The People's Republic of China (PRC), commonly known as China, is the most populous state in the world with over 1.3 billion people. Located in East Asia, China is a single-party state governed by the Communist Party of China (CPC). The PRC exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four directly administered municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, andChongqing), and two highly autonomous special administrative regions (SARs) – Hong Kong and Macau. Its capital city is Beijing.
At about 9.6 million square kilometres (3.7 million square miles), the PRC is the world's third- or fourth-largest country by total area(depending on the definition of what is included in that total) and the second largest by land area. Its landscape is diverse, withforest steppes and deserts (the Gobi and Taklamakan) in the dry north near Mongolia and Russia's Siberia, and subtropical forests in the wet south close to Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. The terrain in the west is rugged and at high altitude, with the Himalayas and theTian Shan mountain ranges forming China's natural borders with India and Central Asia. In contrast, mainland China's eastern seaboard is low-lying and has a 14,500-kilometre (9,000 mi) long coastline bounded on the southeast by the South China Sea and on the east by the East China Sea beyond which lie Taiwan, Korea, and Japan.
The ancient Chinese civilization—one of the world's earliest—flourished in the fertile basin of the Yellow River which flows through theNorth China Plain. For more than 6,000 years, China's political system was based on hereditary monarchies (also known asdynasties). The first of these dynasties was the Xia (approx 2000BC) but it was the later Qin Dynasty that first unified China in 221 BC. The last dynasty, the Qing, ended in 1911 with the founding of the Republic of China (ROC) by the Kuomintang (KMT), the Chinese Nationalist Party. The first half of the 20th century saw China plunged into a period of disunity and civil wars that divided the country into two main political camps – the Kuomintang and the communists. Major hostilities ended in 1949, when the communists won the civil war and established the People's Republic of China in mainland China. The KMT-led Republic of China relocated their capital toTaipei on Taiwan; its jurisdiction is now limited to Taiwan, Kinmen, Matsu and several outlying islands. Since then, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has been involved in political disputes with the Republic of China over issues of sovereignty and the political status of Taiwan.
Since the introduction of market-based economic reforms in 1978, China has become the world's fastest growing major economy, the world's largest exporter and second largest importer of goods. China is the world's second largest economy by both nominal GDPand purchasing power parity (PPP) and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. It is also a member of formal/informal multilateral organizations including the WTO, APEC, BRIC, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and G-20. China is arecognized nuclear weapons state and has the world's largest standing army with the second-largest defense budget. China has been characterized as a potential superpower by a number of academics, military analysts, and public policy and economics analysts.