The People's Republic of China (PRC), commonly known as China, is a country in East Asia. It is the most populous state in the world with over 1.3 billion people. China is ruled by the Communist Party of China (CPC) under a single-party system. The PRC exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four directly administered municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing), and two highly autonomous special administrative regions (SARs) - Hong Kong and Macau. The PRC's capital 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, with forest 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 the Tian 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 long coastline bounded on the southeast by the South China Sea and on the east by the East China Sea beyond which lies 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 the North China Plain. For more than 4,000 years, China's political system was based on hereditary monarchies (also known as dynasties). 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.
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