Chinese Geography: Readings and Maps

The consultant for this unit was Professor Ronald Knapp of the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz. Professor Knapp is a geographer who specializes on China.

This unit begins with a set of maps, both general and outline, and then divides discussion of China's geography into four topical areas. The discussion refers to the maps and other visuals imbedded in the text. Suggested Questions for Discussion that can be used to guide students through the material in all four topics are grouped together at the end of the units.

MAPS

RIVERS, BORDERS, and CIVILIZATIONS

POPULATION and AGRICULTURE

GEOGRAPHY and REGIONS

POLITICAL DIVISIONS

  • Provinces
  • Municipalities
  • Autonomous Regions and China's Minorities
  • Special Administrative Regions (SARs)

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

Maps

General Maps (China in Asia)

Visit the following sites to view and select maps as well as other general background information about China.

General Map of China (1996)

General Map of China

Detailed Topographic
and Political Conditions (1996)

Detailed Topographic and Political Conditions

Viewing China from space (1999)

Viewing China from Space

Produced by the National Geographic Society, this satellite image of China has borders and cities superimposed on it and reveals the striking regional differences in China's topography.

Political Map of East Asia (1996)

Political Map of East Asia

Interactive Map Viewer (National Geographic)

Interactive Map Viewer

Population Densities in Asia

Population Densities in Asia

China's Linguistic Groups (1990)

China's Linguistic Groups

Outline Maps (For classroom use)

The outline maps included below are designed to be used as transparencies that can be overlaid on an overhead projector to demonstrate the diversity of China's physical and cultural geography. Copies can be printed out and reproduced also for student use. Many of the descriptive sections below utilize the maps in ways to sharpen student's understanding of China's geography. They may all be printed out now or printed as they are introduced below.

China and the World

China and the World

Surrounding Nations

Surrounding Nations

China (An Outline)

China (an outline)

Major Rivers

Major Rivers

Mountains and Deserts

Mountains and Deserts

Agricultural
Regions and Crops

Agricultural Regions and Crops

Course Changes of the
Huang He/Yellow River

Course Changes of the Huang He/Yellow River

Historical Borders
in Four Periods

Historical Borders in Four Periods

The Great Wall and
the Grand Canal

TheGreat Wall and the Grand Canal

 

Rivers, Borders and Civilization

Major Rivers

China's two major rivers, the Huang He (Yellow River) and the Chang Jiang (Yangzi or Yangtze River), as well as the Pearl River (Zhu Jiang) delta system marked by the Xi Jiang (West River) in southeastern China, have provided the framework for agricultural development and population growth throughout China's history. Another river, the Heilong Jiang (known also as the Amur River, its Russian name) marks the border between China and Russia; at times in the past, this area was one of confrontation between the neighbors. The drainage basins of China's rivers differ in terms of extent and topography, offering varying opportunities for agricultural development. Because some of China's largest rivers have their source regions on the high Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and drop great distances over their middle and lower courses, China is rich in hydroelectric resources.

Each of these rivers has special characteristics and associated problems at different locations along their courses. (Note that "he" and "jiang" are both translated into English as "river." In English, there are of course many words that differentiate flowing water according to size and character — stream, brook, creek, river, just for a couple of examples. In the Chinese language, similar differences are expressed but the common words usually translated into English as "river" can be further clarified somewhat. "Jiang" 江 is the most common descriptor for "river" in Chinese, signifying a stream that is often geologically young which cuts through a narrow valley. "He" 河 , on the other hand, is generally used for a river that is broad and geologically old. In this regard, much of the lower course of the Huang He is reminiscent of the sluggish Mississippi River while the middle and upper sections of the Chang Jiang resemble the unruly Colorado River. It is thus redundant to say Huang He River or Chang Jiang River.)

