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The Geography of China





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total: 9,596,961 sq km
country comparison to the world: 4
land: 9,569,901 sq km
water: 27,060 sq km
Area - comparative:
slightly smaller than the US
Land boundaries:
total: 22,117 km
border countries: Afghanistan 76 km, Bhutan 470 km, Burma 2,185 km, India 3,380 km, Kazakhstan 1,533 km, North Korea 1,416 km, Kyrgyzstan 858 km, Laos 423 km, Mongolia 4,677 km, Nepal 1,236 km, Pakistan 523 km, Russia (northeast) 3,605 km, Russia (northwest) 40 km, Tajikistan 414 km, Vietnam 1,281 km
regional borders: Hong Kong 30 km, Macau 0.34 km
14,500 km
Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin
Current Weather
extremely diverse; tropical in south to subarctic in north
mostly mountains, high plateaus, deserts in west; plains, deltas, and hills in east
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Turpan Pendi -154 m
highest point: Mount Everest 8,850 m
Natural resources:
coal, iron ore, petroleum, natural gas, mercury, tin, tungsten, antimony, manganese, molybdenum, vanadium, magnetite, aluminum, lead, zinc, uranium, hydropower potential (world's largest)
Land use:
arable land: 14.86%
permanent crops: 1.27%
other: 83.87% (2005)
Irrigated land:
545,960 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources:
2,829.6 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):
total: 549.76 cu km/yr (7%/26%/68%)
per capita: 415 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards:
frequent typhoons (about five per year along southern and eastern coasts); damaging floods; tsunamis; earthquakes; droughts; land subsidence
Environment - current issues:
air pollution (greenhouse gases, sulfur dioxide particulates) from reliance on coal produces acid rain; water shortages, particularly in the north; water pollution from untreated wastes; deforestation; estimated loss of one-fifth of agricultural land since 1949 to soil erosion and economic development; desertification; trade in endangered species
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note:
world's fourth largest country (after Russia, Canada, and US); Mount Everest on the border with Nepal is the world's tallest peak



China's topography is varied and complicated, with towering mountains, basins of different sizes, undulating plateaus and hills, and flat and fertile plains.

A bird's eye view of China would indicate that China's terrain descends in four steps from west to east.

The top of this four-step "staircase" is the Qinhai-Tibet Plateau.  Averaging more than 4,000 m above sea level, it is often called the "roof of the world."  Rosomg 8,848 m above sea level is Mt. Qomolangma, the world's highest peak and the main peak of the Himalayas.

The second step includes the Inner Mongolia, Loess and Yunnan-Guizhou plateaus, and the Tarim, Junggar and Sichuan basins, with an average elevation of between 1,000 m and 2,000 m.

The third step, about 500 - 1,000 m in elevation, begins at a line drawn around the Greater Hinggan, Taihang, Wushan and Xuefeng mountain ranges and extends eastward to the coast.  Here, from north to south are the Northeast Plain, the North China Plain and the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain.  Interspersed amongst the plains are hills and foothills.

To the east, the land extends out into the ocean, in a continental shelf, the fourth step of the staircase.  The water here is less than 200 m deep.


China abounds in rivers.  More than 1,500 rivers each drain 1,000 sq km or larger areas.  More than 2,700 billion cu m of water flow along these rivers, 5.8 percent of the world's total.  Most of the large rivers find their source in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and as a result China is rich in waterpower resources, leading the world in hydropower potential, with reserves of 680 million kw.

China's rivers can be categorized as exterior and interior systems.  The catchment area for the exterior rivers that empty into the oceans accounts for 64 percent of the country's total land area.  The Yangtze, Tello, Heilongjiang, Peal, Liaohe, Haihe, Huaihe, and Lancang rivers flow east, and empty into the Pacific Ocean.  The Yarlungzangbo River in Tibet, which flows first east and then south into the Indian Ocean, boasts the Grand Yarlungzangbo Canyon, the largest canyon in the world, 504.6 km long and 6.009 m deep.

The Ertix River flows from the Xingjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to the Artic Ocean.  The catchment area for the interior rivers that flow into inland lakes or disappear into deserts or salt marshes makes up 36 percent of China's total land area.  Its 2,179 km make the Tarim River in southern Xinjiang Chian's longest interior river.

The Yangtze is the largest river in China, and the third-longest in the world, next only to the Nile in northeast Africa and the Amazon in South America.  It is 6.300 km long and has a catchment area of 1.809 million sq km.  The middle and lower Yangtze River's warm and humid climate, plentiful rainfall and fertile soil make the area an important agricultural region.

Known as the "golden waterway," the Yangtze is a transportation artery linking west and east.  The Yellow River is the second-largest river in China, 5,464 km in length, with a catchment area of 752,000 sq km.  The Yellow River valley was one of the birthplaces of ancient Chinese civilization.  It has lush pastureland and abundant mineral deposits.  The Heilongjiang River is north China's largest.

