The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






People's Republic of China

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PRC redirects here. For other uses, see PRC (disambiguation).

The People's Republic of China (PRC) comprises most of the cultural, historic, and geographic area known as China. Since its founding in 1949, it has been led by the Communist Party of China (CPC). It is the world's most populous country, with a population of over 1.3 billion people, most of whom are classified as the Han Chinese ethnicity. It is the largest country in area in East Asia and the fourth largest in the world, after Russia, Canada, and the United States. The PRC borders 14 countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Myanmar/Burma, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Vietnam. Although it officially remains a communist state, the PRC has considerably liberalized its economy in the past three decades. The People's Republic of China claims sovereignty over but does not administer Taiwan (along with the Pescadores, Quemoy, and Matsu). Taiwan's political status is controversial; it is administered by the Republic of China, which is currently based in Taipei. The term "mainland China" is sometimes used to denote the part of China under PRC's rule (usually excluding the two Special Administrative Regions, Hong Kong and Macau), and the PRC is sometimes also referred to as "Red China," especially by its political opponents and critics.



Main articles: History of China, History of the People's Republic of China, Timeline of Chinese history

After World War II, the Chinese Civil War between the Communist Party of China and the Kuomintang ended in 1949 with the Communists in control of mainland China and the Kuomintang in control of Taiwan and some outlying islands of Fujian. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong declared the People's Republic of China and established a communist state.

Supporters of the Maoist Era, consisting mostly of poorer Chinese and foreign observers who believe in communism, claim that under Mao, China's unity and sovereignty was assured for the first time in decades, and there was development of infrastructure, industry, healthcare, and education, which they believe has helped in raising living standards. They also believe that campaigns such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution were essential in jumpstarting China's development and purifying its culture. Supporters also doubt statistics or accounts given for death tolls or other damages incurred by Mao's campaigns.

However, critics of Mao's regime, which consists of the majority of foreign analysts and observers as well as some Chinese people, especially the emergent middle class and more liberal-minded city dwellers, claim that Mao's administration imposed strict controls over everyday life, and believe that campaigns such as the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution contributed to or caused millions of deaths, incurred severe economic costs, and damaged China's cultural heritage. The Great Leap Forward, in particular, precedes a massive famine in China which, according to credible Western and Eastern sources, 20 - 30 million people died; most Western and many Chinese analysts attribute this to the Great Leap Forward, while others, including Mao at the time, attribute this to natural disasters; still others doubt this figure entirely, or claim that many more people died due to famine or other consequences of political chaos during the rule of Chiang Kai-Shek.

Following the dramatic economic failures of the early 1960s, Mao stepped down from his position as chairman of the People's Republic. The National People's Congress elected Liu Shaoqi as Mao's successor. Mao remained head of the Party but was removed from day to day management of economic affairs which came under the control of a more moderate leadership under the dominant influence of Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and others who initiated economic reforms.

In 1966 Mao launched the Cultural Revolution, which is viewed by his opponents (including both Western analysts and many Chinese people who were youth at the time) as a strike back at his rivals by mobilizing the youth of the country in support of his thought and purging the moderate leadership, but is viewed by his supporters as an experiment in direct democracy and a genuine attempt at purging Chinese society of corruption and other negative influences. Disorder followed but gradually under the leadership of Zhou Enlai moderate forces regained influence. After Mao's death, Deng Xiaoping succeeded in winning the power struggle, and Mao's widow, Jiang Qing and her associates, the Gang of Four, who had assumed control of the country, were arrested and put on trial.

Since then, the government has gradually and greatly loosened governmental control over people's personal lives, and began transitioning China's planned economy into a mixed economy.

Supporters of the economic reforms, who tend to be middle-class Chinese and most left-center to right Western observers, point to the rapid development of the consumer and export sectors of the economy, the creation of a middle class (especially in coastal cities where most industrial development is concentrated) that now constitute 15% of the population, higher living standards (which is shown via dramatic increases in GDP per capita, consumer spending, life expectancy, literacy rate, and total grain output) and a much wider range of personal rights and freedoms for average Chinese.

