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China’s Geography
Compiled from:
China’s geography
Major rivers provide framework for agricultural
develop and population growth
• Huang He (Yellow River)
• Chang Jiang (Yangzi or Yangtze River),
• Pearl River (Zhu Jiang) delta system marked by
the Xi Jiang (West River)
• "Jiang" is the most common
descriptor for "river" in Chinese,
signifying a stream that is often
geologically young which cuts
through a narrow valley. "He," on the
other hand, is generally used for a
river that is broad and geologically
Huang He (Yellow River)
• China's second longest river
• Arises in Qinghai province and flows
some 5464 km to the Yellow Sea.
• Clear lakes and meandering are
characteristic in its upper reaches.
Upper reaches of Huang He
• Because some of China's largest rivers
have their source regions on the high
Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and drop great
distances over their middle and lower
courses, China is rich in hydroelectric
Unruly Huang He
• Along the Great Bend of the Huang He
in its middle course, the unruly river
carves its way through the loessial
plateau with substantial erosion taking
• Loess: a fine-grained unstratified
accumulation of clay and silt deposited
by the wind; usually yellow or buff
Tawny loessial cliffs
• As the river erodes the loess, it becomes a
"river of mud”
• It is the color of this suspended loess in the
river that has given the Huang He its name
"Yellow River.")
• Carrying 40% sediment by weight in summer
(for other rivers in the world 3% would be
considered a heavy sediment load), the river
deposits vast amounts of alluvium as it
courses across the North China Plain.
“Yellow” River bounded by dikes
• Over the centuries, deposition has raised the
bed of the Huang He so that it is in some ways
"suspended" precariously above the lower
surrounding agricultural areas, contained by
levees and embankments built to control what
historically was "China's Sorrow" -- the bringer
of flood and famine.
Mao overlooking the Huang He
from atop a dike
• The lower course of the Huang He has changed 26
times in China's history, most notably nine times
including major floods in 1194 AD and again in
1853, that brought untold disaster to the villages
and towns of the North China Plain.
• Flood control continues to be one of China's great
natural challenges-- preventing both flooding and
drought in a region with more than 100 million
• Throughout the loessial uplands,
some 40 million Chinese still live in
cave-like or subterranean dwellings
that are an especially appropriate
response to the peculiar nature of
loess and the absence of alternative
building materials such as timber.
Chang Jiang (Yangtze River)
Chang Jiang (Yangzi River).
• China’s longest river
• Courses over 6300 km through several of
China's most economically developed regions.
• Excellent river ports - Shanghai, Zhenjiang,
Nanjing, Wuhan, Yichang, and Chongqing - are
located near or along the Chang Jiang, making
it one of the world's busiest inland waterways.
• 40% of the country's total grain
• 70% of the rice output,
• more than 40% of China's population
are associated with its vast basin that
includes more than 3,000 tributaries.
• The flow of the Chang Jiang is some 20 times
greater than that of the Huang He. It drains
nearly 20% of China's total area. Its upper
reaches tap the uplands of the Tibetan Plateau
before sweeping across the enormous and
agriculturally productive Sichuan Basin that
supports nearly 10% of China's total
Three Gorges Dam
• It is in the middle course of the Chang
Jiang is the Three Gorges Dam.
• The largest dam in the world, rivaling the
building not only of China's great
historical projects such as the Grand
Canal and Great Wall as well as modern
projects elsewhere in the world --
• The Three Gorges Dam project is wrapped in
environmental, engineering, and political
controversy. Increasing clean energy,
controlling floods, and stimulating economic
development are but a few of objectives of
the dam.
• Below the Three Gorges Dam are the great
flood plains of the Chang Jiang as well as the
major tributaries on its north and south
• At the mouth of the river is the great and
productive Yangzi delta and metropolitan
Hangzhou Bay Bridge
(artist’s rendition)
Grand Canal
• Grand Canal of China also known as the BeijingHangzhou Grand Canal is the longest ancient
canal in the world.
• Since China's major rivers - the Huang He and
Chang Jiang - flow from west to east and there is
no natural communication north to south except
by way of a coastal route, the Chinese dug the
Grand Canal as a safe, inland water route
between the two major rivers, in the process
connecting a number of minor regional rivers.
• Canal was constructed around 605 AD to serve
commercial as well as military considerations.
• The canal was extended several times, most
notably to the Hangzhou in 610 and eventually in
1279 to Dadu, the great Mongol (Yuan dynasty)
• During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Grand
Canal ensured that Beijing had sufficient grain
from the southern rice bowl areas.
Zhu Jiang (Pearl River) Delta
• Situated in Guangdong province just
to the north of Hong Kong and
Macao, the delta of the Zhu Jiang is
the most significant farming area in
southeastern China.
• The earliest hearths of Chinese civilization
(Neolithic) developed along its river valleys.
• The Shang dynasty (c. 1600-1027 BC) was also
situated around the Huang He (Yellow River),
and eventually spread southward to the
Chang Jiang (Yangzi River) and Xi Jiang.
Population and Arable (Farming) Land
• China is the most populous nation in the world.
• China's total population of nearly exceeds the
combined populations of Europe (579,700,000)
and South America (311,500,000) and the United
States (272,573,000) and Japan (125,200,000).