  • Huang He (Yellow River). China's second longest river, the Huang He rises in Qinghai province and flows some 5464 km to the Yellow Sea. Crystal clear lakes and sluggish meandering are characteristic in its upper reaches. Along the Great Bend of the Huang He in its middle course, the unruly river carves its way through the loessial plateau with substantial erosion taking place. As the river erodes the loess, it becomes a "river of mud" (Loessial soil is called huang tu or "yellow earth" in Chinese and it is the color of this suspended loess in the river that has given the Huang He its name "Yellow River.") Carrying 40% sediment by weight in summer (for other rivers in the world 3% would be considered a heavy sediment load), the river deposits vast amounts of alluvium as it courses across the North China Plain. Over the centuries, deposition has raised the bed of the Huang He so that it is in some ways "suspended" precariously above the lower surrounding agricultural areas, contained by levees and embankments built to control what historically was "China's Sorrow"— the bringer of flood and famine.
Upper Reaches of Huang He in Qinghai Tawny Loessial Cliffs along Huang He in Gansu Unruly Huang He at Hukou on theShanxi/Shaanxi Border Chairman Mao Surveys the Lower Huang He Atop a Dike
Upper Reaches of Huang He in Qinghai Tawny Loessial Cliffs along Huang He in Gansu Unruly Huang He at Hukou on the Shanxi/Shaanxi Border Chairman Mao surveys the Lower Huang He from atop a dike
Course Changes of the Huang He/Yellow River

The lower course of the Huang He has changed 26 times in China's history, most notably nine times including major floods in 1194 AD and again in 1853, that brought untold disaster to the villages and towns of the North China Plain. (See Map of Course Changes of the Huang He.) What was once a scourge that plagued the Chinese people throughout much of their history continues to be one of China's great natural challenges — preventing both flooding and drought in a region with more than 100 million people. Siltation at the mouth of the Huang He extended the length of the river by about 35 km (20 miles) between 1975 and 1991. The North China Plain is indeed a "gift" of the Huang He.

Cave Dwelling
Kang inside Cave Dwelling

Throughout the loessial uplands, some 40 million Chinese still live in cave-like or subterranean dwellings that are an especially appropriate response to the peculiar nature of loess and the absence of alternative building materials such as timber.

  • Chang Jiang (Yangzi River). As China's "main street," this artery courses over 6300 km through several of China's most economically developed regions. Excellent river ports — Shanghai, Zhenjiang, Nanjing, Wuhan, Yichang, and Chongqing — are located near or along the Chang Jiang, making it one of the world's busiest inland waterways. As much of 40% of the country's total grain production, 70% of the rice output, and more than 40% of China's population are associated with its vast basin that includes more than 3,000 tributaries. The flow of the Chang Jiang is some 20 times greater than that of the Huang He. With its numerous tributaries, the Chang Jiang drains nearly 20% of China's total area. Its upper reaches tap the uplands of the Tibetan Plateau before sweeping across the enormous and agriculturally productive Sichuan Basin that supports nearly 10% of China's total population. It is in the middle course of the Chang Jiang that the controversial Three Gorges Dam project is being constructed.
Three Gorges Dam Project
Yangzi Flooding

As a huge public works project — the largest dam in the world, rivaling the building not only of China's great historical projects such as the Grand Canal and Great Wall as well as modern projects elsewhere in the world — the Three Gorges Dam project is wrapped in environmental, engineering, and political controversy. Increasing clean energy, controlling floods, and stimulating economic development are but a few of objectives of the dam. Below the Three Gorges Dam are the great flood plains of the Chang Jiang as well as the major tributaries on its north and south banks. At the mouth of the river is the great and productive Yangzi delta and metropolitan Shanghai. With the completion of this project, disastrous floods are expected to be eliminated.

The second worst flood of the past 130 years struck the Chang Jiang valley in Summer 1998 and affected 240 million people, killing some 3656, and leaving 14 million homeless. The flood is estimated to have left 14 million people homeless, destroying 5 million houses, damaging 12 million houses, flooding 25 million hectares of farmland, and causing over US$20 billion in estimated damages. On the adjacent infrared image, the extensive flooded area is shown in blue, other water areas in black, vegetation in red, and clouds in white.

