The Chinese landscape is mainly characterized by mountain and hilly landscapes. The land slopes continuously from west to east to the sea coast. The highest peaks and plateaus are to be found in the southwest. The Mount Everest – Tibetan Chomolungma – rises m on the Tibet-Nepal border 8,850 above sea level. It is the highest point in the world and therefore also the highest point in China. To the north of the 8,000-meter peaks of the Himalayas extends the mighty Tibet-Qinghai Plateau, the “roof of the world”. This inhospitable area is the largest plateau in the world with an extension of 2.2 million km² and is bounded in the north by the Kunlungebirge.
If you move westward, the land slowly falls away. The two great rivers of China meander through the vast hilly landscapes of mainland China. The Changjiang, the “long river”, also known as the Yangzi, is the largest river system in China with a length of 6,300 km. The 5,464 km long Yellow River flows further north. The Yellow River takes its name from the fact that it washes the sediments of the loess plains of northwest China into the lowlands of the heartland, taking on a yellowish color. Both rivers have been the lifelines of Chinese civilization for millennia and are used to irrigate the fertile plains of Sichuan and eastern China as well as for inland navigation. At the same time, China has always played a part in its history to fight floods. In total, the PRC has nine major river systems, with the five northern river systems accounting for 20% and the four southern river systems, including the Yangzi, accounting for 80% of the renewable surface water volume (2711.5 km3 in total).
Despite its mountainous character, China is interspersed with various plains and plateaus. Away from the major river systems, there are large deserts in northwest China. In the far west lies the vast Taklamakan desert, which covers a large part of the Xinjiang province. The Gobi Desert stretches northwest in Inner Mongolia. The Chinese Loess Plateau is located in the provinces of Shaanxi and Shanxi. In contrast to these mostly sparse stretches of land, the large alluvial plains on the coast and the Sichuan Basin in the interior are extremely fertile and have always been densely populated.
Flora and fauna
According to a2zgov, China is one of the countries with the greatest biodiversity in the world. In the northern hemisphere there is no other country that is home to more different animal and plant species. The four main ecosystems of China are grasslands, forests, arable land and desert, which cover a total of 82% of the area of China. There are more than 30,000 plant species and over 6,000 different vertebrate species in the PRC.
Some animal species, such as the giant panda, the Chinese alligator or the Yangzi sturgeon are only found in China. Other animal species typical of China are the Chinese pangolin, raccoon dog and musk deer. In the mountain regions one encounters yaks and the Tibetan antelope, in the steppes of Mongolia on camels and in the far northeast still occasionally on Siberian tigers.
However, China’s biodiversity is threatened by population growth as well as industrialization and urbanization processes, which are shrinking the habitats of many species in China. This sometimes has drastic consequences. The Chinese river dolphin is now considered to be extinct. Other animal species, such as various snub-nosed monkeys, are considered to be endangered. The Chinese demand for exotic animals and animal products also endangers species outside of China.
The state forest authority of the PR China is responsible for species protection. In addition, there is extensive civil society engagement by national and international NGOs to preserve specific species. The best known protection program is the cooperation between WWF and the Chinese government to preserve the giant panda.
Not only in terms of landscape, but also in terms of climate, China is a land of contrasts and comprises 18 climate zones. In the north-west and north-east of China, which is characterized by the continental climate, there are very cold winters and hot summers. The south of the People’s Republic is subtropical to tropical. The major climatic differences are particularly evident in winter. In the capital Beijing, temperatures drop to -17 °C, while in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, it can still be 20 °C. The amount of precipitation also decreases gradually from the south-east, where an average of 1,500-2,000 mm falls per year, to the north-west, where precipitation is sometimes below 50 mm. The large growing areas of China are therefore to be found in the south-eastern half of the country.
The north-eastern areas of China in particular are increasingly suffering from water shortages, which is why a gigantic water transfer project began in the early 2000’s. In the meantime, water from the southern river systems is being channeled northwards to the capital Beijing on a large scale.