Geography of China
Xiaobing Li, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Department of History and Geography
Director, Western Pacific Institute
University of Central Oklahoma
Lesson Plan (November 22)
• Lesson One: Physical Geography
(Central Kingdom)
• Lesson Two: Human Geography
(Ethnic Groups)
• Lesson Three: Manufactured Landscapes
(Three Gorges Dam and More)
• Lesson Four: Environment and Pollution
(Ecological Problems)
Lesson One: Physical Geography
(Middle Kingdom)
Chapter 1: Physical Patterns
Chapter 2: China and Bordering Countries
Chapter 3: Disputed Territories
Chapter 4: Disputed Islands
Chapter 1: Physical Patterns (PRC)
Chapter 1: Physical Patterns (PRC)
• China is the fourth largest country in the world
with a total area of 3.69 million sq. miles,
slightly smaller than the U.S. Its southeastern
coast faces the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and
South China Sea with a coastline of 10,800
miles and 5,000 islands off the coast.
Chapter 1: Physical Patterns (ROC)
• Taiwan (Formosa, or the Republic of China,
ROC), as the largest island, is separated from
the mainland by the 120-mile Taiwan Strait.
Its total land areas are about 12,000 sq. miles.
Lesson One: Physical Geography
Chapter 1: Physical Patterns
Rivers and water conservancy
Climate and natural disasters
Environment and pollution
Chapter 1: Physical Patterns
(1) Landforms
Chapter 1: Physical Patterns
(2) Mountains
Himalaya Mountains
Tianshan Mountains
Kunlun Mountains
Qinling Mountains
Changbai Mountains
Chapter 1: Physical Patterns
(3) Plateaus
• Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (or the Tibetan Plateau)
known as the “roof of the world”
• Inner Mongolian Plateau
• Loess Plateau
• Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau
Chapter 1: Physical Patterns
(4) Plains
Northeast Plain
North China Plain
Middle Yangzi Valley Plain
Lower Yangzi Valley Plain
Chapter 1: Physical Patterns
(5) Rivers and Water Conservancy
Yangzi (Yangtze, or Changjiang) River
Huanghe (Yellow) River
Heilong (Amur) River
Zhujiang (Pearl) River
Tarim River
Yarlung Zangbo (Brahmaputra) River
Beijing (Peking)-Hangzhou Canal
Yangzi River
Yangzi River: Upper Reaches
Yangzi River: Lower Reaches
Chapter 1: Physical Patterns
(6) Climate and Natural Disasters
Southern tropical zone
Southeast sub-tropical zone
Eastern warm temperature zone
Northwest and Northeast dry and subarctic
cold zone
• Western Tibetan high plateau cold zone
Chapter 1: Physical Patterns
(7) Natural Resources
Crude oil
Natural gas
Lead, uranium, vanadium
Bauxite, magnetite, mercury, natural graphite,
tin, vanadium, and zinc
Lesson One: Physical Geography
Chapter 2: China and Its Bordering Countries
Neighboring Countries with the PRC
To the East:
• North Korea
• South Korea
• Japan
Bordering Countries with the PRC
To the North and Northwest:
Bordering Countries with the PRC
To the West and Northwest:
Neighboring Countries with the PRC
To the South and Southwest:
• Vietnam
• Laos
• Myanmar (Burma)
Taiwan (Republic of China, ROC)
Lesson One: Physical Geography
Chapter 3: Disputed Territories
• Russia
• India
• Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia
• Japan
Chinese-Russian Border
Chapter 3: Disputed Territories
(1) Russo-Chinese Border Conflict
• Land borders about 4,150 miles
• 1972 border conflicts
• 1994 Sino-Russian Agreement (2,575 miles)
Areas currently controlled by the PRC and ROC
Larger version
(2) Sino-Indian Border Conflict
Himalayan Mountains
229,500 sq. miles
1,500 miles long
Mt. Everest 29,029 feet
Chapter 3: Disputed Territories
(2) Sino-Indian Border Conflict
• 1959 Dalai Lama flees to India
• 1962 Sino-Indian Border War
• 1993 Agreement of the LAC
Dalai Lama Meets President Obama
Chapter 3: Disputed Territories
(3) Sino-Vietnamese Wars
• 1979 Sino-Vietnamese Border War
• 1982 Sino-Vietnamese Border War
• 1985-1991 Sino-Vietnamese Border War
Chapter 4: Disputed Islands
Disputed Islands in South China Sea
Chapter 4: Disputed Islands
(1) Sino-Vietnamese Naval Wars
• 1974 Sino-SVN (ROV) Naval War
• 1982 Sino-SRV Naval War
• 1991 Sino-SRV Naval War
Disputed Islands in South China Sea
Paracel and Spratly Islands
Chinese Gunboat in the Vietnam War
Chinese gunboats in South China Sea
Chapter 4: Disputed Islands
(2) Senkaku Islands
Senkaku Islands
Lesson Two: Human Geography
(Ethnic Groups)
Chapter 1: Major Ethnic Minorities
Chapter 2: Minority Regions and Cultures
Chapter 3: Minorities and Religions
Chapter 4: Between the Center and the Region
