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China (Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo), country in East Asia, the world’s third largest country by area (after Russia and Canada) and the largest by population. Officially the People’s Republic of China, it is bounded on the north by the Republic of Mongolia and Russia; on the northeast by Russia and North Korea; on the east by the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea; on the south by the South China Sea, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), India, Bhutan, and Nepal; on the west by Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan; and on the northwest by Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. China includes more than 3400 offshore islands. The total area of China is 9,571,300 sq km (3,695,500 sq mi), not including Hong Kong, Macau, and land under the control of the Republic of China on Taiwan, which mainland China considers a renegade province. In 1971 the United Nations (UN) admitted the People’s Republic of China (mainland China) and expelled the Republic of China (hereafter Taiwan) from its membership. Although most world governments do not recognize Taiwan, the island maintains a distinct government and economy. Information in this article, unless otherwise indicated, refers only to mainland China. Hong Kong, formerly a British territory, reverted to China in 1997. Unless otherwise specified, the statistics in this article do not include Hong Kong, which maintains a separate economy and has considerable political autonomy. The statistics also do not include Macau, located near Hong Kong on China’s southern coast, which is a Chinese territory administered by Portugal. Macau is scheduled to return to Chinese administration in 1999. The capital of China is Beijing; the country’s most populous urban center is Shanghai. e7l14lu
More than one-fifth of the world’s total population lives within China’s borders. China gave birth to one of the world’s earliest civilizations and has a recorded history that dates from some 3500 years ago. Zhongguo, the Chinese name for the country, means "central land," a reference to the Chinese belief that their country was the geographical center of the earth and the only true civilization. By the 19th century China had become a politically and economically weak nation, dominated by foreign powers.
LAND AND RESOURCES China encompasses a great diversity of landscapes and a corresponding variety of natural resources. Generally speaking, China’s higher elevations are found in the west, where some of the world’s highest mountain ranges are located. Three of these, the Tien Shan, Kunlun Mountains, and Qin Ling, date from an episode of Paleozoic mountain building (orogeny) that began late in the Carboniferous period and ended in the Permian period, when all of the world’s landmasses had drawn together to form a single supercontinent, Pangaea (see Geology: The Geologic Time Scale). A fourth, the Himalayas, is of more recent origin. It formed when sediments that had been deposited in a Mesozoic sea, the Tethys, were squeezed together and lifted up by the collision of India with Eurasia, an event that began during the Oligocene epoch of the Tertiary period, some 40 million years ago. In the present or Recent epoch of the Quaternary period, tectonic activity has taken the form of devastating earthquakes that tend to occur in a broad arc extending from the western edge of the Sichuan Basin northeast toward Bo Hai, the gulf on the northern shore of the Yellow Sea. The country’s numerous mountain ranges enclose a series of plateaus and basins and furnish a notable wealth of water and mineral resources. A broad range of climatic types, from the subarctic to tropical, and including large areas of alpine and desert habitats, supports a magnificent array of plant and animal life.
Mountains occupy about 43 percent of China’s land surface; mountainous plateaus account for another 26 percent; and basins, predominantly hilly in terrain and located mainly in arid regions, cover approximately 19 percent of the area. Only 12 percent of the total area may be classed as plains.
Rivers and Lakes All the major river systems of China, including the three longest—the Yangtze, Huang He, and Xi Jiang—flow in a generally western to eastern direction to the Pacific Ocean. In all, about 50 percent of the total land area drains to the Pacific. Only about 10 percent of the country’s area drains to the Indian and Arctic oceans. The remaining 40 percent has no outlet to the sea and drains to the arid basins of the west and north, where the streams evaporate or percolate to form deep underground water reserves; principal among these streams is the Tarim.
The northernmost major stream of China is the Amur River (Heilong Jiang), which forms most of the northeastern boundary with Russia. The Songhua and Liao rivers and their tributaries drain most of the Manchurian Plain and its surrounding highlands.
The major river of North China is the Huang He. It is traditionally referred to as "China’s Sorrow" because, throughout Chinese history, it has periodically devastated large areas by flooding. The river is diked in its lower course, and its bed is elevated above the surrounding plain as a result of the accumulation of silt. The river rises in the marginal highlands of the Tibetan Plateau and follows a circuitous course to the Bo Hai (an arm of the Yellow Sea), draining an area more than twice the size of France. The Yangtze River of central China has a discharge more than ten times that of the Huang He. The longest river in Asia, it has a vast drainage basin. The Yangtze rises near the source of the Huang He and enters the sea at Shanghai. It is a major transportation artery.
Most of the important lakes (hu) of China lie along the middle and lower Yangtze Valley. The two largest in the middle portion are Dongting Hu and Poyang Hu. In summer these lakes increase their areas by two to three times and serve as reservoirs for excess water. Tai Hu is the largest of several lakes in the Yangtze delta, and Hongze Hu and Gaoyou Hu lie just to the north of the delta.
