The Lowdown On China: What You Need To Know Before you Go

By: Tom Malone

Before you set sail (or, realistically, take an airplane) to China, be sure to brush up on Chinese culture. Its traditions, values, and lifestyles are vastly different from those of Western culture. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the basics of Chinese geography, history, economics, and government.


In terms of land area, China occupies about the same area as the United States. It borders 15 countries, notably North Korea, Russia, Mongolia, India, and Pakistan.

Since China’s landmass is so large, it contains various types of vegetation zones, climates, and topography. In the East, its land is full of vegetation and its mostly humid lowlands. To the West, the Plateau of Tibet forces the average elevation above 10,000 feet, making the landscape barren. To the North, China features the Gobi Desert and Taklamakan Desert, which are hot and arid. In southern China, the land becomes a humid floodplain.

China’s main rivers are the Yangtze to the South and the Yellow to the North. The Yangtze River begins in the Himalayas and floods regularly. Recently, the construction of the Three Gorges Dam has harnessed massive amounts of hydroelectric power from the river. To the North, the Yellow River provides China’s major cities with transportation routes and irrigation systems.

China’s coastline serves as an asset for international trade. With major port cities, China’s access to the Pacific Ocean makes it an epicenter for globalization.

China contains the highest population of any country in the world, with nearly 1.4 billion citizens. Most of the population congregates along the Pacific Ocean coastline, making the coastal cities densely populated, while most of Northern and Eastern China have low population densities.

Major cities in China include Beijing, its capital, and Shanghai, a cultural center. Hong Kong is another major city, though it remains semi-autonomous (meaning it kind of plays by its own rules).

Mandarin Chinese is the official language of the country, though there are various other dialects of the language that are spoken throughout China. Mandarin Chinese is the most-spoken language in the entire world, with approximately 2 billion speakers.

Buddhism is China’s most-practiced religion, though nearly 5 percent of Chinese citizens identify themselves as Christian. Since China operates under a Communist government system, there is technically supposed to be no religious practices within the country, though recent administrations have loosened their grip on that philosophy.


Warring States
From 770 B.C.E. to 221 B.C.E., China was divided into small city-states led by regional rulers. Overtime, groups of city-states congregated (or were taken over by other city-states) and became small dynasties.

In 221 B.C.E., Emperor Qin conquered the remaining eight smaller dynasties and unified the entire area that we now know as China. In fact, the name “China” refers to the First Emperor, Qin (pronounced Chin).

Emperors and Dynasties
From 221 B.C.E. until 1911 C.E., different emperors and dynastic families ruled over China. After the Qin Dynasty unified China under one emperor, the Han dynasty acquired power that lasted for centuries. Later, the Tang and Song dynasties ruled for about 300 years each.

A dynasty refers to a ruling family in which the son or daughter of the current Emperor will take the place of the Emperor when he or she dies. The title of Emperor is passed down from generation to generation until a military coup occurs, or an Emperor doesn’t have a child.

Emperors had total control of the country. Sometimes, the Emperor would have a court of advisers, but mostly, the Emperor held on to 100 percent of the country’s control.

In 1421, a Chinese explorer named Zheng He captained a fleet of over 20 ships with one mission: explore the entire world. Each of Zheng He’s ships were more than three times the size of Christopher Columbus’ ships. Some ships were so large that they even had indoor farms with room for growing crops and holding livestock.

Zheng He’s fleets likely sailed to every continent. There’s strong evidence that some ships landed in North America and made contact (and possible a small colony) on the California coast. There’s also strong evidence that some of his ships landed in Australia and were shipwrecked for months before being picked up by another ship in their fleet.

Zheng He’s incredible voyage(s) aren’t widely known for two reasons. One: Zheng He’s colonies and missions made China realize that China already had everything it needed to flourish as a culture, so the colonies didn’t last like Europe’s colonies in the Americas did. Two: when Zheng he returned from his voyage, a new dynastic family had taken over. The new Emperor didn’t care about the outside world and adopted a policy of Chinese isolation, so he destroyed much of Zheng he’s records of his incredible voyage.

In 1911, a revolution occurred in which the 5,000-year-old dynastic system was overthrown. The Emperor of China was overtaken and a 38-year period occurred in which government systems were shaky.

Mao Zedong led the Communist Party, while Chiang Kai Shek led the opposing Nationalist party. The Nationalists controlled China for nearly 15 years, until World War II began.

During World War II, Japan conquered China for a few years. After the war, Japan was forced to give up their holdings in China, which left room for another government power struggle to occur.

Mao Zedong’s Communist Party won the Chinese civil war against Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Party in 1949, which began the Communist Era in China, which has lasted until the present day.

Communist Era
Under Mao Zedong, the Communist Party ruled China. Through various initiatives aimed at industrializing China, Mao Zedong ordered family farms to be property of the state government and he enforced a policy that made former farmers into untrained steel-workers. Food supplies ran low and terrible steel accidents occurred.

In 1966, Mao Zedong initiated the Cultural Revolution, in which many older educated Chinese leaders were disposed of in hopes of having the youth run the country with Mao as their idol. Due to food shortage, Cultural Revolution disappearances, and steel accidents, Mao Zedong’s 30-year reign a Chinese Premier ended with the deaths of over 45 million of his own Chinese people.

Since Mao’s death (of natural causes) in 1976, China’s subsequent Communist rulers have loosened the government’s tight grip on its people. Gradually, China has moved from a complete Communist economic system toward a Western-style market economy. With that economic progression, the country has become slightly more socially progressive.


Isolation Effects
For thousands of years, China adopted a policy of isolation, which meant that it didn’t trade with outside cultures. It didn’t need to trade internationally because China is rich in natural resources. As a result, China’s culture remained traditional and relatively unchanged for centuries until the Open Door Policy of the early 1900s, when China “opened its doors” to international trade.

  • $1.96 Trillion
  • Machinery
  • Fuels
  • Vehicles

  • $2.343 Trillion
  • Data Processing Equipment
  • Apparel
  • Furniture
  • Ingrained Circuits

Unemployment Rate
  • 4.1 percent

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
  • $18.09 Trillion
  • $13,200 (per capita)

Major Trading Partners
  • United States
  • South Korea
  • Japan

  • Yuan
  • 1 US Dollar = 6.57 Yuan


Current Government
  • Type: Communist State
  • Capital City: Beijing
  • States: 23 Provinces (plus 5 Autonomous Regions and 4 Municipalities)
  • Independence Day: October 1, 1949 (People’s Republic of China is formed)
    • 221 B.C.E. - China is united under the Qin (Chin) Dynasty; hence the name: China
  • Chief of State: President
  • Head of Government: Premier
  • Three Branches of Government:
    • Executive (elected by National People’s Congress, which is the Legislative Branch)
    • Legislative (only members of Communist Party are elected)
    • Judicial
  • Major Political Parties: One - Communist Party
    • This means that no recognized political opposition exists within the state

Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens
  • Males between ages 18 and 24 must register for selective military service (much like the United States). If selected, they would serve a mandatory two-year term.
  • Women can enlist for combat roles (a recent change)
  • Former one-child law allowed families only one child (no more)
Post A Comment
  • Blogger Comment using Blogger
  • Facebook Comment using Facebook
  • Disqus Comment using Disqus

No comments :