Chapter 1: Major Ethnic Groups
• Minority population: 112 million in 2014
• About 8.5 percent of the national total
• From 55 officially recognized ethnic groups
Chapter 1: Major Ethnic Groups
• 1982: 67 million, about 6.7 percent of the
national total
• 1995: 108.5 million, about 8 percent in 1995,
according to the national census
• 112 million, about 8.5 percent in 2014
Chapter 1: Major Ethnic Groups
15 ethnic groups has populations in excess of one
17 million
12 million
10 million
10 million
8 million
7 million
5 million
Chapter 1: Major Ethnic Groups
5 million
4 million
3 million
3 million
2 million
2 million
2 million
1 million
Chapter 2: Five Minority Regions
• Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (GZAR)
• Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR)
• Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
• Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR)
• Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (NHAR)
(1) Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
• Guangxi is a southwestern frontier province
bordering with Vietnam
• GZAR, in 1958
• Zhuang nationalities take up one-third of the
total provincial population of 49 million
• Miao, Yao, Dai, and Bai live on plains, hillsides,
and remote mountainous areas
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
(2) Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region
• Xinjiang is a border region in northwest China
and the hinterland of the Eurasian continent
• covering approximately 641,000 square miles,
or one-sixth of the total Chinese territory
• It became XUAR in 1955 for the Uyghur
• Capital: Urumqi
(2) Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region
• Among its total population of 20 million
people are 12 million minorities, including the
Uyghur, Kazak, Hui, Mongolian, Kirgiz, Tajik,
Uzbek, and Tartar peoples.
• The Uyghur comprise 43 percent of its
• And 99 percent of the Chinese Uyghur live in
(3) Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
• Tibet (Xizang) became TAR for Tibetans in
• 889,000 square miles in the southwest,
approximately 20 percent of the country’s
total land surface
• The total population of 3 million includes
Tibetans, Moinba, Lhoba, and Naxi ethnic
Areas currently controlled by the PRC and ROC
Larger version
Australian Liam Phelan, left and
American Han Shan of New York
from holding up a banner
(4) Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
• Ningxia is a northwestern province with a total
territory of 25,500 square miles and
population of 6.3 million in 2010.
• The Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (NHAR)
was founded in October 1958 with Yinchuan
as its capital to set aside for the Hui people.
The Hui People
• The majority of the Hui people looks like the
Han Chinese, speaks Chinese, and uses similar
Chinese names except they practice Islam.
• It is unique that the Hui nationality is the only
ethnic minority in China that does not have
non-Sinitic language.
The Hui People
They follow Islamic dietary laws and do not
consume pork. Hui males wear white caps
and females have headscarves or veils as the
case in many Islamic cultures.
Chapter 3: Minorities and Religions
• Muslims
• the Muslim population in China had increased
from 14 million in 1982, to 21 million in 2000,
and estimated 32 million in 2014. Most of
them are Sunni Muslim, worshiping in 30,000
mosques and served by 40,000 Imams and
Akhunds, each mosque having around 1,160
• Among the traditional religions, Islam is not
only popular, but also represents the different
ways of life and forms some major ethnic
groups in China. Islam has ten minority groups
among its adherents.
• The Hui and Uygur are the two major
nationalities with their populations of 7.2
million Hui and 6 million Uygur in 1982, 10
million Hui and 8.5 million Uygur in 2000, and
estimated 14 million Hui and 12 million Uygur
in 2014.
Tibetan Buddhists
• According to official reports, there are over
1,700 venues for Tibetan Buddhist activities,
and approximately 46,000 resident monks and
nuns. Nevertheless, the Chinese government
maintains control of religious exercises
through a registration process and through
national organizations.
Tibetan Buddhists
• Among the five officially recognized religions
is the Buddhist Association of China. All local
groups must incorporate themselves into
these national institutions. Additionally,
teachings in these associations are monitored
and sometimes modified by the government.