Critics of the economic reforms, who tend to be poorer workers and peasants in China and left-leaning Western observers, claim that the reforms have introduced wealth disparity, environmental pollution, rampant corruption, widespread unemployment associated with layoffs at inefficient state-owned enterprises, and has introduced often unwelcome cultural influences. Consequently they believe that China's culture has been corrupted, her poor have been reduced to a hopeless adject underclass, and her social stability is threatened.

Despite these concessions to capitalism, the Communist Party of China remains in control and has maintained repressive policies against groups which it feels are threats, such as Falun Gong and the separatist movement in Tibet. Supporters of these policies, who tend to be the majority of rural Chinese people and a smaller majority of urban Chinese people, as well as a minority of observers, claim that these policies safeguard stability in a society that is torn apart by class differences and rivalries, has no tradition of civil participation, and limited rule of law. Opponents of these policies, who tend to be a minority of Chinese people, most Chinese dissidents living abroad, many people from Hong Kong or Taiwan, ethnic minorities like Tibetans, and most Westerners, claim that these policies severely violate norms of human rights that the international community recognizes, and further claim that this results in a police state, which creates an atmosphere of fear and ignorance.

The People's Republic of China adopted its current constitution on December 4, 1982.


Main article: Politics of China
This section is on the politics of Mainland China. See also: Politics of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Politics of Hong Kong, and Politics of Macau.
 declares the founding of the PRC in 1949
Mao Zedong declares the founding of the PRC in 1949

In the technical terminology of political science the PRC was a communist state for much of the 20th century, and is still considered a communist state by many, though not all, political scientists. Attempts to simply characterize the nature of the political structure of China fail. The regime has variously been described as authoritarian, communist, socialist and various combinations of those terms. It has also been described as a communist government.

The government of the PRC is controlled by the Communist Party of China. While there have been some moves toward political liberalization, in that contested elections are now held at the village level and legislatures have shown some assertiveness from time to time, the party retains effective control over governmental appointments. While the state uses authoritarian methods to deal with challenges to its rule, it simultaneously attempts to reduce dissent by improving the economy, allowing expression of personal grievances, and giving rather lenient treatment to persons expressing dissent whom the regime does not believe are organizers.

Censorship of political speech is routine, and the Communist Party ruthlessly suppresses any protests and organizations that it considers a threat to its power, as was the case after the Tiananmen Square protests. However there are limits to the repression that the Party is willing or able to achieve. The media have become increasingly active in publicizing social problems and exposing corruption and inefficiency at lower levels of government. The Party has also been rather unsuccessful at controlling information, and in some cases has had to change policies in response to public outrage. Although organized opposition against the Party is not tolerated, demonstrations over local issues are frequent and increasingly tolerated.

The support that the Communist Party of China has among the Chinese population is unclear, as there are no national elections, and private conversations and anecdotal information often reveals conflicting views. Many in China appear appreciative of the role that the government plays in maintaining social stability, which has allowed the economy to grow without interruption. Political concerns in China include the growing gap between rich and poor in the PRC, and the growing discontent with widespread corruption within the leadership.

There are some other parties in PRC. The CPC cooperates with these parties through a special conference, called the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) led by the CPC, rather than elections. Nevertheless, the effect of the other parties on the government remains minimal. As an advisory body of the CPC without real power, the C.P.P.C.C. is quite like an external eye, although there are officers from the CPPCC in almost all government departments.

Foreign relations

Main article: Foreign relations of the People's Republic of China

The People's Republic of China maintains diplomatic relations with most countries in the world, but makes acknowledging its claim to Taiwan and severing any official ties with the Republic of China (ROC) government a prerequisite for diplomatic exchanges. It also actively opposes foreign travels by Taiwan independence proponents such as Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian as well as Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama.

In 1971, the PRC replaced the Republic of China as the sole representative for "China" in the United Nations and as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. (See China and the United Nations)

It was for a time a member of the Non-Aligned Movement, and now remains an observer. Much of the current foreign policy is based on the concept of China's peaceful rise.

