Located in Asia, China is the world's fourth-largest country, home to one-quarter of the global population. Numerous countries lie on China's borders, which are constantly changing. North from west to east are Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia. Eastward lies Korea and the East and South China Seas, containing over 5,000 islands. Southward lie Vietnam, Laos, Burma (Myanmar), Bhutan, Nepal and India, while in the west are Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Within China are also disputed territories, such as Taiwan and Tibet, and colonies such as Hong Kong and Macau, which have recently been returned to Chinese rule.

China has a wide range of landscapes and climates. The country has been described as a staircase with three steps, descending from west to east. In the west is the icy plateau of Tibet, high in the towering Himalayas. Called "the roof of the world," the mountains are home to Mount Everest, the world's highest peak (8,848 metres). Central China consists of smaller mountains and foothills, deserts, salt lakes and the dry grasslands south of Mongolia. Western China descends into the low river plains that are the country's fertile heartland and the traditional home of the Han people, often called the Middle Kingdom. Great rivers such as the Chang Jing (Yangtze) and Huang He (Yellow) irrigate the region, which contains most of the country's population and cities, including Beijing.

China's weather varies greatly, ranging from cold to hot extremes. The far north experiences bitterly cold winters (-40C) and hot summers (38C); central China receives a somewhat milder version of the same weather. Southeastern China has a subtropical climate, in which hot, humid summers coincide with a rainy season that sometimes brings typhoons.

Although much land has been deforested for industry, northeast China still has large tracts of forest, while further south are rainforests and important medicinal plants such as ginseng, angelica and fritillary. Wildlife includes herds of wild elephants in the south, reindeer, musk deer and tigers in the northeast, and snow leopards and wild yaks in the western highlands. Cranes, bustards egrets, swans and herons live around the country's lakes. Like China's symbol, the panda, most of these animals are threatened by the growing human population.

  Did you know?
The Yellow River is considered to be the cradle of Chinese civilization and referred to as the Mother River of China.

  Did you know?
China is home to the world's largest amphibian: the Asian Giant Salamander can grow up to 1.5 metres in length and weigh up to 40 kilograms.