China occupies by far the major part of the mainland of eastern Asia. The People’s Republic of China lies between latitudes 18° and 54°N and longitudes 71° and 135°E – extending from the Pamir Mountains in the west to the Pacific Ocean, or more precisely the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and the South China Sea, in the east.
This huge country is bordered in the west by Tadzhikistan, in the north-west by Kirgizstan, in the north by Mongolia and in the northeast by Russia. On the eastern coast lies the Korean peninsula and China shares a common border with North Korea. In the south-east, the country is bordered by Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) and further west by India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The island of Hainan, situated off the mainland in the South China Sea, is a province of the People’s Republic of China, while Taiwan (Formosa) regarded by the Chinese as an integral part (the 23rd province) of the People’s Republic – now very much Western-oriented calls itself the “Republic of China”. On the south-east coast, off the Pearl river estuary, lie Hong Kong, a British Crown Colony, and Macau, a Chinese territory under Portuguese administration.
“Ten thousand rivers, a thousand mountains” was how Mao Zedong once described his country and these features do indeed dominate the Chinese landscape. They have played a significant role in shaping the history of Chinese civilisation, the economy, human relationships, trade and the country’s culture. They define the many and varied regions of the Chinese sub-continent.
With a total surface area of 9,627,343sq.km/3,716,154sq. miles, China’s area is roughly equivalent to that of Europe and is only exceeded by that of Canada. At its widest point the greatest distance between the eastern and western borders equals 4400km/2725 miles, while from north to south it measures about 4100km/2500 miles.
The land borders extend for 28,000km/17,300 miles and the coast covers more than 20,000km/12,400 miles. The current borders have evolved over thousands of years and countless wars.