China (Chinese: 中国; pinyin: Zhōngguó), officially the People's Republic of China (PRC; Chinese: 中华人民共和国; pinyin: Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó), is a country in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population of more than 1.4 billion. China spans five geographical time zones and borders 14 countries, the second most of any country in the world after Russia. Covering an area of approximately 9.6 million square kilometers (3,700,000 sq mi), it is the world's third or fourth largest country. The country consists of 23 provinces, five autonomous regions, four municipalities, and two Special Administrative Regions (Hong Kong and Macau). The national capital is Beijing, and the most populous city and financial center is Shanghai.
Modern Chinese trace their origins back to a cradle of civilization in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. The semi-legendary Xia dynasty in the 21st century BCE and the well-attested Shang and Zhou dynasties developed a bureaucratic political system to serve hereditary monarchies, or dynasties, and the Hundred Schools of Thought debated the relation of state, family, and individual. In the third century BCE, Qin's wars of unification finally created the first Chinese empire, the short-lived Qin dynasty. The more stable Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) established a model for nearly two millennia in which the Chinese empire was one of the world's foremost economic powers. The empire expanded, fractured and re-unified, was conquered, absorbed foreign religions and ideas, and made world-leading scientific advances, such as Four Great Inventions, gunpowder, paper, the compass, and printing. After centuries of disunion following the fall of the Han, the Tang dynasty (618-907) achieved what the Roman Empire could not: reunification of the empire. The multi-ethnic Tang welcomed foreign trade and culture that came over the Silk Road and adapted Buddhism to Chinese needs. The early modern Song dynasty (960-1279) became increasingly urban and commercial. The civilian scholar-official or literati used the examination system and the doctrines of Neo-Confucianism to replace the military aristocrats of earlier dynasties. The Mongol invasion established the Yuan dynasty in 1279, but the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) re-established Han Chinese control. The Manchu-led Qing dynasty nearly doubled the empire's territory and established a multi-ethnic state that was the basis of the modern Chinese nation, but suffered heavy losses to foreign imperialism in the 19th century.
The Chinese monarchy collapsed in 1912 with the Xinhai Revolution, when the Republic of China (ROC) replaced the Qing dynasty. Japan invaded China in 1937, starting the Second Sino-Japanese War and temporarily halting the civil war between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Kuomintang. The surrender and expulsion of Japanese forces from China in 1945 left a power vacuum in the country, which led to renewed fighting between the CCP and the Kuomintang. The civil war ended in 1949 with the division of Chinese territory; the CCP established the People's Republic of China on the mainland while the Kuomintang-led ROC government retreated to the island of Taiwan. Both claim to be the sole legitimate government of China, although the United Nations has recognized the PRC as the sole representation since 1971. From 1959 to 1961, the PRC implemented an economic and social campaign called the Great Leap Forward that resulted in an estimated 15 to 55 million deaths, mostly through starvation. China conducted a series of economic reforms since 1978, and entered into the World Trade Organization in 2001.
China is currently governed as a unitary one-party socialist republic by the CCP. China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a founding member of several multilateral and regional cooperation organizations such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Silk Road Fund, the New Development Bank, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and the RCEP, and is a member of the BRICS, the G8+5, the G20, the APEC, and the East Asia Summit. It ranks among the lowest in international measurements of civil liberties, government transparency, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and ethnic minorities. The Chinese authorities have been criticized by political dissidents and human rights activists for widespread human rights abuses, including political repression, mass censorship, mass surveillance of their citizens and violent suppression of protests.
China is the world's largest economy by GDP at purchasing power parity, the second-largest economy by nominal GDP, and the second-wealthiest country. The country is one of the fastest growing major economies and is the world's largest manufacturer and exporter. China is a recognized nuclear-weapon state with the world's largest standing army by military personnel and second-largest defense budget. China is considered to be a potential superpower due to its large markets, growing military strength, economic potential, and influence in international affairs.