  • Zhu Jiang (Pearl River) Delta. Situated in Guangdong province just to the north of Hong Kong and Macao, the delta of the Zhu Jiang is the most significant farming area in southeastern China. Some regard it as one of the most productive and sustainable ecosystems in the world because of its integrated dike-rice paddy-fish pond agricultural system. Between 1988 and 1995, land reclamation along the banks of the river and along the coast added farm land and space for fish ponds as well as created space for rapidly expanding settlements.


Early Civilizations

Looking at the map of historical borders and the map showing the major rivers highlights the important fact that the earliest hearths of Chinese civilization developed along its river valleys. One of the cradles of Chinese civilization, the Neolithic site called Banpo, was located along a tributary of the Huang He not too far from the present-day city of Xi'an in Shaanxi province. Hemudu, on the southern shores of Hangzhou Bay that lies to the south of the Yangzi River delta, is another of China's important Neolithic sites. The Shang dynasty (c. 1600-1027 BC) was also situated around the Huang He (Yellow River), and eventually spread southward to the Chang Jiang (Yangzi River) and Xi Jiang.

Mountains and Deserts

The west of China is comprised of mountains and deserts as well as plateaus that do not provide much arable land for agriculture. Throughout most of history, the civilization that grew up to the east in what is today China was not surrounded by other nearby major civilizations. To this extent the Chinese were "isolated" from competing civilizations although there was a broad and fluid frontier zone on the western margins. This geographical fact is important to remember when discussing the Western encroachment on China from the sea during the late imperial period.

Although the mountains and deserts of the west limited contact between early imperial dynasties and other centers of civilization in the Inner Asia, Middle East, South Asia, and Europe, there were some important and notable exchanges of culture. The legendary Silk Road facilitated the exchange of goods and ideas between China and each of these areas.

Historical Borders

Like many other countries, the historical borders of china have varied over time. Under the Han dynasty (202 BC-202 AD), China's great historical empire, these early boundaries were significantly expanded, as the series of historical maps of China shows. The extent of China's territory was greatest under the last dynasty, called the Qing (Ch'ing) or Manchu dynasty between 1644-1912. China's territory was more extensive under the Qing empire than it is today.

Bordering Nations

China is at the core of a cultural sphere or region known as East Asia. Looking at the map of bordering nations, it is possible to identify China's neighbors, some of which received substantial cultural influence from China. China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam historically form the East Asian or Sinitic cultural sphere.

The large number of countries with which China shares borders makes Chinese foreign policy especially complex (unlike the U.S., for example which shares borders only with Canada and Mexico).

Supplementing Geography: Great Wall, Grand Canal, Terracing and Irrigation

The Chinese attempted to correct perceived "deficiencies" in their physical geography by building massive civil engineering projects that would help bring about unity and provide defense as well as by countless smaller scale efforts at modifying their physical landscapes.

  • Great Wall. What is known today as the Great Wall (see map of the Great Wall and the Grand Canal) was reputedly first completed during the Qin (Ch'in) dynasty (221-206 BC) when segments of the wall existing from earlier periods were connected. Early walled ramparts were constructed of rammed or tamped earth. The brick-faced walls seen today were built much later during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Although not a single continuous wall, the Great Wall and its associated military encampments and guard posts figured in attempts by many dynasties to manage the nomadic peoples, sometime referred to as "barbarians," who lived north of it on the grasslands or steppes. For the most part, the Great Wall should be viewed as a zone of transition — rather than a fixed border — between farming areas with sedentary villages and pasture lands with nomadic lifestyles.

