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The world’s most populous country, China is also the third largest in terms of area. Politically, the State has moved away from the Maoist politics of the 1950s and 1960s and economic growth has been dramatic leading to its development into the world’s second largest economy in 2011. China has been widely criticised for its human rights standards, including with regards to the high number of executions carried out every year, restrictions on freedom of expression and suppression of dissent.
The People's Republic of China lies in East Asia and is the second largest country in the world (by land area) after Russia. It has an east coast that fronts on to the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the South China Sea. China has the longest combined land border in the world, bordering with 14 countries including Russia, North Korea and India. China shares maritime boundaries with South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan.
China's capital is Beijing, with Shanghai being the largest city. The People's Republic of China has administrative control over 22 provinces, and considers Taiwan to be its 23rd province, although Taiwan is currently governed by the Republic of China, which disputes the PRC's claim. China also has five subdivisions officially termed autonomous regions, each with a designated minority group; four municipalities; and two Special Administrative Regions (SARs), which enjoy a degree of political autonomy. These 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, and four municipalities can be collectively referred to as "mainland China", a term which usually excludes the SARs of Hong Kong and Macau.
Population and Language
China is the most populous country in the world, with a recorded population of over 1.3 billion people in 2012. The annual population growth rate was 1 per cent from 1990-2011, but dropped to 0 per cent from 2011 onwards. China officially recognizes 56 distinct ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Han Chinese - the world's largest single ethnic group - who make up around 92 per cent of the population. Mandarin is largely spoken in the North of the country, while Cantonese, Wu, Hakka and many other dialects are spoken in the South. The written language, however, is standardised across the country. Non-Han groups represent around 8 per cent of the population, the largest of these being the Zhuang and the Manchu. Traditionally, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and ancestor worship were practised, but the State now strongly regulates religious worship.
History and Politics
The Chinese Communist party came to power in 1949, having defeated the nationalist Koumintang (KMT) forces, who withdrew to the island of Taiwan. This brought to an end the decades of chaos since the collapse of the old Chinese empire in 1916. With the proclamation of a new central government under Mao Zedong, the Communists introduced numerous new social and economic policies - most famously that of the 'Great Leap Forward', a programme aimed at making China a major industrial power. Under this programme however agriculture was neglected, which has been seen as contributing to three successive crop failures and a subsequent famine estimated to have caused between 15 and 55 million deaths. In the 1960s the economic emphasis shifted to rebuilding agriculture. Political tensions within the Communist party following the failures of the Great Leap Forward, lead to a period of repression and violence known as the Cultural Revolution, lasting from 1966 until the death of Mao ten years later. With may of the other party leaders dead or in exile after the purges of the previous period, reformers led by Deng Xiaoping rose to prominence. New economic ideas, including more openness to foreign trade and economic liberalisation, are now thought to have played a major part in China's impressive economic growth in the decades since. Political change however, has been slower in coming. Despite several subsequent leadership transitions, genuine opposition has been strongly suppressed, most visibly during the protest at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Chinese foreign relations in recent years have been characterised by tensions over trade and human rights issues. In 2012 Xi Jinping succeeded Hu Jintao as the new General Secretary of the Communist Party and President of China.
Due to the sheer size and scale of the Chinese state, the political system is necessarily extremely complex and contains within it a great degree of variation. It has also undergone several major waves of changes compared to previous eras, including moves towards institutionalising and formalising the power structure. Previously, positions of authority tended to be poorly defined - Deng Xiaopeng, for example, was the most important man in, and undisputed leader of, China for more than a decade without officially holding any of the most senior offices.