Tibetan Buddhists
• The government also maintains control
through leadership choices. The Chinese
authorities, for example, have the power to
ensure that no new Living Buddha can be
identified. After the Panchen Lama died in
1989, the search began in Tibet to locate a
soul boy as the reincarnation of the Panchen
Lama and as a new Living Buddha for Tibetan
Tibetan Buddhists
• The Dalai Lama followed Tibetan Buddhist
tradition and completed the search in May
1995. The spiritual leader of Tibetan
Buddhism announced that the search had
identified the eleventh reincarnation of the
Panchen Lama. The Chinese government
denied the recommendation by the Dalai
Lama in America.
Dalai Lama Meets President Obama
Tibetan Buddhists
• The government continues to exercise political
control over Buddhist exercises in Tibet,
including the restriction of religious study
before age eighteen, the expulsion of
unapproved monks from monasteries, by
implementing quotas on the total number of
monks, in an attempt to reduce the spiritual
population, and by forced recitation of
patriotic scripts in support of the Chinese
Tibetan Buddhists
• In March 2008, a large-scale Buddhist
demonstration began in Tibet and several
surrounding provinces on the 49th anniversary
of the 1959 uprising in Tibet against the PRC
Central Government.
Tibetan Buddhists
• On March 14, the protest in Lhasa turned
violent between Tibetans and non-Tibetan
groups and between protesters and police. By
March 17, the Tibetan governor announced
that 16 people had been confirmed dead and
200 were injured due to the violence.
Tibetan Buddhists
• On March 28, the government confirmed that
28 civilians and one police officer were dead,
and 325 civilians were injured, 58 of whom
were critically wounded. In addition, 241
police officers were injured. According to the
India-based Tibetan government-in-exile,
more than 220 Tibetans were killed in the
crackdown after March 14, and the Chinese
government arrested over 7,000 Tibetans
from various parts of Tibet.
The People’s Armed Police (PAP)
31 armies, about 1 million troops
– Including
– 508 regiments
– 42 artillery, tank, helicopter regiments
– 35 chemical, engineering, and transport regiments
– 32 command academies
– 29 hospitals
Chapter 4: Between the Central
Government and Local Autonomy
• Even though the Muslims are the “majority” in
XUAR, they do not have a dominant influence in
government. Local policies result from the
support and concern of the Han Chinesecontrolled regional and central governments.
Neither Hui nor Uyghur are unable to exercise
significant legislative or administrative power to
carry out self-governance in their own
Chapter 4: Between the Central
Government and Local Autonomy
• The government maintains control of religious
exercises through a registration process and
national organizations. All Islamic groups
must be registered with the authorities, and,
while recognizing the right to believe, limits
worship to a state-controlled system of
registered and controlled mosques,
monasteries, and temples.
Chapter 4: Between the Central
Government and Local Autonomy
• Among the five officially recognized religions
is the Islamic Association of China. All local
groups must incorporate themselves into the
national institution. Additionally, teachings in
these associations are monitored and
sometimes modified by the government.
Chapter 4: Between the Central
Government and Local Autonomy
• It further scrutinizes their membership,
financial records, and employees. The national
organization retains the right to approve or
deny applications for any sub-group activities.
Those who fail to register are considered
illegal and may be subject to criminal
prosecution, fines, and closure.
Chapter 4: Between the Central
Government and Local Autonomy
• In November 2004, top Chinese officials in the
XUAR government called for an intensification of
“ideological work” among the ethnic Uyghur
university students. Local officials were also
ordered to report anyone fasting during the
month of Ramadan. According to the Five Pillars
of Islam, there are five practices every Muslim
must follow: witness, pray, give alms, fast during
the month of Ramadan, and make a pilgrimage to
Mecca, the city of the prophet, where certain
rituals must be completed by the believer at
specific times.
Chapter 4: Between the Central
Government and Local Autonomy
• In most Islamic countries, restaurants remain
closed from dawn to dusk during Ramadan,
when the majority of the adult population is
fasting. This is not, however, the case in
Xinjiang. City officials ensure that restaurants
stay open, and college administrators must
report anyone who participates. In many
grade schools, before the children leave
school, they receive free candy to eat.
Chapter 4: Between the Central
Government and Local Autonomy
• In June 2007, Xinjiang authorities began to
collect Muslims’ passports in order to prevent
them from making non-state-approved
pilgrimages to Mecca. The XUAR government
also indoctrinates clerics, civil servants, and
teachers against the “three evil forces”—
separatism, religious extremism, and
A Uyghur man walks past armed police
Chapter 4: Between the Central
Government and Local Autonomy
• On July 5, 2009, more than 1,000 Uyghur
demonstrators gathered in the commercial
center of Urumqi, the capital city of XUAR,
protesting the government’s handling of the
death of two Uyghur workers and demanding
a full investigation of the killings.