• By comparison, the population of the United
States is equivalent to only 22% of China's
• China feeds somewhat less than onequarter (25%) of the world's
population on approximately 7% of
the world's arable land
• China has only a slightly larger land area than
the US (3.69 million square miles compared to
the 3.68 million square miles)
• Approximately 40% of the U.S. land can be
cultivated, only 11% of China's land is arable.
Agricultural regions in China
Population density
• Despite the high population density in the east,
China is not an urban society even though its
total urban population exceeds the actual total
population of the United States.
• Although some seventy-four per cent (74%) of
China's population is still primarily engaged in
agriculture and living in rural areas, these same
farming areas have undergone substantial
industrialization and commercialization since
• The production of grain accounts for
some 80-90% of all agricultural crops in
• Rice, wheat, corn, barley, and millet are
the principal grain crops, each of which
represents a particular adaptation to
specific environmental conditions.
Wet rice
• Wet rice or paddy rice agriculture is
carried out particularly in fertile
areas of southern and central China
where a mild climate favors two and
sometimes three crops per year.
Preparing the fields: plowing
Preparing the fields: harrowing
Rice seedlings in seedbeds
Transplanting rice seedlings
Rice ready to be harvested
Harvesting the rice
Drying the rice
Winnowing the rice
Burning to prepare for next crop
• Growing wet rice is labor intensive.
• Increasing the number of people working can
significantly increase the amount each field can
• In some areas a farmer can increase productivity by
double or triple cropping (2 or 3 crops of rice) each
year, a technique that requires even greater
concentrations of labor because the harvesting of
one crop and the transplanting of the next crop
occur virtually simultaneously.
• The growing of rice is frequently rotated with
other crops such as winter wheat, sweet
potatoes, corn, and vegetables of various
• Vegetable oil producing plants -- specifically
rape-seed (canola oil), peanuts, and sesame are widely grown throughout this region on
appropriate soils.
Pasture and Oasis
• The Chinese have reclaimed, even created,
land that in many areas of the world would
have been considered impossible to farm.
Creating level land through terracing
of hill slopes
Managing water resources in order to
reduce erosion and make water
available for terraced rice production
Mountains and Deserts
• The west of China is comprised of mountains and
deserts as well as plateaus that do not provide
much arable land for agriculture.
• The civilization that grew up to the east in China
was not surrounded by other nearby major
• To this extent the Chinese were "isolated" from
competing civilizations although there was a
broad and fluid frontier zone on the western
Silk Road
• Although the mountains and deserts of the
west limited contact between early imperial
dynasties and other centers of civilization in
the Inner Asia, Middle East, South Asia, and
Europe, there were some important and
notable exchanges of culture. The legendary
Silk Road facilitated the exchange of goods
and ideas between China and each of these
Silk Road
• Great Wall. What is known today as the
Great Wall was reputedly first completed
during the Qin (Ch'in) dynasty (221-206
BC) when segments of the wall existing
from earlier periods were connected.
Early walled ramparts were constructed
of rammed or tamped earth. The brickfaced walls seen today were built much
later during the Ming dynasty (13681644).
• The Great Wall is NOT a single continuous wall
• Many dynasties used it to manage the nomadic
peoples, sometime referred to as "barbarians,"
who lived north of it on the grasslands or
• For the most part, the Great Wall should be
viewed as a zone of transition - rather than a
fixed border - between farming areas with
sedentary villages and pasture lands with
nomadic lifestyles.
• Western region occupies nearly 2/3 of the country that
is generally too high, too cold, and/or too dry to
support a dense agricultural population. Includes:
• the two upper steps of the topographic staircase:
Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, known as the "roof of the
world" with average elevations above 4000 meters;
• a broad arc-like step running northeast/southwest
from the grasslands of the Inner Mongolian steppes
through the deserts and basins of Xinjiang to the
Yunnan-Guizhou plateaus of southwestern China.
• An Eastern region occupying 1/3 of the
country -- east of the Tibetan Plateau and
generally south of the Great Wall -forming the core of China Proper. It is
framed on the west by mountain ranges - Greater Khingan, Taihang, Wushan, and
Xuefeng -- and includes the densely
settled North China Plain along the lower
course of the Huang He and numerous
plains in the middle and lower reaches of
the Chang Jiang.
• The Eastern Region is a diverse region
includes the eighteen traditional provinces of
imperial China, and can be divided into
Northern China and Southern China with the
Qinling Range and Huai River forming the
natural zone of demarcation between them.
North China Plain
China’s Climate Zones
Winter monsoon
Summer monsoon
Political divisions
The People’s Republic of China has 34 major
political divisions:
• 23 provinces;
• 4 municipalities: Beijing, Shanghai,
Tianjin, and Chongqing, which have
provincial-level status and report directly
to the central government; and
China’s provinces
Political divisions (con’t)
• 5 autonomous regions. The title "autonomous
region" indicates that a substantial proportion
of the population in the region is composed of
minority nationality peoples whose language,
culture, and particular social traits are distinct
from the dominant Han culture; for the sake
of political unity, the regions are given special
consideration by Beijing in policy formulation.
The regions are otherwise not "autonomous."
Autonomous regions
2 Special Administrative Regions
• Hong Kong
• Macau (both former
Minority populations
• Eight percent of China's population is
composed of minority nationality peoples.
• 55 distinct minority nationalities in China.
• Minority nationalities occupy 50-60% of
Chinese territory--most notably Xinjiang,
Mongolia, and Tibet.
Linguistic diversity