China's political system combines three parallel structures - the state itself, the Chinese Communist Party and the Peoples Liberation army. The leader of China, often referred to as the Paramount Leader, has in recent years usually been head of all three of these - not only President of the Peoples Republic of China but also General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chief of the Central Military Commission. Likewise, the senior organs of each of these three elements are usually heavily interlinked, with several shared members between the State Council, Politburo of the Communist party and the Central Military Commission. Further down the chain, however, these structures begin to diverge creating parallel, sometimes competing, positions at a sub-national level. A province or region, for example, will usually have a chief executive representing the Chinese state and a party secretary representing the CCP. With direct central rule by Beijing being unfeasible, the general moves towards increased power in the provinces means that these positions are becoming very important and the conflicts they generate sometimes spill over into national scandals.
While not a democracy at a national level, China does allow the election of peoples congress members at a county level, who then have significant oversight over local affairs. These elect members to a provincial/municipal congress, who then in turn elect to the National Peoples Congress, China's legislature. This body, once seen as nothing more than a rubber stamp, has become increasingly vocal about its role in approving and advising on legislation passed down to it from the State Council and has some authority to demands revisions or refinements.
China's economy has enjoyed a remarkable period of expansion, although the expected growth for 2013 is lower than before, due to the government’s efforts to correct the structural instabilities of the economy. Market reforms since 1978 have shifted a largely centrally planned economy to one incorporating market elements, which resulted in rapid economic and social development, lifting more than 600 million people out of poverty. As of 2013, China has the world's second-largest economy in terms of nominal GDP, totaling approximately US$8.227 trillion according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, China's 2012 nominal GDP per capita of US$6,075 puts it behind around ninety countries (out of 183 countries on the IMF list) in global GDP per capita rankings. Economic growth has also brought challenges such as high inequality, issues with environmental sustainability and the effects of rapid urbanisation. Improvements in life expectancy and healthcare, along with population control policies in recent decades have also created growing issues around an ageing population. According to the World Bank, while China has successfully managed to move from a low-income to a middle-income country, achieving high-income status might be more difficult - an issue which China recognises in their current Five-Year Plan (2011-2015).
Media and Civil Society
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) maintains a monopoly on political power. Citizens who attempt to form opposition parties or advocate for democratic reforms have been sentenced to long prison terms. Foreign reporters also encounter difficulties reporting on China, including violent assaults, arrests or difficulties in obtaining a visa. Freedom House reports relative freedom in private discussions and citizen efforts to push the limits of freedom of speech. Nevertheless, the media environment remains restrictive, with all public media owned by the CCP. Public discussions of politics, history and human rights, in particular, are controlled. Some media platforms remain blocked and self-censorship is encouraged through different policies. Despite this, however, the growth of national social media platforms such as Weibo have encouraged new venues for discussion. The largest of these services, Sina Weibo or weibo.com has over five hundred millions registered users as of December 2012.
Widespread corruption is recognised by the CCP but only selectively prosecuted - often as part of internal power struggles. Human rights defenders are harassed, intimidated, persecuted and criminalised. 
Human Rights and Children's Rights
Civil and political freedom is the main human rights concern. Amnesty International reports enforced disappearances and an upcoming possible revision of the law to allow for detention up to six months without notification of family or friends. Forced evictions are another major concern, especially among rural people.
The authorities have stated their intention to bring all religious practice under state control, including the appointment of religious leaders and construction of sites of worship. Those who practice religions banned by the state risk harassment, detention, imprisonment or violent persecution - most famously demonstrated through the ongoing campaign against the Falun Gong organisation. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concern that children seeking to practice their chosen religion were restricted from doing so and faced the threat of detention or harassment.
Tensions and human rights violations in outlying areas such as the Inner Mongolian region, the Xinjiang Uighur region or Tibet autonomous region also continue. Furthermore the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted with concern the threat to educational rights caused by high student-teacher ratios, high drop-out rates and mixed quality of education throughout the country. The possibility of child sexual and economic exploitation continues to be a concern for the Committee as well.
- UNDESA, 2011 Population statistics
- UNICEF, 2011 China statistics
- The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia China History
- World Bank China
- Freedom House China
- Amnesty International China
- Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/china/report-2012#section-28-5 China]
- OHCHR 40th session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child