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History
China has been inhabited since early times. Thousands of years ago the Chinese had developed a calendar, writing, the wheel and a thriving silk industry. China was also advanced in astronomy and mathematics in ancient times and was the first to invent gunpowder although it was initially used in fireworks, rather than as a weapon.

The Zhou Dynasty produced the influential philosophers: Confucius, Mencius and Lao Tse.

The Qin Dynasty was the first to unite China as a single state under one Emperor. An early version of the Great Wall was built. The succeeding Han Dynasty lasted four hundred years and opened up the Silk Road - a trade route to India and Europe. In this period Buddhism spread to China from India.

In the thirteenth century Genghis Khan invaded China. His conquests resulted in the Yuan Dynasty; his grandson Kublai Khan, was perhaps the most celebrated of the Yuan emperors. Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant, who travelled the famous Silk Road spent many years in Kubla Khan's court.

During the Ming Dynasty, which followed the Yuan, China began to turn inwards, following isolationist policies. Today's version of the Great Wall was constructed in this period and the palace, later known as the Forbidden City, was built at Beijing.

Though trade was frowned on by the court, Europeans were keen to buy from China and in 1557 the Portuguese settled in Macao.

Europe's other motive for contact with China was religious and missionaries made many attempts to convert the Chinese.

During the mid seventeenth century, the Manchus, invading from the north, founded the Qing Dynasty ruling China until the beginning of the twentieth century. In the eighteenth century, the East India Company established trade in Canton. The Opium Wars started in 1839 which eventually led to Hong Kong being ruled by the British.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, foreigners took over Chinese mines and industry. The Chinese were dissatisfied with their rulers and the power held by foreign interests. Political unrest led to civil wars and rebellions and in 1911 Dr Sun Yat-Sen became the leader of China's first republican government.

The Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921 and a struggle between the Nationalists and the Communists led to civil war. During this time foreign powers continued to set their sights at China's territory, war breaking out with Japan in 1937. Japanese aggression finally came to a halt when Japan was defeated at the end of the Second World War.

On 1 October 1949 Mao Tse-tung declared the formation of the People's Republic of China. This became the sole legal government of China. Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Republicans, together with a group of military and political supporters, fled to the island of Taiwan.

The Korean War, in which America and the United Nations supported South Korea, and the Chinese North Korea, brought direct conflict between China and the West. Border clashes with India and an armed rebellion in Tibet all contributed to tensions in the area.

During the Cultural Revolution which started in the sixties, Chinese society underwent a massive upheaval. In 1971 with President Nixon's visit to China, the People's Republic of China began a new relationship with the outside world. Chairman Mao died in 1976 and Deng Xiaoping became Party Chairman.

The reunification of China has been an important aim of the People's Republic. Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997 and Macao returned to China in 1999. Economic ties between China and Taiwan have increased over the last ten years with Taiwan one of China's main sources of imports.

Economy
The "Great Leap Forward" of 1958-60 was not successful in its aim to increase industrial production beyond the levels of the Western economies but today the People's Republic of China is one of the world's fastest growing economies.

In November 2008 the government announced a $586 billion package to stimulate the slowing economy as the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that the effect of the global financial crisis was worse than expected.

In February 2009 Russia and China signed a $25 billion deal to supply china with oil for the next 20 years in exchange for loans. In January 2010 China posted a 17.7% rise in exports, suggesting it has overtaken Germany as the world’s biggest exporter. In February 2011 China overtook Japan to become the world’s second largest economy.

The need to support the huge population of China means that farming is especially crucial to the economy. Crops include rice, wheat, maize, millet, sorghum, soya beans, rapeseed, sesame, sugar and tea, as well as potatoes, peanuts, apples and vegetables. The agricultural sector is also an important producer of honey and eggs, poultry and pork.

Cattle, sheep and camels are farmed. China is among the world's largest producers of cotton and one of the top producers of jute (fibres from the plant are used for hessian and sacking). Silk production has been an important part of the Chinese economy for thousands of years.

China is a major producer of fish such as cod, tuna and dolphin. Prawns are an important catch. Freshwater fish are also significant for the Chinese diet.

The forestry industries produce pine, oak, teak and mahogany. MDF is one of China's main wood products. Bamboo is sometimes used as an alternative to wood fibre.

China is one of the world's largest producers of coal and one of the leading suppliers of oil. Investment in hydropower includes the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River.

Industries such as iron and steel, shipbuilding and vehicle manufacture were built up with help of loans from the USSR. Other major industries are armaments, commercial space launch vehicles, satellites, telecommunications equipment, cement, construction, chemicals and food processing. Today, China is a world leader in many products such as electronics, toys, textiles and footwear.

Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in China. The 2008 Olympics provided an excellent opportunity for the tourist industry to promote China to the world. (2011)

Arts
Chinese art and culture show the result of thousands of years of development and tradition.

The pictorial nature of Chinese characters led to writing becoming an art form in its own right: calligraphy.

The use of the brush in writing helped in the development of brush drawings. Chinese painting, on paper or on silk, was influenced by the philosophy of harmony between man and nature. The painter's aim was to capture the chi or the spirit of his subject.

As well as using paper in painting and calligraphy, the Chinese also made an art form out of paper cutting.

China is particularly famous for its ceramics - our word for china shows how much the country and the product have been seen to go together.

Chinese music comes in many forms and more recently has been influenced by the West. From the 1980s pop music has become acceptable in China.

Chinese opera dates from the Sung Dynasty (960-1279). Stories are traditional and there are many different types of regional opera. The opera performances include, as well as drama and singing, mime, dance, acrobatics and fencing.

Sport
The best known traditional sports in China are probably the martial arts such as Tai Chi and Kung Fu.

Sport is important in China and in recent years Chinese athletes have been particularly successful in gymnastics, diving, running and table tennis. China played its first international rugby match in 1997 and competed in the Hong Kong Sevens tournament in March 1998. Football is probably the most popular spectator sport.

In 2008 China hosted the Olympic Games.

Chess is also a favourite pastime. Other popular board games are Go and Mahjong.

Holidays
The most important celebration is the Chinese New Year. This is the biggest national holiday and shops and offices are closed for three days. As well as the traditional festivals, the Chinese commemorate the founding of the Chinese Communist Party and there a number of special celebration days such as a Teachers' Day.

News
News from China is available from Newslink.

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