China is situated in eastern Asia. The insularity of the Chinese is very much a product of geography; the country is abounded to the north by deserts, at the west by the inhospitable Tibetan Plateau. The Han Chinese, who first built their civilization around the Yellow River, moved south and east towards the Pacific.
It is the third largest country in the world after Canada and Russia, and has an area of 9.6 million square kilometers, or one-fifteenth of the world's landmass. It begins from the confluence of the Heilong and Wusuli Rivers (135 degrees and 5 minutes east longitude) in the east to the Pamirs west of Wuqia County in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (73 degrees and 40 minutes east longitude) in the west, with about 5,200 kilometers apart. In the north, it starts from the midstream of the Heilong River north of Mohe (53 degrees and 31 minutes north latitude) and stretches south to the southernmost island Zengmu'ansha in the South China Sea (4 degrees and 15 minutes north latitude), with about 5,500 kilometers in between.
The Chinese border stretches over 22,000 kilometers on land and its coastline extends well over 18,000 kilometers, washed by the waters (sea area of nearly 3 million square kilometers) of the Bohai Sea(China's only inland sea), the Huanghai Sea, the East China and the South China Seas. There are 6,536 islands larger than 500 square meters, the largest being Taiwan, with a total area of about 36,000 square kilometers, and the second, Hainan. The South China Sea Islands are the southernmost island group of China.
With a vast area, China has a very complex topography varies from mountainous regions with towering peak to flat, featureless plains. The land surface is a bit like staircase descending from west to east. Two-thirds of China total area is mountains and hilly land.
At the top of the staircase are the plateau of Tibet and Qinghai in the South-west of the country. These areas average 4500 meters above sea level and for this reason, Tibet is referred to as the 'Roof of the world'. At the southern rim of the plateau is the Himalayan mountain range with peaks averaging 6000 meters high, and with 40 peaks 7000 meters or more. Mount Everest, known to the Chinese as Qomolanma Feng, lies on the China-Nepal border.
The melting snow from the mountains of western China and the Tibet-Qinghai plateau provides the water for the headstreams of many of the country's largest rivers; the Yangtze (Chang), the Yellow (Huang), the Mekong (Lancang) and the Salween (the Nu).
Across the Kunlun and Qilian mountains on the northern rims of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau and the Hengduan mountains on the eastern rim , the terrain drops abruptly to between 1000 and 2000 meters above sea-level. The secnd step of the staircase is formed by the Inner Mongolia, Loess and Yunnan-Guizhou plateau and Tarim, Sichuna and Junggar basins.
The Inner Mongolia plateau has p\open terrain and expansive grasslands. Further south, the Loess plateau is formed of loose earth 50 to 80 meters in depth – in the past the sol erosion which accompanied a torrential rainfall often choked the Yellow River. The Yunnan-Guizhou plateau in the south-west of China has a lacerated terrain with numerous gorges, rapids and waterfalls, and is noted for its limestone pinnacles and large underground caverns such as those at Guilin and Yangshuo.
The Tarim Basin is the largest inland basin in the world and is the site of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Here you'll find the Taklamakan Desert (the largest in China) as well as China's largest shifting salt lake, Lop Nur, where they test their nuclear bombs. The Tarim Basin is bordered to the north by the Tian mountains, and to the east of this range is the low-lying Turfan Depression. The Turfan Depression is the hottest place in China and is known as the 'oasis of fire'. The Junggar Basin lies in the far north of Xinjiang Province, beyond the Tian mountains.
Crossing the mount6ains on the eastern edge of the second step of the staircase, the altitude drops to less than a thousand meters above sea level. Here, forming the third step, are the plains of the Yangtze River valley and northern and eastern China. These plains are the homeland of the Han Chinese, their 'Middle Kingdom'. They're the most important agricultural areas of the country and the most heavily populated.
In such a vast country, the waterways quickly took on a central role as communication and trading links, Most of China's rivers flow eastwards. At 6300 km the Yangtze is the longest in China and the third longest in the world after the Nile and the Amazon. It originates in the snow-covered Tanggula mountains of southwestern Qinghai, and passes through Tibet and several Chinese provinces before emptying into the East China Sea. The Yellow River is about 5460 km long, second only to the Yangtze. It originates in the Bayan Har mountains of Qinghai, and winds its way through the north of China to the Bo Sea east of Beijing. The Yellow River is the birthplace of Chinese civilization and the cradle of the Chinese nation. The third great waterway of China is man-made; the 1800 km Grand Canal, the oldest and longest man-made canal in the world, stretches all the way from Hangzhou in the south of China to Beijing in the north.