China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a sovereign state in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population of over 1.35 billion. The PRC is a single-party state governed by the Communist Party of China, with its seat of government in the capital city of Beijing. It exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing), and two mostly self-governing special administrative regions(Hong Kong and Macau). The PRC also claims the territories governed by the Republic of China (ROC), a separate political entity today commonly known as Taiwan, as a part of its territory, which includes the island of Taiwan as Taiwan Province, Kinmen and Matsu as a part of Fujian Province and islands the ROC controls in the South China Sea as a part of Hainan Province and Guangdong Province. These claims are controversial because of the complex political status of Taiwan.
China is considered a cradle of civilization, with its known history beginning with an ancient civilization – one of the worlds earliest – that flourished in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. China had the largest and most complex economy in the world for most of the past two thousand years, during which it has seen cycles of prosperity and decline. Since the introduction of economic reforms in 1978, China has become one of the world's fastest-growing major economies. China is a recognized nuclear weapons state and has the world's largest standing army, with the second-largest defense budget. The PRC has been a United Nations member since 1971, when it replaced the ROC as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. China is also a member of numerous formal and informal multilateral organizations, including the WTO, APEC, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the BCIM and the G-20. China is a great power and a major regional power within Asia, and has been characterized as a potential superpower by a number of commentators.
Chinese culture has been heavily influenced by Confucianism and conservative philosophies. For much of the country's dynastic era, opportunities for social advancement could be provided by high performance in the prestigious imperial examinations, which have their origins in the Han Dynasty. The literary emphasis of the exams affected the general perception of cultural refinement in China, such as the belief that calligraphy, poetry and painting were higher forms of art than dancing or drama. Chinese culture has long emphasized a sense of deep history and a largely inward-looking national perspective. Examinations and a culture of merit remain greatly valued in China today.
China's climate is mainly dominated by dry seasons and wet monsoons, which lead to pronounced temperature differences between winter and summer. In the winter, northern winds coming from high-latitude areas are cold and dry; in summer, southern winds from coastal areas at lower latitudes are warm and moist. The climate in China differs from region to region because of the country's highly complex topography. A major environmental issue in China is the continued expansion of its deserts, particularly the Gobi Desert.
Education in China is a state-run system of public education run by the Ministry of Education. All citizens must attend school for at least nine years, known as the nine-year compulsory education, which the government funds. It includes six years of primary education, starting at age six or seven, and three years of junior secondary education (middle school) for ages 12 to 15. Some provinces may have five years of primary school but four years for middle school. After middle school, there are three years of high school, which then completes the secondary education. The Ministry of Education reported a 99 percent attendance rate for primary school and an 80 percent rate for both primary and middle schools.
In 1985, the government abolished tax-funded higher education, requiring university applicants to compete for scholarships based on academic ability. In the early 1980s the government allowed the establishment of the first private school, increasing the number of undergraduates and people who hold doctoral degrees fivefold from 1995 to 2005. In 2003 China supported 1,552 institutions of higher learning (colleges and universities) and their 725,000 professors and 11 million students. There are over 100 National Key Universities, including Peking University and Tsinghua University. Chinese spending has grown by 20% per year since 1999, now reaching over $100bn, and as many as 1.5 million science and engineering students graduated from Chinese universities in 2006. China published 184,080 papers as of 2008. China has also become a top destination for international students. As of 2013, China is the most popular country in Asia for international students, and ranks third overall among countries.
Laws regulating the system of education include the Regulation on Academic Degrees, the Compulsory Education Law, the Teachers Law, the Education Law, the Law on Vocational Education, and the Law on Higher Education.
Chinese cuisine is highly diverse, drawing on several millennia of culinary history and geographical variety, in which the most influential are known as the "Eight Major Cuisines", including Sichuan, Cantonese, Jiangsu, Shandong, Fujian, Hunan, Anhui, and Zhejiang cuisines. All of them are featured by the precise skills of shaping, heating, colorway and flavoring.
Chinese cuisine is also known for its width of cooking methods and ingredients, as well as food therapy that is emphasized by medicine. Generally, China's staple food is rice in the south, wheat-based breads and noodles in the north. The diet of the common people in pre-modern times was largely grain and simple vegetables, with meat reserved for special occasions. And the bean products, such as tofu and soy milk, remain as a popular source of protein. Pork is now the most popular meat in China, accounting for about three-fourths of the country's total meat consumption.
While there is also a Buddhist cuisine and an Islamic cuisine. Southern cuisine, due to the area's proximity to the ocean and milder climate, has a wide variety of seafood and vegetables; it differs in many respects from the wheat-based diets across dry northern China. Numerous offshoots of Chinese food, such as Hong Kong cuisine and American Chinese food, have emerged in the nations that play host to the Chinese diaspora.
There are as many as 292 living languages in China. The languages most commonly spoken belong to the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family, which contains Mandarin (spoken natively by 70% of the population), and other Chinese varieties: Wu(including Shanghainese), Yue (including Cantonese and Taishanese), Min (including Hokkien and Teochew), Xiang, Gan, and Hakka. Languages of the Tibeto-Burman branch, including Tibetan, Qiang, Naxi and Yi, are spoken are spoken across the Tibetan and Yunnan–Guizhou Plateau. Other ethnic minority languages in southwest China include Zhuang, Thai, Dong and Sui of the Tai-Kadai family, Miao and Yao of the Hmong–Mien family, and Wa of the Austroasiatic family. Across northeastern and northwestern China, minority ethnic groups speak Altaic languages including Manchu, Mongolian and several Turkic languages: Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Salar and Western Yugur. Korean is spoken natively along the border with North Korea. Sarikoli, the language of Tajiks in western Xinjiang, is an Indo-European language. Taiwanese aborigines, including a small population on the mainland, speak Austronesian languages.
Standard Mandarin, a variety of Mandarin based on the Beijing dialect, is the official national language of China and is used as a lingua franca in the country between people of different linguistic backgrounds.
Chinese characters have been used as the written script for the Sinitic languages for thousands of years. They allow speakers of mutually unintelligible Chinese varieties to communicate with each other through writing. In 1956, the government introduced simplified characters, which have supplanted the older traditional characters in mainland China. Chinese characters are romanized using the Pinyin system. Tibetan uses an alphabet based on an Indic script. Uyghur is most commonly written in a Perseo-Arabic script. The Mongolian script used in China and the Manchu script are both derived from the Old Uyghur alphabet. Modern Zhuang uses the Latin alphabet.