It has a total length of 4.350 km, of which 3,101 km are within China.  The Pearl River is the largest river in south China, with a total length of 2.214 km.  In addition to those endowed by nature, China has a famous man-made river - the Grand Canal, running from Beijing in the north to Hangzhou in the south.  Work first began on the Grand Canal as early as in the fifth century B.C.

It links five major rivers - the Haihe, Yellow, Huaihe, Yangtze and Qiantang.  With a total length of 1,801 km, the Grand Canal is the longest as well as the oldest man-made waterway in the world.

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China has a marked continental monsoonal climate characterized by great variety.  Northerly winds prevail in winter, while southerly winds reign in summer.  The four seasons are quite distinct.  The rainy season coincides with the hot season.

 From September to April the following year, the dry and cold winter monsoons from Siberia and Mongolia in the north gradually become weak as they reach the southern part of the country, resulting in cold and dry winters and great differences in temperature.  The cold summer monsoons last from April to September.

The warm and moist summer monsoons from the oceans bring abundant rainfall and high temperatures, with little difference in temperature between the south and the north.  China's complex and varied climate results in a great variety of temperature belts, and dry and moist zones.

In terms of temperature, the nation can be sectored from the south to north into equatorial, tropical, sub-tropical, warm-temperate, temperate, and cold-temperate zones; in terms of moisture, it can be sectored from southeast to northwest into humid (32 percent of land area), semi0humid (15 percent), semi-arid (22 percent) and arid zones (31 percent).


The composition and distribution of China's land resources have three major characteristics: (1) variety in type- cultivated land, forests, grasslands, deserts and tide-land; (2) many more mountains and plateaus than flatlands and basins; (3) unbalanced distribution: farmland mainly concentrated in the east, grasslands largely in the west and north, and forests mostly in the far northeast and southwest.

In China today, 108 million ha of land are cultivated, mainly in the Northeast Plain, the North China Plain, the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain, the Pearl River Delta Plain and the Sichuan Basin.  The fertile black soil of the Northeast Plain is ideal for growing wheat, corn, sorghum, soybeans, flax and sugar beets.

The deep, brown topsoil of the North China Plain in planted with wheat, corn, millet, sorghum and cotton.  The Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain's many lakes and rivers make is particularly suitable for paddy rice and freshwater fish, hence its designation of "land of fish and rice."  This area also produces large quantities of tea and silkworms.  The purplish soil of the warm and humid Sichuan Basin is green with crops in all four seasons, including paddy rice, rapeseed and tangerines.

Forests blanket 128,63 million ha of China.  The Greater Hinggan, the Lesser Hinggan and the Changbai mountain ranges in the northeast are China's largest natural forest areas.  Major tree species found here include conifers, such as Korea pine, larch and Olga Bay larch, and the broadleaves such as white birch, oak, willow, elm and Northeast China ash.

Major tree species of the southwest include the dragon spruce, fir and Yunnan pine, as well as precious teak trees, red sandalwood, camphor trees, manmu and padauk.  Often called a "kingdom of plants," Xishuangbanna is southern Yunnan Province is a rarity in that it is a tropical broadleaf forest playing host to more than 5,000 plant species.

Grasslands in China cover an area of 400 million ha, stretching more than 3,000 km from the northeast to the southwest.  They are the centers of animal husbandry.  The Inner Mongolian Prairie is China's largest natural pastureland, and home to Sanhe horses, Sanhe cattle and Mongolian sheep.

  The famous natural pasturelands north and south of the Tianshan Mountains in Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang are ideal for stock breeding.  The famous Ili horses and Xinjiang fine-wool sheep are raised here.

China's cultivated lands, forest and grasslands are among the world's largest in terms of sheer area.  But due to China's large population, the areas of cultivated land, forest and grassland per capita are small, especially in the case of cultivated land--less than 0.08 ha per capita, or only one third of the world's average.

China is rich in mineral resources, and all the world's known minerals can be found here.  To date, geologists have confirmed reserves of 151 different minerals, putting China third in the world in total reserves.  Proven reserves of energy sources include coal, petroleum, natural gas, and oil shale; and radioactive minerals include uranium and thorium.

  China's coal reserves total 1,002.49 billion tons, mainly distributed in north China, with Shanxi and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region taking the lead.  Petroleum reserves are mainly in northwest and also in northeast China, north China and the continental shelves in east China.  Proven reserves of ferrous metals include iron, manganese, vanadium and titanium.

China's 46.35 billion tons of iron ore are mainly distributed in northeast, north and southwest China.  The Anshan-Benxi Area in Liaoning, east Hebei and Panzhihua in Sichuan are major iron producers.  China has the world's largest reserves of tungsten, tin, antimony, zinc, molybdenum, lead, mercury and other nonferrous metals; its reserves of rare earth metals far exceed the total for the rest of the world.


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