Chapter 4: Between the Central
Government and Local Autonomy
• After confrontations with police, the peaceful
demonstration escalated into riots from July 5-7.
PAP (People’s Armed Police) and city police
attempted to quell the rioters with tear gas,
water hoses, armored vehicles, and roadblocks,
while the XUAR government imposed a curfew in
Urumqi. The riots continued when hundreds of
Han people clashed with both police and
Uyghurs. According to the government reports,
197 people died and 1,721 others were injured
during the two-day riot.
Lesson Three: Manufactured
• Chapter 1: Three Gorges Dam
• Chapter 2: Factories, Highways, and More
• Chapter 3: Urbanization
Chapter 1: Three Gorges Dam
• The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has,
since 2012, and second only to the United
States, the next largest economy in the world
due to its rapid growth of the past 20 years.
• China’s GDP had an annual growth rate of 712 percent between 1994 and 2014.
China’s GDP Growth (1994-2014)
• 1994
$559 billion
• 1999
$1,083 billion
• 2004
$1.9 trillion
• 2009
$4.9 trillion
• 2013
$9.3 trillion
(or $13.39 trillion as purchasing power parity,
the US GDP-PPP was $16 trillion; and Japan’s
was $5 trillion).
Chiefs of state
U.S.-China Relations
Four Ts
• Trade
• Taiwan
• Tibet (Xizang)
• Technology of the People’s Liberation Army
Chapter 1: Three Gorges Dam
• The Three Gorges Dam, 555 feet high and
6,927 feet long, the largest dam in the world,
is part of a hydroelectric project over the
middle reaches of the Yangzi (Yangtze) River in
the city of Yichang, central Hubei province.
The project started in 1994 and was
completed in 2006 with a total cost of $25
Map of the Three Gorges Dam
The Three Gorges Reservoir
• Its dam reservoir is about 410 miles long
• About the distance from Los Angeles to San
• A surface area of 403 sq. miles
The Three Gorges Reservoir
• It contains 5 trillion gallons of water
• During the dry season between November
and May, the power plant reduces its output
• Increase it to high level during the rainy
Three Gorges Dam
Chapter 1: Three Gorges Dam
The Flooded Areas
• Flooded 244 sq. miles of land
• Destroyed archaeological and cultural sites
• Displaced more than 1.3 million people
The Flooded Areas
• Submerged 13 cities
• Flooded 150 towns
• destroyed 1,410 villages
Chapter 1: Three Gorges Dam
Environmental Disaster
• The forestation in the Three Gorges area has
been reduced from 25 percent coverage before
the construction of the dam to less than 10
percent thereafter. The reduction of the forested
areas has threatened wildlife in the region, where
hundreds of terrestrial animal species and
freshwater fish were habitants, and many were
already endangered species.
Chapter 1: Three Gorges Dam
Environmental Disaster
• The government agrees that the dam
construction has caused the extinction of
some species. The critiques also believe that
the dam has caused significant ecological
changes, including water pollution, an
increase of landslides, mudslides, and
Chapter 2: Factories and Highways
• Chinese roads and highways have also grown
rapidly in recent decades, extending into rural
areas, making most localities accessible, and
carrying 769 trillion passenger-km and 11.6
billion tons of freight in 2003.
Chapter 2: Highways
The total public road network in China totaled
2.39 million miles by the end of 2010, including
60,273 miles of highway, making China’s the
longest highway network in the world (ahead of
the U.S.) in 2012.
President Xi and First Lady
Chapter 2: Railways
• China’s rail system as the third largest network in
the world totals more than 60,000 miles of
railroads, and about 47 percent of them are
electrified. It has 20,800 locomotives, 650,000
cargo cars, and 58,000 passenger coaches.
Chapter 2: Highways and Cars
China had 50 million automobiles in 2003:
24 million business vehicles
15 million passenger cars
9 million privately owned trucks
Chapter 3: Urbanization
China became urbanized in 2006, when Chinese
cities increased from 223 to 695, and more than
30 cities had a population over 1.5 million.
Chapter 3: Urbanization
Currently, about 700 million Chinese, over 54
percent of the total population, live in cities.
Chapter 3: Urbanization
Major cities:
28.8 million residents
23 million
19.6 million
12.9 million
9 million
8.8 million
Shenzhen in 21 Century
Hong Kong
Shenzhen in 1970s
Shenzhen in early 1980s
Shenzhen in the middle of 1980s
Shenzhen in late 1980s
Shenzhen in the 1990s
Shenzhen in 21 century
Shennan Road 2014
Chapter 3: Urbanization
• Since 1949, China has lost one-fifth of its
agricultural land due to urban and industrial
expansion and to agricultural
mismanagement, which created soil erosion
and desertification.
