China may be divided into the following geographic regions: the 12,000-ft-high (3,660-m) Tibetan plateau, bounded in the N by the Kunlun mountain system; the Tarim and Dzungarian basins of Xinjiang, separated by the Tian Shan; the vast Inner Mongolian tableland; the eastern highlands and central plain of Manchuria; and what has been traditionally called China proper. This last region, which contains some four fifths of the country's population, falls into three divisions. North China, which coincides with the Huang He (Yellow River) basin and is bounded in the S by the Qingling Mts., includes the loess plateau of the northwest, the N China plain, and the mountains of the Shandong peninsula. Central China, watered by the Chang (Yangtze) River, includes the basin of Sichuan, the central Chang lowlands, and the Chang delta. South China includes the plateau of Yunnan and Guizhou and the valleys of the Xi and Pearl rivers.
To the extent that a general statement about the climate of such a large country can be made, China may be described as wet in the summer and dry in the winter. Regional differences are found in the highlands of Tibet, the desert and steppes of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, and in China proper. There the Qingling Mts. are the major dividing range not only between semiarid N China and the more humid central and S China but also between the grain-growing economy of the north and the rice economy of the south.
China comprises 22 provinces (Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Guizhou, Hainan, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Gansu, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Zhejiang, and, in the northeast (Manchuria), Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning), five autonomous regions (Tibet, the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region), and four government-controlled municipalities (Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai, and Tianjin). The country officially divides itself into 23 provinces, numbering Taiwan as its 23d. Hong Kong became a special administrative region of China in 1997, and Macao achieved this status in 1999.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.