Sino-American relations have been strained several times in the past few decades. In May 1999, a B-2 stealth bomber dropped three 2000-pound satellite guided bombs on the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo conflict, killing three Chinese reporters. The United States insisted this was a mistake, claiming with documentary evidence that the selection of the building as a target was based on an outdated map produced by the U.S. National Imagery and Mapping Agency (now known as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency), which incorrectly identified the building as an arms procurement agency of the Yugoslav government. Although the U.S. dispatched a special envoy to China to explain the error, the Chinese government continued to insist that the action was deliberate. In 2001, a U.S. EP-3 propeller reconnaissance plane operating in international waters off the Chinese coast was "buzzed" by a Chinese jet fighter, leading to an accidental collision in which the fighter crashed and its pilot was killed. The damaged U.S. plane struggled to land on China's Hainan Island, where its 24 crewmembers were detained for 12 days and sensitive equipment from the craft was confiscated. The 1999 Cox report revealed PRC espionage compromising U.S. nuclear secrets dating back several decades.

In addition to Taiwan, China is involved in several other territorial disputes:

See also: Political status of Taiwan


Main article: People's Liberation Army

 soldiers march in Beijing
PLA soldiers march in Beijing

The PRC maintains the largest standing army in the world, although there is a general belief both within the PLA and among outside observers that numbers are of limited usefulness in estimating the power of a military. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) includes the PRC's navy and air force. Estimating the PRC's military budget leads to widely different numbers based on what is considered military, how to interpret the limited information available, and how one deals with conversion factors such as currency rates. Estimates range from US$9 billion on the low end to US$60 billion (in purchasing power parity) in 2003 at the high end, and the higher estimates make the PLA second only to the United States of nearly $400 billion. The PRC, despite possession of advanced nuclear weapons and delivery systems, is widely seen both inside of China and on the outside as having only limited ability to project military power beyond its borders and is not generally considered to be a superpower although it is widely seen as a major regional power.

Political divisions

Main article: Political divisions of China

The People's Republic of China has administrative control over 22 provinces (省); the government of the People's Republic of China considers Taiwan (台湾) to be its 23rd province. (See Political status of Taiwan for more information.) Apart from provinces there are 5 autonomous regions (自治区) containing concentrations of several minorities; 4 municipalities (直辖市) for China's largest cities and 2 Special Administrative Regions (SAR) (特别行政区) governed by the PRC.

The 22 provinces, 5 autonomous regions and 4 municipalities can be collectively referred to as "mainland China", a term which usually excludes Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan.

The following are a list of administrative divisions of areas under the control of the People's Republic of China.


Autonomous regions


Special Administrative Regions

Claimed by the PRC, but administered by the Republic of China


Main article: Geography of China

The PRC controls much of eastern areas in peach while the consists of a few yellow-shaded islands including . See the larger image with provincial boundaries for more detail.
The PRC controls much of eastern Asia areas in peach while the ROC consists of a few yellow-shaded islands including Taiwan. See the larger image with provincial boundaries for more detail.

The PRC is the fourth largest country in the world and as such contains a large variety of landscapes. In the east, along the shores of the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, are found extensive and densely populated alluvial plains; the shore of the South China Sea is more mountainous and southern China is dominated by hill country and lower mountain ranges. In the central-east are found the deltas of China's two major rivers, the Huang He and Yangtze River (Chang Jiang). Other major rivers include the Xi Jiang, Mekong, Brahmaputra and Amur.

To the west, major mountain ranges, notably the Himalaya with China's highest point Mount Everest, and high plateaus feature among the more arid landscape of deserts such as the Takla-Makan and the Gobi Desert. Due to a prolonged drought and perhaps poor agricultural practices dust storms have become usual in the spring in China. According to China's Environmental Protection Agency, the Gobi Desert has been expanding and is a major source of dust storms which affect China and other parts of northeast Asia such as Korea and Japan.


Main article: Economy of the People's Republic of China

The People's Republic of China characterizes its economy as Socialism with Chinese characteristics. Beginning in late 1978 the Chinese leadership has been reforming the economy from a Soviet-style centrally planned economy to a more market-oriented economy but still within a rigid political framework of Communist Party control. To this end the authorities have switched to a system of household responsibility in agriculture in place of the old collectivization, increased the authority of local officials and plant managers in industry, permitted a wide variety of small-scale enterprise in services and light manufacturing, and opened the economy to increased foreign trade and investment. This has resulted in mainland China's shift from a command economy to a mixed economy.