  • Grand Canal. Since China's major rivers — the Huang He and Chang Jiang — flow from west to east and there is no natural communication north to south except by way of a coastal route, the Chinese dug the Grand Canal as a safe, inland water route between the two major rivers, in the process connecting a number of minor regional rivers. Constructed around 605 AD to serve commercial as well as military considerations, the canal was extended several times, most notably to the Hangzhou in 610 and eventually in 1279 to Dadu, the great Mongol (Yuan dynasty) capital. During the Ming and Qing dynasties which followed the Mongol dynasty, the Grand Canal ensured that Beijing, the great successor imperial capitals to Dadu, had sufficient grain from the southern rice bowl areas. The Grand Canal is the longest artificial waterway in the world and has a long history of barge traffic along its course. Although many parts of it fell into disrepair over the years, today it is still possible to traverse the man-made Grand Canal from Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province northward 1801 km to Beijing.

  • Terracing and Irrigation. At least as significant as major engineering works like the Grand Canal and the Great Wall are the countless alterations of China's physical landscapes by centuries of human effort. These human modifications traditionally focused on terracing hill slopes and controlling water via irrigation as well as reclaiming marginal land. In managing natural resources and expanding opportunities for the production of food, the Chinese have reclaimed, even created, land that in many areas of the world would have been considered impossible to farm.

      • Creating level land through terracing of hill slopes. Throughout the rugged areas of northern and southern China, farmers over the centuries have sculpted the hilly land into step-like landscapes of terraces. Sometimes terraces are relatively natural features that need only be modified in order to produce level areas for planting, while in others extraordinary efforts must be carried out to move earth and rock, stabilize retaining walls, and create sluices for controlling the flow of water. Drainage control and water storage are as important as the level land itself.

      • Leveling the Taihang Mountains, Shanxi Making Terraces, Dazhai, Shanxi Contoured Terraces, Wubao, Shaanxi
        Leveling the Taihang Mountains, Shanxi Making Terraces, Dazhai, Shanxi Contoured Terraces, Wubao, Shaanxi
      • Managing water resources in order to reduce erosion and make water available for terraced rice production. Seen from the air, much of China glistens with countless water surfaces that have been created by human labor. The building of terraces on slope land not only creates level land but also provides a means of "managing" rainwater by controlling its runoff. As rain falls on hill slopes, it tends to erode them relatively easily, but when the velocity of the water is slowed because it is impounded in irrigated fields erosion is reduced. The impounded water then can be controlled as it flows gently from a higher level to a lower level. As water falls from level terrace to terrace, the speed with which the water flows beyond the fields where it is needed is minimized. Usually fine silt is suspended in the flowing water that then is deposited in the lower fields rather than being carried farther away. Besides the obvious irrigation systems that are fundamental to terraced rice production, other systems control water flow and drainage on adjacent paddy fields that are nearly at the same level. Small-scale and large-scale water conservancy projects continue to be important means of increasing crop production as well as reducing flood and drought.

      • Jiangge, Sichuan Fenghuang, Hunan
        Jiange, Sichuan Fenghuang, Hunan

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Population and Agriculture

Population and Arable (Farming) Land

It is a well known fact that China is the most populous nation in the world. China's total population of 1,252,800,000 nearly exceeds the combined populations of Europe (579,700,000) and South America (311,500,000) and the United States (272,573,000) and Japan (125,200,000). By comparison, the population of the United States is equivalent to only 22% of China's population.

Such a huge population imposes substantial stress on the country's natural resources, including especially arable land. Although China ranks fourth in the world in terms of total arable land, the pressure of population on this precious available agricultural land is acute and makes China's struggle to increase its agricultural output to feed its population all the more difficult. Looking at the map of China's agricultural regions and crops, you will see that China's arable land is primarily in the eastern region, the same area where a majority of China's vast population is concentrated. In addition to extensive areas of western China which are relatively uninhabited, substantial portions of southern China are unfavorable for agriculture because of mountainous topography. There are significant variations from province-to-province in terms of cultivated land, multiple-cropping, and overall production of various crops.

China feeds somewhat less than one-quarter (25%) of the world's population on approximately 7% of the world's arable land.

