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Before the Mongol invasion, the population of Song China was million citizens; this was reduced to 60 million by the time of the census in Under the Ming dynasty, China enjoyed another golden age, developing one of the strongest navies in the world and a rich and prosperous economy amid a flourishing of art and culture. It was during this period that admiral Zheng He led the Ming treasure voyages throughout the Indian Ocean , reaching as far as East Africa. In the early years of the Ming dynasty, China's capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing.
With the budding of capitalism, philosophers such as Wang Yangming further critiqued and expanded Neo-Confucianism with concepts of individualism and equality of four occupations. In , Beijing was captured by a coalition of peasant rebel forces led by Li Zicheng. The Chongzhen Emperor committed suicide when the city fell. The Manchu Qing dynasty , then allied with Ming dynasty general Wu Sangui , overthrew Li's short-lived Shun dynasty and subsequently seized control of Beijing, which became the new capital of the Qing dynasty.
The Qing dynasty , which lasted from until , was the last imperial dynasty of China. Its conquest of the Ming — cost 25 million lives and the economy of China shrank drastically.
China was forced to pay compensation, open treaty ports, allow extraterritoriality for foreign nationals, and cede Hong Kong to the British  under the Treaty of Nanking , the first of the Unequal Treaties. The Qing dynasty also began experiencing internal unrest in which tens of millions of people died, especially in the White Lotus Rebellion , the failed Taiping Rebellion that ravaged southern China in the s and s and the Dungan Revolt —77 in the northwest.
The initial success of the Self-Strengthening Movement of the s was frustrated by a series of military defeats in the s and s. In the 19th century, the great Chinese diaspora began. Losses due to emigration were added to by conflicts and catastrophes such as the Northern Chinese Famine of —79 , in which between 9 and 13 million people died.
The ill-fated anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion of — further weakened the dynasty. Although Cixi sponsored a program of reforms, the Xinhai Revolution of —12 brought an end to the Qing dynasty and established the Republic of China. In the face of popular condemnation and opposition from his own Beiyang Army , he was forced to abdicate and re-establish the republic.
After Yuan Shikai's death in , China was politically fragmented. Its Beijing-based government was internationally recognized but virtually powerless; regional warlords controlled most of its territory.
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Japanese forces committed numerous war atrocities against the civilian population; in all, as many as 20 million Chinese civilians died. China emerged victorious but war-ravaged and financially drained.
The continued distrust between the Kuomintang and the Communists led to the resumption of civil war. Constitutional rule was established in , but because of the ongoing unrest, many provisions of the ROC constitution were never implemented in mainland China.
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Major combat in the Chinese Civil War ended in with the Communist Party in control of most of mainland China , and the Kuomintang retreating offshore , reducing its territory to only Taiwan , Hainan , and their surrounding islands. The regime consolidated its popularity among the peasants through land reform, which included the execution of between 1 and 2 million landlords. After Mao's death, the Gang of Four was quickly arrested and held responsible for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution.
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Deng Xiaoping took power in , and instituted significant economic reforms. The Party loosened governmental control over citizens' personal lives, and the communes were gradually disbanded in favor of working contracted to households. This marked China's transition from a planned economy to a mixed economy with an increasingly open-market environment. In , the violent suppression of student protests in Tiananmen Square brought sanctions against the Chinese government from various countries.
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However, the growth also severely impacted the country's resources and environment,   and caused major social displacement. Preparations for a decadal leadership change in were marked by factional disputes and political scandals. China's landscape is vast and diverse, ranging from the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts in the arid north to the subtropical forests in the wetter south.
The Yangtze and Yellow Rivers , the third- and sixth-longest in the world, respectively, run from the Tibetan Plateau to the densely populated eastern seaboard. China connects through the Kazakh border to the Eurasian Steppe which has been an artery of communication between East and West since the Neolithic through the Steppe route — the ancestor of the terrestrial Silk Road s.
China's landscapes vary significantly across its vast territory. In the east, along the shores of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea , there are extensive and densely populated alluvial plains , while on the edges of the Inner Mongolian plateau in the north, broad grasslands predominate. Southern China is dominated by hills and low mountain ranges, while the central-east hosts the deltas of China's two major rivers, the Yellow River and the Yangtze River.
Other major rivers include the Xi , Mekong , Brahmaputra and Amur. To the west sit major mountain ranges, most notably the Himalayas. High plateaus feature among the more arid landscapes of the north, such as the Taklamakan and the Gobi Desert. 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. A major environmental issue in China is the continued expansion of its deserts , particularly the Gobi Desert.
Melting glaciers in the Himalayas could potentially lead to water shortages for hundreds of millions of people. China has a very agriculturally suitable climate and has been the largest producer of rice, wheat, tomatoes, brinjal, grapes, water melon, spinach in the world. China is one of 17 megadiverse countries ,  lying in two of the world's major ecozones : the Palearctic and the Indomalaya.
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By one measure, China has over 34, species of animals and vascular plants, making it the third-most biodiverse country in the world, after Brazil and Colombia. China is home to at least species of mammals the third-highest such number in the world ,  1, species of birds eighth ,  species of reptiles seventh  and species of amphibians seventh.
At least 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. China has over 32, species of vascular plants,  and is home to a variety of forest types.
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Cold coniferous forests predominate in the north of the country, supporting animal species such as moose and Asian black bear , along with over bird species. 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 , species of flora.