The government has emphasized raising personal income and consumption and introducing new management systems to help increase productivity. The government also has focused on foreign trade as a major vehicle for economic growth, for which purpose it set up over 2000 Special Economic Zones (SEZ) where investment laws are relaxed in order to attract foreign capital. The result has been a quadrupling of GDP since 1978. In 1999, with its 1.25 billion people and a GDP of just $3,800 per capita, the PRC became the sixth largest economy in the world by exchange rate and third largest in the world after the European Union and the U.S. by purchasing power. The average annual income of a Chinese worker is $1,300. Chinese economic development is believed to be among the fastest in the world, about 7-8% per year according to Chinese government statistics. China is now a member of the World Trade Organization.

Mainland China has a reputation as being a low-cost manufacturer, particularly due to abundant cheap labor. A worker at a Chinese factory typically costs a company 50 cents to $1 per hour (average $0.86), compared with $2 to $2.50 per hour in Mexico and $8.50 to more than $20 for the U.S. By the end of 2001, the average electricity price in Guangdong Province was 0.72 yuan (9 US cents) per kilowatt hour, much higher than the average level on the Chinese mainland of 0.368 yuan (4 US cents). The PRC officially abolished direct budgetary outlays for exports on Jan. 1, 1991. Nonetheless, it is widely believed that many of mainland China's manufactured exports receive other types of export subsidies. Other forms of export subsidies involve guaranteed provision of energy, raw materials or labor supplies. Exports of some agricultural products, such as corn and cotton, still benefit from direct export subsidies. However, the PRC substantially reduced the level of corn export subsidies in 1999 and 2000. Preferential tax incentives are another example of export subsidies. China is attempting to harmonize the system of taxes and duties it imposes on enterprises, domestic and foreign alike. As a result, preferential tax and duty policies that benefit exporters in special economic zones and coastal cities have been targeted for revision. Chinese exports to the United States were $125 billion in 2002; American exports to China were $19 billion. The discrepancy is largely attributable to the fact that the U.S. consumes far more than it produces and that Chinese people paid low wages cannot afford the US's expensive products. Another factor cited by some people is the unfavorable exchange rate between the Chinese yuan and the United States dollar to which it is pegged. Chinese exports to the United States are rising 20% per annum, much faster than U.S. exports to China. [1], [2]

In 2003, China's GDP in terms of purchasing power parity reached $6.4 trillion, becoming the second-largest in the world. Using conventional measurements it is ranked 7th. With its large population this still gives an average GNP per person of only an estimated $5,000, about 1/7th that of the United States. The officially reported growth rate for 2003 was 9.1%. It was estimated by the CIA that in 2002 agriculture accounted for 14.5% of China's GNP, industry and construction for 51.7% and services for 33.8%. Average rural income is about one third that of urban areas, a gap which has widened in recent decades.


Main article: Demographics of China

Officially the PRC views itself as a multi-ethnic nation with 56 recognized ethnicities. The majority Han Chinese ethnicity makes up about 93% of the population; however it is the majority in only about half of the area of the PRC.

The People's Republic of China, in an attempt to limit its population growth, has adopted a policy which limits urban families (ethnic minorities such as Tibetans are an exception) to one child and rural families to two children when the first is female. Because males are considered to be more economically valuable in rural areas, there appears to be a high incidence of sex selective abortion and child abandonment in rural areas to ensure that the second child is male.

This has resulted in a sex ratio of 115 boys being born for every 100 girls which is considerably different from the natural rate (106 to 100), but which is comparable to the ratios in South Korea. The PRC government is attempting to mitigate this problem by emphasizing the worth of women and has gone so far as to prohibit medical providers from disclosing to parents the sex of an expected baby.

The majority Han Chinese speak varieties of spoken Chinese, which can be regarded as either one language or a family of languages. The largest subdivision of spoken Chinese is Mandarin Chinese, with more speakers than any other language on Earth. A standardized version of Mandarin based on the Beijing dialect, known as Putonghua, is taught in schools and used as the official language of the entire country.

