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Getting the Lay of the Land

June 27, 2008

China has 3,600,947 square miles of land, more than any other country except Russia, with 6.6 million. (The United States is slightly smaller, with 3,539,244 million square miles of land.) China’s climate and geography vary greatly. It has mountains, plains, deserts and four distinct seasons. Its fall includes a brilliant color change in the north.

YAKS AND PANDAS

China’s two most famous native animals, the yak and the giant panda, are neighbors. Perhaps 10,000 wild yaks can still be found in Tibet’s remote areas, and millions of domestic yaks carry loads through the mountains and provide Tibetans with meat and dairy products. About 1,600 giant pandas live in southwest China, east of the Tibetan plateau.

THE PEOPLE

China has 1.3 billion people, more than any other country. There are 56 ethnic groups _ 55 minorities and the Han majority, which makes up more than 90 percent of the population. Though their numbers are small, China’s minorities add color and spice to Chinese life, especially in the villages. Many still wear traditional clothes at festivals, in much the same way that Native Americans wear tribal regalia at powwows.

TIME DIFFERENCE

Beijing is 12 hours ahead of the eastern United States (Eastern Daylight Time). That means, for example, that when Olympic fans on the U.S. east coast are watching the Games at 8 p.m., it’s already 8 a.m. the next day for the Olympic athletes.

MANUFACTURING

China has become very good at simple manufacturing, and inexpensive Chinese goods are now sold around the world. But production has grown so fast that government supervision is lagging. Some products have been found to be tainted, including toys, pet food, toothpaste and medicines.

MOUNT EVEREST

Mount Everest, at 29,035 feet, is the world’s highest mountain. It’s located on the border between Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is controlled by China.

CAR CULTURE

Twenty-five years ago, there were almost no cars in China. Now, large cities are gridlocked at rush hour, and car sales are booming, adding to pollution problems.

CAPITAL

China’s capital is Beijing, which is home to 13.8 million people. But Shanghai is larger, with 16.7 million people. Combined, the two cities have almost as many people as California, the most populous U.S. state.

TECHNOLOGY

China has more Internet users than the United States, and more cell phones than there are U.S. citizens.

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