrown in 1911.
After years of civil war interrupted by brutal invasions by the Japanese, the Communists, led by Mao Ze Dong gained control in 1949. They inherited a country in which millions of people lived in desperate poverty. They introduced sweeping reforms, taking over the ownership of land and the means of production. Their aim was to create a fairer society, but they exercised strict control over education, the media and anyone who opposed the Party. From the 1980's, China's leaders have introduced major reforms, but their response to student protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989 reflected their belief that maintaining social and political stability is more important than allowing freedom of expression.
The Chinese economy has undergone significant change from large-scale, state-owned farms and manufacturing production units introduced by the Communists in the 1950's.
Farmers are now largely responsible for their own plots of land, giving them an incentive todiversify crops and increase productivity. Food production has increased, but so has rural employment. Manypeasants have moved to the cities looking for work.
Only about one-ninth of the land in China is suitable for cultivation, and the amount of farmland per person is falling. There is growing consciousness of environmental problems, including soil erosion, deforestation and water shortages. The flooding of the major rivers has caused massive destruction of lives and property. The construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangze River is controversial: supporters argue that it will harness hydro-electric power, improve navigation and assist flood control, while opponents point to the cost of resettling large numbers of people, the loss of farmland and the poor record of other big dam projects.
In the industrial sector, the government has tried to make state enterprises more profitable and since the 1980's small private businesses (such as shops and eating places) have reappeared, as well as large corporations and
|several stock exchanges. China relies heavily on energy from coal, resulting in very high carbon emissions.
While China has achieved considerable improvements in average living standards, one-third of its population lives on less that US$1 per day. Minority groups, unwanted girl children and disabled people are among the most disadvantaged groups.
Many rural houses are made of (mud) bricks with a tiled roof, but more unusual houses include cave houses dug into the clay hills. In the cities, older one or two storey homes are being replaced by high-rise apartment buildings where each family has two or three rooms, with a shared kitchen and running water. Air pollution and waste disposal are already serious problems.
Rice is part of almost every meal in southern China, but in the north steamed 'bread' and noodles made from wheat are preferred. Vegetables are also eaten, with small amounts of protein from meat, fish or soybeans.
The family is very important. Grandparents continue to be valued members of Chinese families, and often are responsible for looking after young children while both parents are working. China's family planning policy ('The One Child Family Policy') has slowed the rate of population growth, but critics claim that unreasonable pressures are placed on people to have only one or two children. Abortions and baby disposals run into scores of thousands each day.
General public health has improved greatly since 1949, when life expectancy was only about 30 years. The emphasis has been on equipping community work units to provide basic health facilities for everyone, but there are remote rural areas which are still inadequately serviced. Only one-quarter of the population has adequate sanitation.
Just as writing has been greatly respected throughout Chinese history, education is a high priority. Millions of children are enrolled at primary school, but just over one-half of 12 - 16 year-olds are in secondary school. Parents are less likely to allow daughters to continue their schooling. Most adults can read and write, though more women have missed out on these skills than men.
Providing employment and opportunity for such a large population is a formidable challenge.
Most content of this brief article comes from World Vision who are actively involved in:
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