Saline lakes, many of considerable size, abound in the Tibetan Plateau. The largest is the marshy Qinghai Hu in the less elevated northeast, but several others nearly as large occur on the high plateau. In the arid northwest and in the Mongolian Steppe are a number of large lakes, most of which are also saline; principal among these are Lop Nur and Bosten Hu east of the Tarim Pendi. Ulansuhai Nur, which is fed by the Huang He, is in Inner Mongolia; Hulun Nur lies west of the Da Hinggan Ling in Manchuria.
More than 2000 reservoirs have been constructed throughout the nation, primarily for irrigation and flood control. Most are small, but the largest, the Longmen reservoir on the Huang He, has a capacity of 35.4 billion cu m (1250 billion cu ft).
Plant Life As a result of the wide range of climates and topography, China is rich in plant species. Most of the original vegetation has been removed, however, during centuries of settlement and intensive cultivation. Natural forests are generally preserved only in the more remote mountain areas.
Dense tropical rain forests are found in the region south of the Xi Jiang valley. These forests consist of broadleaf evergreens, some more than 50 m (more than 160 ft) tall, intermixed with palms. An extensive region of subtropical vegetation extends north to the Yangtze Valley and west to the Tibetan Plateau. This zone is especially rich in species, including evergreen oak, ginkgo, bamboo, pine, azalea, and camellia. Also found are forests with laurel and magnolia and a dense undergrowth of smaller shrubs and bamboo thickets. Conifers and mountain grasses dominate at higher elevations.
To the north of the Yangtze Valley a broadleaf deciduous forest, similar to that of the eastern United States, originally prevailed. The principal species remaining here are various oaks, ash, elm, and maple; linden and birch flourish to the north in Manchuria. China’s most important timber reserves are found in the mountains of northern Manchuria, where extensive tracts of a larch-dominated coniferous forest remain. The Manchurian Plain, now under cultivation, was once dominated by a forest steppe—grasses interspersed with trees.
Prairie, or steppe, lands, covered with drought-resistant grasses, are found in the eastern portion of the Mongolian Steppe. The vegetation of this region has, however, been depleted by overgrazing and soil erosion. The more arid regions of the northwest are characterized by clumps of herbaceous plants and grasses separated by extensive barren areas; salt-tolerant species dominate here. A somewhat lusher tundra vegetation, consisting of grasses and flowers, is found on most of the high Tibetan Plateau. In more favored locations throughout the arid regions, larger shrubs and even trees may occur, and in many mountain areas, spruce and fir forests are found.
Animal Life The diverse habitats in China support a wide range of fauna, from arctic species in Manchuria to many tropical species in southern China. Some species, extinct elsewhere, survive in China. Among these are the great paddlefish of the Yangtze River, species of alligator and salamander, the giant panda (found only in southwestern China), and the Chinese water deer (found only in China and Korea).
Along with the common domesticated animals are found the water buffalo, an important draft animal in the south; the camel, which is utilized in the arid north and west; and the yak, a semidomesticated oxlike animal, which is used in the highlands of Tibet.
Marine life is abundant, especially along the southeastern coast, and includes flounder, cod, yellow croaker, pomfret, tuna, cuttlefish, sea crabs, prawns, and dolphins. The rivers of China contain a variety of carp species, as well as salmon, trout, sturgeon, catfish, and the Chinese river dolphin. Much of China’s inland water is devoted to fish farming.
Mineral Resources Because of its geologic diversity, China possesses an extremely wide array of mineral resources. The only minerals in which the country appears to be deficient are vanadium, chrome, and cobalt. Mineral deposits are distributed widely throughout the country; the principal mining regions are southern Manchuria, especially the Liaodong Peninsula, and the uplands of South China. Only in the Tibetan Plateau and the surrounding high mountains have significant mineral deposits not yet been discovered.
China is particularly well endowed with energy resources. Coal reserves of up to 11 trillion metric tons are claimed, most of it in Manchuria and adjacent areas of North China. Petroleum reserves are estimated at more than 147 billion barrels, the bulk of which has been discovered offshore. China now claims to be second only to Saudi Arabia in oil reserves; other deposits are located in Manchuria and in the northwestern provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu, and Qinghai and in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Oil-shale deposits are located primarily in Liaoning and Guangdong.
Among metallic mineral ores, iron-ore reserves are estimated to be more than 40 billion metric tons. The largest deposits, mainly in southern Manchuria, northern Hebei, and Inner Mongolia (Nei Mongol), are mostly of low quality. Some high-grade deposits of hematite occur in Liaoning and Hubei in the Yangtze Valley. Extensive deposits have also been discovered on Hainan. Reserves of aluminum ores, occurring mainly in Liaoning and Shandong, are estimated at more than 1 billion metric tons. Tin reserves, found primarily in Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, are perhaps as much as 2 million metric tons; China’s production of refined tin amounts to about one-quarter of the world’s output. China holds the world’s largest reserves of both antimony and tungsten. Tungsten is found mainly in the highlands north of the Xi Jiang, and the largest antimony deposits are in Hunan.
China also holds abundant reserves of magnesite, molybdenum, mercury, and manganese. Reserves of lead, zinc, and copper, however, are modest. Uranium has been discovered in several localities, principally in Manchuria and the northwest. Other resources occurring in considerable quantities are phosphate rock, salt, talc, mica, quartz, silica, and fluorspar.
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