Public health

Main articles: Public health in China and Environment of China

Celebrating victory over
Celebrating victory over SARS

The PRC has several emerging public health problems: health problems related to air and water pollution, a progressing HIV-AIDS epidemic and hundreds of millions of cigarette smokers. The HIV epidemic, in addition to the usual routes of infection, was exacerbated in the past by unsanitary practices used in the collection of blood in rural areas. The problem with tobacco is complicated by the concentration of most cigarette sales in a government controlled monopoly. The government, dependent on tobacco revenue, seems hesitant in its response to the tobacco compared with other public health problems.

Hepatitis B is endemic in mainland China, large percentage of the population contracting the disease, with about 10% being seriously affected. Often this causes liver failure or liver cancer, a common form of death in China. A program initiated in 2002 will attempt over the next 5 years to vaccinate all newborns in mainland China.

Space program

Main article: Space program of China

On October 15, 2003, using a Long March 2F rocket and Shenzhou V manned spacecraft, the PRC became the third country to put a human being into space through its own endeavors.

Launch of the
Launch of the Long March rocket

The country had plans for a manned space program as early as the 1970s, with "Project 714" and the intended Shuguang manned spacecraft. Because of a series of political and economic setbacks, the programs for a manned flight never came to fruition until 2003.

The Long March 2F rocket and Shenzhou V manned spacecraft carried Yang Liwei inside the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft into Earth orbit, where it remained for 21 hours, making a total of 14 revolutions.

Some specialists regard the Shenzhou manned spacecraft as based on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.

The PRC's burgeoning program is considered to be cause for concern in some quarters. A United States Congressional report following the 2003 launch said, "While one of the strongest immediate motivations for this program appears to be political prestige, China's efforts almost certainly will contribute to improved military space systems in the 2010-2020 timeframe." Others are less impressed. A week after the launch, an editorial in the Times of India called it "'China's Late Creep Forward,' given that Beijing is attempting to showcase a four-decade-old technology".

Whether China's advances in this area will produce another space race remains to be seen.


Main article: Culture of China China's traditional values were derived from the orthodox version of Confucianism, which was taught in schools and was even part of imperial civil service examinations. However, the term Confucianism is somewhat problematic in that the system of thought which reached it high-water mark in Qing Dynasty imperial China was in fact composed of several strains of thought, including Legalism, which in many ways departed from the original spirit of Confucianism; indeed by the height of imperial China, the right of the individual ethical conscience and the democratic right of criticism bad government and demanding change had largely been prohibited by "orthodox" thinkers. The leaders who directed the efforts to change Chinese society after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 were raised in the old society and had been marked with its values. Although they were conscious revolutionaries, they had no intention of transforming Chinese culture totally. As practical administrators, PRC leaders sought to change some traditional aspects, such as rural land tenure and education, while preserving others, such as the family structure. Indeed, many observers believe that the Communist period following 1949 is very much in continuity with traditional Chinese history, rather than revolutionary--much like before, the masses accepted the views of the ruling party without much protest. The new government was seen as having who had assumed the Mandate of Heaven, taking over from the old regime and establishing a new dynasty. Just as in the imperial age, the ruler (such as Mao Zedong) was revered and generally seen as without fault and worthy of praise. Change in Chinese society, therefore, has been less than total and consistent than claimed by official spokesmen. At various times in the history of the PRC, many aspects of traditional Chinese culture including art, literature, linguistic forms, to name a few, have been sought by the regime or prominent movements (such as during the Cultural Revolution by the Red Guards) as regressive and harmful, yet as time passes, much of traditional Chinese culture has been accepted by the people and regime as an integral part of Chinese society; indeed, Chinese national policy often emphasizes these as being important in forming a Chinese national identity, and over time many traditional forms have been put to new uses to support the new regime.

Miscellaneous topics

Main article: List of China-related topics


Further reading

  • Ross Terrill, The New Chinese Empire: And What It Means for the United States, Basic Books, hardcover, 400 pages, ISBN 0465084125

External links

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04