China isn't a country - it's a different world. From shop-till-you-drop metropolises to the epic grasslands of Inner Mongolia - with deserts, sacred peaks, astounding caves, and imperial ruins - it's a land of cultural and geographic schisms. It's not that China has completely done away with its Maoist past - it's more that the yin of revolutionary zeal is being balanced by the yang of economic pragmatism, and the oldguard communists are giving way to the new wave entrepreneurs.

It's a land of towering mountains and epic landscapes - background scenery to the fall of dynasties, the rise of emperors and the turning of the revolutionary wheel. Unless you have a couple of years and unlimited patience, it's best to follow a loose itinerary here, such as Beijing to Tibet via Xi'an's terracotta warriors, following the Silk Road route, sailing down the Yangzi River, or exploring the Dr Seuss landscape of Guangxi Province.

Full country name: People's Republic of China
Area: 9,596,960 sq km (mainland)
Population: 1.25 billion (mainland) Yikes!
Capital city: Beijing (pop 13.8 million)
People: Han Chinese (93%), plus 55 ethnic minorities
Languages: Putonghua (Beijing Mandarin dialect), Cantonese
Religion: Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism (no stats available); Muslim (14 million), Christian (7 million)
Government: Communist republic
Head of State: Jiang Zemin

GDP: US$4.5 trillion
GDP per head: US$3600
Growth rate: 7.8%
Inflation: 2.8%
Major industries: Iron, steel, coal, machinery, automobiles, petrolium, chemicals, telecommunications, textiles
Major trading partners: USA, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan

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