US and China superimposed

Viewing the map showing the U.S. and China superimposed, it can be seen that China has only a slightly larger land area, 3.69 million square miles compared to the 3.68 million square miles of the United States. However, while approximately 40% of the U.S. land can be cultivated, only 11% of China's land is arable. Much of the arable land in the United States, of course, is actually not used for farming but instead is used for pasture or has been developed for other uses.

Like China, the U.S. has a densely populated east coast. Unlike the U.S., however, China's farmland is not concentrated in a relatively underpopulated central section of the country. Of the roughly 273 million population in the U.S., less than 3% are engaged in farming while the U.S. has about 80% more farmland than does China and 10 times more farmland per capita. The following map compares the densities of population in the United States and China:

US and China Population Density Map

Despite the high population density reflected on the map, China is not an urban society even though its total urban population (311,000,000) exceeds the actual total population of the United States. (The urban population of the U.S. is approximately 194,7000,000, some 75% of the country's total; many Americans, of course, live in suburban communities.) Although some seventy-four per cent (74%) of China's population is still primarily engaged in agriculture and living in rural areas, these same farming areas have undergone substantial industrialization and commercialization in the past two decades since 1979.

Agriculture in China

The production of grain accounts for some 80-90% of all agricultural crops in China. Rice, wheat, corn, barley, and millet are the principal grain crops, each of which represents a particular adaptation to specific environmental conditions.

  • Crops. Wet rice or paddy rice agriculture is carried out particularly in fertile areas of southern and central China where a mild climate favors two and sometimes three crops per year. The growing of rice is frequently rotated with other crops such as winter wheat, sweet potatoes, corn, and vegetables of various types. Vegetable oil producing plants — specifically rape-seed (the oil of which is known in the U.S. as canola oil), peanuts, and sesame — are widely grown throughout this region on appropriate soils.

    In addition to relatively mild winter temperatures and a long growing season, heavy and predictable summer monsoon rains and overall sufficient annual rainfall are the basis for substantial productive agriculture. It is important to recognize that China's southern and central rice-growing regions are quite diverse.

  • Wet Rice Cycle. Briefly explained, wet rice agriculture is an intensive farming system in which dense populations and the intensive use of the earth are complementary.

    Rice seeds are sown broadcast in seedbeds where the densely packed seedlings are allowed to grow for approximately a month before being transplanted into fields. The preparation of fields by plowing and harrowing is labor intensive activity as is the transplantation process. Water must be moved on and off the planted areas according to a schedule, during which on-going weeding is carried out to insure maximum yields. Harvesting and the preparation of the rice for storage are additional labor intensive activities requiring more people. Although some mechanization of the process of rice production has occurred over the centuries, the production of paddy rice continues to involve the intensive use of human labor even to the degree that there sometimes is insufficient labor available for a particular activity. The student reading on wet rice agriculture describes the relationship between the rice cycle and Chinese family patterns.

    Note the area called "Sichuan rice." Sichuan is one of the most densely populated provinces in China today. Sichuan, including the Municipality of Chongqing which is now administratively separate from it, has a total population of 107,000,000. Sichuan has a greater population than any European nation except for Russia.

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Geography and Regions

The cross-hatching nature of China's five mountain ranges, the step-like staircase decrease in elevation from the lofty Tibetan plateau towards the sea, and the location of rivers make for a number of distinct geographical regions that fall into a checkerboard composition of basins, plateaus, and plains. Note the problems these pose for political and economic unity on the overlays of mountains and deserts and rivers.