Chapter 3: Urbanization
• During this period, the per capita annual net
income of urban households was 6-10 times
higher than that of rural households. Partly
because of this inequality, agricultural laborers
are also the most mobile. Labor migration
from rural to urban areas emerged as a
nationwide phenomenon in the late 1980s.
Chapter 3: Urbanization
• By the early 1990s, an estimate of the number
of individuals who had made this move was
approximately 36 million. In the early 2000s,
as many as 100 million rural laborers were
estimated to be on the move and seeking
work in cities and coastal areas. The number
of migrant workers totaled 120 million in
2005, 136 million in 2007, and 151 million in
Chapter 3: Urbanization
• More than 46 percent of urban employment is
of rural migrant laborers. Official estimates
suggest that as of 2014, more than 169 million
peasants may have fled the countryside.
Lesson Four: Environment & Pollution
• Chapter 1: River and Water
• Chapter 2: Soil Pollution
• Chapter 3: Air Pollution
Chapter 1: Hui River
some of the rivers are known as “cancer rivers”
such as the Huai River, which runs north-south
between the Huanghe (Yellow) River and Yangzi
(Yangtze) River. The river basin of the Huai
extends to more than 30 cities and 180 counties,
totaling a population of 165 million people.
Chapter 1: Hui River
• Many industrial factories, including petrochemical refineries, steel and iron factories,
textile factories, leather manufacturers and
paper producers, are businesses built along
the Huai, and badly polluted the river.
Chapter 1: Hui River
• In 2005, the Chinese Center for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC) conducted a research
sponsored by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on
the correlation between water pollution and the
region’s high cancer rates along the banks of the
Huai. The results of the research indicate that
both mortality and prevalence of digestive
cancers were much higher in the study areas,
about 277.8 per 10,000 persons, three to four
times higher than the recorded rate in control
Chapter 2: Soil Pollution
• China’s economic progress has been achieved
at the sake of an enormous consumption of
energy resources as well as costs to the
natural environment. In 2010, China’s total
energy consumption surpassed the U.S. for
the first time, making it the world’s biggest
energy consumer, something that has drawn
worldwide attention.
Chapter 2: Soil Pollution
With 9.8 million barrels of crude oil consumed
daily in China’s mainland, and 363,000 barrels
consumed daily in Hong Kong, China altogether
consumed 10.2 million barrels of crude oil daily
in 2011, accounting for 11.8 percent of the
world total with an increase of 6.24 percent over
Chapter 2: Soil Pollution
Industry and transportation, storage, postal and
telecommunication services were the major
sectors consuming oil in China, with industry
taking up an absolute majority. China’s petrochemical industry, ever since its inception, has
produced many pollutants and has impacted the
environment of various ecosystems across the
Chapter 2: Soil Pollution
Through oil spills, increased toxicity of natural
habitats, and contributions to greenhouse gas
emissions and climate change, its petroleum
industry has oftentimes had a negative effect on
the environment.
Chapter 3: Air Pollution
In 2011, air pollution in Beijing and other cities
across the country reached “crisis” levels. Many
air pollutants from the oil and manufacturing
industries include nitrous oxides, sulfur oxides,
carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, benzene,
toluene, and xylenes. Polluted air causes many
harmful effects for the environment and for
Chapter 3: Air Pollution
Reduced visibility, damage to crops and
livestock, and serious illness in humans can all
result. When nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide
combine with water in the atmosphere, acid rain
is produced. Acid rain pollutes anything it
comes into contact with, including vegetation
and bodies of water.
Chapter 3: Air Pollution
Polluted environments from acid rain can
eventually kill local wildlife. These
environmental issues have become increasingly
problematic, especially in newly rapidly
industrializing and urbanizing areas. In 2013,
the pollution levels of Beijing, China’s capital city
with 20 million residents, reached forty times
higher than international safety standards.
Chapter 3: Air Pollution
The government of the People’s Republic of
China (PRC) took some measures to strengthen
environmental improvement in the 2010s, such
as issuing a Law on Environmental Protection
and by educating business and the public.
Chapter 3: Air Pollution
Although environmental protection has become
a hot topic and has received more attention
inside and outside the government, the GDPbased development policy only serves the
purpose of economic growth rather than
environmental protection. Unless issues like air
and water pollution are solved, China’s everexpanding cities could quickly become

Chinese Geography - East Asia Institute | The University of Oklahoma