China, located in East Asia, is the third largest country in the world in terms of area (after Russia and Canada) and the world's most populous nation, with a population of more than 1 billion, or nearly one-fourth of the world's total. Its coastline, bordering on the Yellow, East China, and South China seas, is about 12,000 km (7,500 mi) long. China shares a land border of about 21,260 km (13,210 mi) with 14 other countries: North Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhistan, Kyrghyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and Vietnam. Other neighbors include Hong Kong and Macao, and the offshore island of Taiwan.
China disputes the ownership of the SPRATLEY ISLANDS and the Parcel Islands. The official name of China is Zhongua Renmin Gongheguo (Chung-hua Jen-min Kung-ho-kuo), or the People's Republic of China. The republic was established in 1949, but the name China, which is commonly used by foreigners, is probably derived from the QIN (Ch'in) dynasty (221-206 BC), which first unified the nation. The Chinese themselves use the name Zhongua (Chung hua; Middle Country), which originated with the early Chinese concept that China was the center of the world. China is divided into 23 provinces (including Taiwan) and 5 autonomous border regions, where other ethnic groups constitute a majority of the population. For ease of reference the provinces and autonomous regions are usually grouped into 6 large administrative regions. These units are as follows:
(1) the Northeastern Region, which includes the provinces of Heilungkiang (Heilongjiang), Jilin (Kirin), and Liaoning (see MANCHURIA); (2) the Northern Region, which includes the provinces of HEBEI (Hopei) and SHANXI (Shansi), the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (Nei Menggu Zizhigu; see INNER MONGOLIA), and the centrally controlled municipalities of BEIJING (Peking) and TIANJIN (Tientsin); (3) the Eastern Region, which includes the provinces of SHANDONG (Shantung), JIANGXI (Kiangsi), JIANGSU (Kiangsu), ANHUI (Anhwei), ZHEJIANG (Chekiang), and FUJIAN (Fukien), and the centrally controlled municipality of SHANGHAI; (4) the South Central Region, which includes the provinces of HAINAN, HENAN (Honan), HUBEI (Hupei), HUNAN, and GUANGDONG (Kwangtung), and the Guangxi Zhuang (Kwangsi Chuang) Autonomous Region; (5) the Southwestern Region, which includes the provinces of SICHUAN (Szechwan), GUIZHOU (Kweichow), and YUNNAN, and the Xizang (Tibetan) Autonomous Region; ((see TIBET); (6) the Northwestern Region, which includes the provinces of SHAANXI (Shensi), GANSU (Kansu), and QINGHAI (Tsinghai) and the Xinjiang Uygur (Sinkiang Uighur) Autonomous Region.
China's written history begins during the 16th century BC with the SHANG dynasty (c.1600-c.1027 BC). Since then, China has been ruled, until modern times, by a series of dynasties. After the fall of the QING (Ch'ing or Manchu) dynasty in 1912, a republic was established. China is a multiracial state whose population includes about 94% Han Chinese and about 6% of some 60 other ethnic groups, the largest being HUIS, MONGOLS, Uygur, Zhuang, Yis, Tibetans (Zang), Miaos, Manchus, Pu-is (Pu yi), and Koreans. National autonomous regions, districts, or counties have been established in areas where these ethnic groups are concentrated. China's languages are classified into four major linguistic families: the SINO-TIBETAN, URAL-ALTAIC, INDO-EUROPEAN, and MON-KHMER. Mandarin dialects, the largest group of the Sino-Tibetan family, are spoken by about two-thirds of China's population. The Mandarin Peking dialect is now China's national spoken language.
The Ural-Altaic linguistic family includes the Turkic linguistic groups (Kazakh, Kirghiz, Uzbek, Salar, and Uygur), Mongolic groups (Meng, Tu, Dongziang, Baoyin, and Daghurs), and Tungusic groups (Manchu, Evenki, Orochon Gold, and Xibe). The Mon-Khmer linguistic family of Southeast Asia is represented in Yunnan province by the Wa (Kawa), the Puland (Palaung), and the Penglung. The Indo-European linguistic family is represented only by Tajik speakers.
Traditionally, the major religions found in China were BUDDHISM and TAOISM. Most Chinese also believed in ANCESTOR WORSHIP and CONFUCIANISM, a system of social and political values. Muslim and Christian (primarily Roman Catholic) minorities were also important.