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China, officially the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is a unitary sovereign state in East Asia and the world’s most populous country, with a population of over 1.381 billion. Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometres (3.7 million square miles), it is the world’s second-largest state by land area and third- or fourth-largest by total area.[i] Governed by the Communist Party of China, it exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing) and the Special Administrative Regions Hong Kong and Macau, also claiming sovereignty over Taiwan. China is a great power and a major regional power within Asia, and has been characterized as a potential superpower.
China emerged as one of the world’s earliest civilizations in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. For millennia, China’s political system was based on hereditary monarchies, or dynasties, beginning with the semi-legendary Xia dynasty. Since then, China has then expanded, fractured, and re-unified numerous times. In 1912, the Republic of China (ROC) replaced the last dynasty and ruled the Chinese mainland until 1949, when it was defeated by the communist People’s Liberation Army in the Chinese Civil War. The Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China in Beijing on 1 October 1949, while the ROC government retreated to Taiwan with its present de facto temporary capital in Taipei. Both the ROC and PRC continue to claim to be the legitimate government of all China, though the latter has more recognition in the world and controls more territory.
Since the introduction of economic reforms in 1978, China has become one of the world’s fastest-growing major economies. As of 2016, it is the world’s second-largest economy by nominal GDP and largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). China is also the world’s largest exporter and second-largest importer of goods. China is a recognized nuclear weapons state and has the world’s largest standing army and second-largest defense budget. The PRC is a member of the United Nations, as it replaced the ROC as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council in 1971. China is also a member of numerous formal and informal multilateral organizations, including the WTO, APEC, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the BCIM and the G-20.
The English name “China” is first attested in Richard Eden’s 1555 translation[j] of the 1516 journal of the Portuguese explorer Duarte Barbosa.[k] The demonym, that is, the name for the people, and adjectival form “Chinese” developed later on the model of Portuguese chinês and French chinois.[l] Portuguese China is thought to derive from Persian Chīn (چین), and perhaps ultimately from Sanskrit Cīna (चीन). Cīna was first used in early Hindu scripture, including the Mahābhārata (5th century bce) and the Laws of Manu (2nd century bce). The traditional theory, proposed in the 17th century by Martino Martini and supported by many later scholars, is that the word “China” and its earlier related forms are ultimately derived from the state of Qin (秦, Old Chinese: *Dzin), the westernmost of the Chinese states during the Zhou dynasty which unified China to form the Qin dynasty. There are, however, other suggestions for the derivation of “China”.
The official name of the modern state is the “People’s Republic of China” (Chinese: 中华人民共和国; pinyin: Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó). The shorter form is “China” Zhōngguó (中国), from zhōng (“central” or “middle”) and guó (“state, nation-state”),[m] a term which developed under the Zhou Dynasty in reference to its royal demesne.
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