China is the world's most populous country, with a population of over 1.35 billion. Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometres. China's landscape is vast and diverse, ranging from forest steppes and the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts in the arid north to subtropical forests in the wetter south. The Himalaya, Karakoram, Pamir and Tian Shan mountain ranges separate China from South and Central Asia. The Yangtze and Yellow Rivers run from the Tibetan Plateau to the densely populated eastern seaboard.
The ancient Chinese civilization flourished in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. For millennia, China's political system was based on hereditary monarchies, known as dynasties, beginning with the semi-mythological Xia of the Yellow River basin (c. 2000 before Jesus Christ)). Since 221 BCE, the Qin Dynasty conquered several states to form a Chinese empire. Thus the country has expanded, fractured and been reformed numerous times. Today, China has become the world's fastest-growing major economy. The city of Shanghai has become a symbol of China's rapid economic expansion since the 1990s.
China officially recognizes 56 distinct ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Han Chinese, who constitute about 91.50% of the total population. The Han Chinese – the world's largest single ethnic group – outnumber other ethnic groups in every provincial-level division except Tibet and Xinjiang.
The languages most spoken in China belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family. There are also several major linguistic groups within the Chinese language itself. The most spoken varieties are Mandarin (the first language of over 70% of the population), Wu (includes Shanghainese), Yue (includes Cantonese and Taishanese), Min (includes Hokkien and Teochew), Xiang, Gan, and Hakka. Non-Sinitic languages spoken widely by ethnic minorities include Zhuang, Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur, Hmong and Korean. 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 between people of different linguistic backgrounds.
The country has dozens of cities with one million or more long-term residents, including the three global cities of Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai; by 2025, the country will be home to 221 cities with over a million inhabitants.
Gardens of Light. The night reveals its secrets at the Chinese Garden of Montreal. Photo : © Univers.GrandQuebec.com