For the sake of elementary convenience, the landmass of China can be divided into two basic components:

  • A vast Western region occupying nearly 2/3 of the country that is generally too high, too cold, and/or too dry to support a dense agricultural population. Much of this higher western area occupies the two upper steps of the topographic staircase: Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, sometimes known as the "roof of the world" with average elevations above 4000 meters and a broad arc-like step running northeast/southwest from the grasslands of the Inner Mongolian steppes through the deserts and basins of Xinjiang to the Yunnan-Guizhou plateaus of southwestern China.
  • An Eastern region occupying 1/3 of the country — that portion of China east of the Tibetan Plateau and generally south of the Great Wall — forming the core of China Proper. It is framed on the west by mountain ranges about 1000 meters in elevation — Greater Khingan, Taihang, Wushan, and Xuefeng — and includes the densely settled North China Plain along the lower course of the Huang He and numerous plains in the middle and lower reaches of the Chang Jiang. This diverse region includes the eighteen traditional provinces of imperial China, and can be divided into Northern China and Southern China with the Qinling Range and Huai River forming the natural zone of demarcation between them. It is customary to include Northeast China, often still referred to as Manchuria, in this Eastern region.

Interregional Trade

A benefit of China's varied geography is that a shortage of resources in one part of China can be overcome by trade with another part. In this way China historically has been able to develop internally by promoting interregional trade, as opposed to going outside the country as many smaller European countries had to do. Instead of industrializing to overcome shortages, China traded within its own borders, thus promoting commercial development.

Similarly, a shortage in labor in one area could be filled by migration within the country or by shifting manufacturing to another area. Geographic factors that facilitated this internal trade were the Chang Jiang (Yangzi River), the complex network of rivers in the south, and China's long coastline. China thus did not feel great pressure to develop labor-saving technologies or to engage in extensive expansionist or colonizing activities beyond its borders, in contrast to the West and Japan. (This contrasts markedly with the political and economic history of Europe, where the existence of many small countries led to trade barriers and local shortages, prompting individual countries to make technological advances and wage costly wars that contributed to the rise of large financial empires and engage in expansionist imperialism.)

Disparity among Regions

View of the Earth at NightA recurrent problem, however, is that some regions in China have developed more quickly than others because of their location. For example, the coastline of China with its ports and fertile soil has developed more rapidly than western China with its deserts and mountains. Western China is more isolated and thus lags behind the coastal regions, a condition that can be seen clearly in this view of the Earth at night where only lights and fires are visible.

Again, compare the U.S. and China to highlight the importance of locational factors and physical geography to economic development.

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Political Divisions

Map of China's Political Divisions

The People's Republic of China has 34 major political divisions (Although the PRC considers Taiwan to be one of its provinces, Taiwan remains politically separate as the Republic of China).

  • 23 provinces
  • 4 municipalities — Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing. Because of their size and other characteristics, these four cities have been given provincial-level status and report directly to the central government.
  • 5 autonomous regions. The title "autonomous region" indicates that a substantial proportion of the population in the region is composed of minority nationality peoples whose language, culture, and particular social traits are distinct from the dominant Han culture; for the sake of political unity, the regions are given special consideration by Beijing in policy formulation. The regions are otherwise not "autonomous." (Eight percent of China's population is composed of minority nationality peoples. There are 55 distinct minority nationalities in China) A crucial factor is that these minority nationalities occupy 50-60% of Chinese territory — most notably Xinjiang (where China's nuclear installations are located), Mongolia, and Tibet. These facts are useful in highlighting the difficulties entailed in ruling such a vast country. (See attached map and list on China's minority nationalities)
  • 1 Special Administrative Region (SAR). Hong Kong gained this status on July 1, 1997 when it ceased being a British Crown Colony. Macao, once a colony of Portugal, reverted to Chinese sovereignty on December 20, 1999 and became the country's second SAR.

For information from China about China:

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Questions for Discussion

General Maps (China in Asia)

1. Using the points of the compass, north, south, east, and west, where does China have land borders? Sea borders?
2. Is China's terrain varied in terms of lowland, mountains, river systems, desert land, and sea coast?
3. Where do you think the earliest inhabitants of China would be likely to settle? Why?
4. Can you tell if all Chinese people speak the same language?
5. Can you tell what are the most populated areas of China today?

Outline Maps of China
(The questions relate to the outline maps, moving left to right, starting with "China and the World." Many of the questions provided under the section headings below may also be used in relation to these outline maps.)

