Skip to content Skip to footer

Located in Southeast Asia along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, China is the world’s third largest country, after Russia and Canada. With an area of 9.6 million square kilometers and a coastline of 18,000 kilometers, its shape on the map resembles a rooster.

Mohe in Heilongjiang Province marks its northern end while Zengmu Ansha (or James Shoal) is the southern most point. Pamirs marks the western boundary and the country’s eastern border is marked by the conjunction of the Heilongjiang (Amur) River and the Wusuli (Ussuri) River, spanning about 50 degrees of latitude and 62 degrees of longitude.

China is bordered by 14 countries: Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Russia. Countries that share a marine border with China include: North Korea, Korea, Japan, Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

Physical Features

The vast land expanses of China include plateaus, plains, basins, foothills, and mountains. Rugged plateaus, foothills, and mountains occupy nearly two-thirds of the land. This higher elevation in the West and lower in the East resembles a 4-step ladder.

The highest step of the typical ‘ladder topography’ is formed by the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, at the average altitude of over 4,000 meters. There are Kunlun Mountains, Tanggula Mountains, Gangdise-Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains, and Karakoram Mountains. Himalaya Mountain in the south rim is the highest and greatest mountain chain in the world. The highest peak in the world, Everest, at 8844.43 meters high is known as ‘the Roof of the World’.

On the second step are large basins and plateaus, most of which are at 1,000 – 2,000 meters altitude. The Great Khingan, Taihang, Wu and Xuefeng Mountains divide this step and the next lower one. Plateaus including Inner Mongolian, Loess, Yungui Plateaus, and basins such as Tarim, Junggar, and Sichuan Basins are situated here. The Turpan Depression in Xinjiang is the lowest land in China (-155 meter altitude).

The third step, abundant in broad plains, is dotted with the foothills and lower mountains, with altitudes of over 500 meters. The Northeast, the North China, and the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plains, border each other from north to south. These well-cultivated and fertile lands produce abundant crops.

Neritic region of Chinese Mainland is to the east, which is also the fourth step of the ladder. The depth of water here is no more than 200 m in general. There are 5,400 islands in Chinese sea, and Taiwan Island is the largest, with an area of 36,000 km2. Hainan Island is the second largest, with an area of 34,000 km2. Diaoyu Island and Raleigh Rock in the northeast sea of Taiwan Island are the easternmost islands of China.

Islands, reefs and beaches on South China Sea are called the South China Sea Islands collectively, which are the southernmost islands of China. They are called as Dongsha Islands, Xisha Islands, Zhongsha Islands, and Nansha Islands according to different locations. The continental shelf in the east and south of the coastline contains abundant marine resources.

Regional Divisions

People tend to divide China into four regions, the North, South, Northwest and the Qinghai-Tibetan areas. Because of geographical differences, residents of each region have distinctive life styles and customs.

The North and South regions are located in the Eastern monsoon area and are divided by the Qin Mountains-Huai River. Nearly 95 percent of the Chinese population lives here. The other two regions, the Northwest and Qinghai-Tibetan regions that occupy 55 percent of the land, have fewer people, although most of the ethnic groups cluster there.

Rivers and Lakes

China has numerous rivers and lakes. According to statistics, more than 50,000 rivers have drainage areas that exceed 100 square kilometers; more than 1,500 exceed 1,000 square kilometers. These rivers can also be classified as exterior and interior rivers. The Yangtze, the longest in China and even in Asia, is the third longest in the world. The Yellow River, ‘Mother River of the Chinese People’, is just behind the Yangtze in length and both flow into the Pacific Ocean. The Yarlung Zangbo River belongs to the Indian Ocean water system, and the Irtysh River flows to the Arctic Ocean.

The areas with the most lakes are the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain and Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Many lakes in the northwest are salty. Qinghai Lake, a beautiful natural salt-water lake, is the largest. In southeast China, most lakes are fresh water; including Poyang Lake, Dongting Lake, and Taihu Lake. These lakes provide China with precious resources such as aquatic products, petroleum, natural gas, mines and renewable resources like tide power.

Mountainous Topography

China has large areas of mountainous land, about two-thirds of the country. The ranges mainly run from east to west and from northeast to southwest. Among these mountains, some seemingly scrape the sky, and others feature charming scenery. There are 50 mountains in China with an altitude of over 7,000 meters.To the east in China, lower mountains like Mt. Taishan, Mt. Huashan, and Mt. Emeishan, also display their unique beauty.