In recent decades, China has suffered from severe environmental deterioration and pollution. There are 1. In China, heavy metals also cause environmental pollution. Heavy metal pollution is an inorganic chemical hazard, which is mainly caused by lead Pb , chromium Cr , arsenic As , cadmium Cd , mercury Hg , zinc Zn , copper Cu , cobalt Co , and nickel Ni. Heavy metal pollutants mainly come from mining, sewage irrigation, the manufacturing of metal-containing products, and other related production activities.
High level of heavy metal exposure can also cause permanent intellectual and developmental disabilities, including reading and learning disabilities, behavioral problems, hearing loss, attention problems, and disruption in the development of visual and motor function. According to the data of a national census of pollution, China has more than 1. The total volume of discharged heavy metals in the waste water, waste gas and solid wastes are around , tons each year from — 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 constitution states that The People's Republic of China "is a socialist state under the people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants," and that the state organs "apply the principle of democratic centralism. The Chinese government has been variously described as communist and socialist, but also as authoritarian and corporatist ,  with heavy restrictions in many areas, most notably against free access to the Internet , freedom of the press , freedom of assembly , the right to have children , free formation of social organizations and freedom of religion.
Since , the main body of the Chinese constitution declares that "the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the leadership of the Communist Party of China CPC. The President is the titular head of state , elected by the National People's Congress. The Premier is the head of government , presiding over the State Council composed of four vice premiers and the heads of ministries and commissions. There have been some moves toward political liberalization, in that open contested elections are now held at the village and town levels.
Political concerns in China include the growing gap between rich and poor and government corruption. The People's Republic of China is divided into 22 provinces , five autonomous regions , each with a designated minority group; four municipalities ; and two special administrative regions SARs which enjoy a degree of political autonomy. These 31 provincial-level divisions can be collectively referred to as " mainland China ", a term which usually excludes two SARs of Hong Kong and Macau.
The PRC has diplomatic relations with countries and maintains embassies in Its legitimacy is disputed by the Republic of China and a few other countries; it is thus the largest and most populous state with limited recognition. Under its interpretation of the One-China policy , Beijing has made it a precondition to establishing diplomatic relations that the other country acknowledges its claim to Taiwan and severs official ties with the government of the Republic of China.
Chinese officials have protested on numerous occasions when foreign countries have made diplomatic overtures to Taiwan,  especially in the matter of armament sales. Much of current Chinese foreign policy is reportedly based on Premier Zhou Enlai 's Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence , and is also driven by the concept of "harmony without uniformity", which encourages diplomatic relations between states despite ideological differences.
In recent decades, China has played an increasing role in calling for free trade areas and security pacts amongst its Asia-Pacific neighbours. China has had a long and complex trade relationship with the United States. In , the United States Congress approved "permanent normal trade relations" PNTR with China, allowing Chinese exports in at the same low tariffs as goods from most other countries. China has furthermore strengthened its ties with major South American economies, becoming the largest trading partner of Brazil and building strategic links with Argentina.
Ever since its establishment after the second Chinese Civil War , the PRC has claimed the territories governed by the Republic of China ROC , a separate political entity today commonly known as Taiwan, as a part of its territory. These claims are controversial because of the complicated Cross-Strait relations , with the PRC treating the One-China policy as one of its most important diplomatic principles. In addition to Taiwan, China is also involved in other international territorial disputes.
Since the s, China has been involved in negotiations to resolve its disputed land borders, including a disputed border with India and an undefined border with Bhutan. China is additionally involved in multilateral disputes over the ownership of several small islands in the East and South China Seas, such as the Senkaku Islands and the Scarborough Shoal. China is regularly hailed as a potential new superpower , with certain commentators citing its rapid economic progress, growing military might, very large population, and increasing international influence as signs that it will play a prominent global role in the 21st century.
The Chinese democracy movement , social activists, and some members of the Communist Party of China have all identified the need for social and political reform. While economic and social controls have been significantly relaxed in China since the s, political freedom is still tightly restricted.
The Constitution of the People's Republic of China states that the "fundamental rights" of citizens include freedom of speech , freedom of the press , the right to a fair trial , freedom of religion , universal suffrage , and property rights. However, in practice, these provisions do not afford significant protection against criminal prosecution by the state. Rural migrants to China's cities often find themselves treated as second class citizens by the hukou household registration system, which controls access to state benefits.
A number of foreign governments, foreign press agencies, and NGOs also routinely criticize China's human rights record , alleging widespread civil rights violations such as detention without trial, forced abortions ,  forced confessions, torture , restrictions of fundamental rights,   and excessive use of the death penalty. Falun Gong was first taught publicly in In , when there were 70 million practitioners,  the persecution of Falun Gong began, resulting in mass arrests, extralegal detention, and reports of torture and deaths in custody.
The Chinese government has responded to foreign criticism by arguing that the right to subsistence and economic development is a prerequisite to other types of human rights, and that the notion of human rights should take into account a country's present level of economic development. For instance, in November the government announced plans to relax the one-child policy and abolish the much-criticized re-education through labour program,  although human rights groups note that reforms to the latter have been largely cosmetic.
The Global Slavery Index estimated that in more than 3. All except the last category are illegal. The state-imposed forced system was formally abolished in but it is not clear the extent to which its various practices have stopped.