1. In which continent is China?
2. With how many countries does China have a common border?
3. Using the outline map of China and the maps in the General Maps section, can you draw in (a) China's rivers? (b) China's mountains and deserts? (c)China's most important cities? (d) a blue line indicating China's sea coast?
4. Water and rivers have always been very important in Chinese history. Can you tell why?
5. What part of China would be best for (a) traveling by camel? (b) mountain climbing? (c) finding high pasture lands?
6. What part of China would be best for (a) plowing fields for crops? (b) growing rice?
7. Looking at your map, where do you think most people would be likely to live? In the west of the China? The east? Why?
8. What can you tell about a river that changes its course as the Huang He (Yellow River) has over the centuries? What sort of terrain would allow a river to change its course?
9. Has China's size changed over time? When was it smallest? When was it biggest? What is it like today?
10. Why would the Chinese want to build the Great Wall? Why build it where it is instead of somewhere else? Why would the Chinese build canals? Why build them where they are? How do you think the Great Wall and the Grand Canal were built? By hand? By machine? How many people do you think it would take to build a mile of the Great Wall or the Grand Canal? How fast could this mile be built? How would you get the people to work on such projects?

Rivers, Borders, and Civilizations

Major Rivers

1. What are China's two major rivers?
2. Huang He (Yellow River)

a) Why is this river called a "yellow" river?
b) Why is this river called "China's Sorrow"?
c) What is loess? How is it useful for human habitation?

3. Chang Jiang (Yangzi River)

a) Why is this river called China's "main street"?
b) In what part of China are the upper reaches of this river?
c) Why is happening in the area called "The Three Gorges"?

4. Zhu Jiang (Pearl River)

a) What kind of land surrounds this river?
b) What is grown in this river's ecosystem?

Research questions involving all the readings and maps about China's rivers:

1. If you wanted to travel in China with a row boat, which river would you choose to go on and why?
2. Could you travel by boat from one river to another without going into the open sea or carrying the boat across land? Which parts of China would you see if you did this?

Early Civilizations

1. Where were the cradles of Chinese civilization? Why do you think people chose to settle in these places?

Mountains and Deserts

1. Why was China's early civilization relatively isolated from other early civilizations?
2. What sort of terrain did the eventual route between early China and other civilizations follow?

Historical Borders

1. Have China's historical borders changed over time?
2. What geographical features can be found on China's borders?
3. Is it easy to travel across China's borders in terms of the terrain?

Bordering Nations

1.Why is China the core of East Asia?
2.What countries in East Asia were particularly influenced by China?

Supplementing Geography

1. The Great Wall

a) When were the first segments of the Great Wall begun?
b) What is the Great Wall built out of?
c) What was the purpose of the Great Wall?

2. The Grand Canal

a) What was the purpose of the Grand Canal?
b) When was the original canal built?
c) Can it still be used today?

3. Terracing and Irrigation

a) Why do people build terraces on hill slopes?
b) How is water managed on terraced hill slopes?

Population and Agriculture

1. Is China the most populous nation in the world?
2. Where is China's most arable land?
3. What areas of China are most populated?
4. Which country is bigger, China or the United States?
5. How do the most populated areas of China and of the United States differ?
6. What crops do the Chinese grow?
7. What is meant by "wet rice cycle"?

Geography and Regions

1. What is the difference between the western and eastern regions of China?
2. Why is interregional trade important in China?
3. Do the differences between the regions create problems for China?

Political Divisions

1. How many provinces are there in China?
2. What cities have provincial-level status in China?
3. How many autonomous regions are there in China?
4. What is the Special Administrative Region (SAR)?

Research project involving all the readings and maps in this section

Plan a trip in China so that you can travel by boat, by train, by car, by foot, and by camel. Decide which parts of China would be best for each mode of transport. Imagine what you eat in the different regions you travel through. If you needed to talk with the local inhabitants, how many languages would you need to know? Would you need different clothes in different regions so as not to be too hot or too cold? If you stayed in the homes of the local inhabitants, how would these homes be constructed?

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