Geography of China

China stretches some 5,026 km (3123 mi) across the East Asian landmass. China is bordered by seas in waters eastward, with the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, Taiwan Strait, and South China Sea, and bordered by landmasses on its three other sides, from North Korea to Vietnam. China has been officially and conveniently divided into five homogeneous physical macro-regions: Eastern China (subdivided into the northeast plain, north plain, and southern hills), Xinjiang-Mongolia, and the Tibetan-highlands. Its physical features are multiples. The eastern and southern half of the country, its seacoast fringed with offshore islands, is a region of fertile lowlands and foothills with most of the agricultural output and human population. The western and northern half of China is a region of sunken basins, rolling plateaus, and towering massifs, including a portion of the highest tableland on earth (Tibetan Plateau) with lower agricultural possibilities and thus, far less populated. 

 

With an area of about 9.6 million sq km (3.7 million sq mi), the People's Republic of China is the 3rd largest country in total area behind Russia and Canada, and very similar to the United States. This figure is sometimes challenged by border disputes, most notably about Taiwan, Aksai Chin, the Trans-Karakoram Tract, and South Tibet.

 

To picture the layout of China’s massive landmass, it helps to mentally split it into thirds: one-third sky-scraping mountains in the western Tibetan Plateau, one-third arid deserts in the north and northwest, and the east and southeastern third low-lying river plains teeming with the majority of China’s 1.4 billion people. This division reveals one of the great ironies of China’s size: although it’s vast, it’s actually quite squeezed for space because of its peculiar geography. Deserts cover almost 1/5 of the country and grow each year as sand swallows up 200 sq km (77 sq mi) of farmable land every month. With so little land to till in order to produce food for China’s mega population, desperate measures are taken, including rapid deforestation and overgrazing, which only hasten the desertification.

Urbanization has helped pollute entire pockets of the country with car exhaust and coal-burning to provide power. For years, China has postponed its reckoning with these complicated problems, promising to address them once the national economy was up to speed. However, neglect has a price tag – The World Bank has estimated that air pollution puts a 6% drag on the national GDP, and if all forms of environmental damage are included, the figure may be as high as 12%.

In short, while China’s size and diverse geography is one of its greatest assets, it also presents unique challenges.


East & Southeast: people, plains & rivers


24Rivers and plains make up about 45% of China’s landmass, but 95% of the population calls this landscape home. Water from the forbidding plateaus of Tibet and Qinghai rushes down the mountain ranges to fill these lush plains. It’s not just water that flows from west to east, though; China’s wealthiest provinces also lie in the east and southeast.

The Yangtze River is the big daddy of Chinese waterways and the third-longest river in the world. Its watershed makes up almost 20% of China’s landmass and supports 400 million people. Beginning in the frozen glaciers of the Tibetan plateau, the Yangtze rushes its way to the sea, a journey of almost 6,300 km (3,914 mi). Besides its role in the ecosystem, the Yangtze has served as a water highway for centuries with trade flourishing along its shores.

The Yangtze serves as an example of the Chinese environment interacting with its growing urban population (remember this “third” is China’s most densely populated), and there are bad results for both. Developers and engineers have set their sights on the immense Yangtze as a potential source of power. The Three Gorges Dam was opposed from the get-go by citizens who argued it would interfere with the lives and livelihoods of the millions of people in its affected area, including the destruction of ancient Chinese relics. The dam’s proponents argued that it would put an end to the floods that periodically gush over the banks of the Yangtze that inundate the homes of thousands.
 

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The gorgeous Three Gorges of the Yangtze River

The land hasn’t just been shaped by dams and humans, but also by nature. Through a process called siltation, big rivers like the Yangtze lay down deposits of tons upon tons of silt. Though it began millennia ago, the process still continues on a daily basis. You only have to look as far as the mouth of the Yangtze for proof as there the land mass grows another 100 m (328 ft) every year.

The second major river system in China is the Yellow River, which is considered to be the birthplace of Chinese civilization. Up north, the Heilongjiang (Black Dragon River, aka Amur River) flows for 3,101 km (1,927 mi) along the border of Russia and China before moving into Russia. The last notable waterway is the Zhujiang, or Pearl River, which gushes for 2,200 km (1,367 mi) in South China and, along with its tributaries, forms the fertile Pearl River Delta area that includes Guangzhou, Zhuhai, Macau and Hong Kong.


West: peak to peak


Though mountains pop up throughout China, they are especially dominant in the western (and some southern) areas. Imagine a flat terrain that grows hilly and rises like a staircase as it heads west, culminating in the mother of all peaks, Mount Everest, on the Tibetan-Nepalese border. Many of China’s most postcard-friendly landmarks revolve around mountains, from the dramatic Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces of Guangxi to the misty peaks of Mount Huangshan in Anhui and the iconic karsts geology of Yangshuo (see the back of the 5 RMB bill for visual evidence of this one).

Mountains really steal the show in Tibet and Qinghai, which burst forth with the dizzying peaks of the Himalayas. About 40 peaks clock in at more than 7,000 m (22,966 ft), leading some to joke that this region is the “third pole” of the globe. Freezing temperatures, gusting winds, and punishing solar radiation are the name of the game here, and there are also 37,000 glaciers that provide the fuel for China’s powerful rivers. Unfortunately, these glaciers are also early alarm bells for global warming: some scientists suggest that 40% of them will have completely melted by 2050, causing an initial flood that will be followed by a draught.

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Snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas

Gold, copper, uranium, lithium, lead and other valuable minerals are also in abundance in these southwestern areas, a fact that may help clarify the intense political maneuvering surrounding the control of Tibet.

To the southeast from Tibet, a series of dramatic mountains unfold, eventually diminishing into plains. As beautiful as these peaks may be, they’re a main culprit for the shortage of agricultural space in China. Squished between hillsides or carved out of cliffs, small patches of land provide little working space for farmers, and at the end of the day only 15% of China’s map is available for cultivation. Contrast that with China being home to 20% of the world’s population, and you can start to see the problem. 

 

North & Northwest: desert sands

 

Beijing residents are occasionally tortured by a spring sandstorm that brings clouds of yellow gritty dust swirling into the capital, seemingly out of nowhere. It’s not so random, however, when you consider that almost a fifth of China, including the region just west of Beijing, is composed of vast desert. Rocky, sandy, insanely hot then fatally cold – these regions have a lot in common with China’s neighbors, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.

The biggest desert in China is the Taklimakan, the world’s second largest collection of sand after the Sahara Desert. Nearby is China’s biggest salt lake (and favored nuclear testing site), Lop Nur. Although China’s northwestern desert regions are mostly bone-dry, the mountain ranges here, including the Tian Shan, Altai, Pamir and Kunlun, stockpile vast amounts of water in the form of snow and ice.

Northeast of the Taklimakan lies the capital of Xinjiang Province, Ürümqi. Talk about dry – it’s the world’s farthest city from the sea. Xinjiang is also home to China’s lowest-lying area (and its hottest) outside of Turpan. Only the Dead Sea in Israel is a deeper land depression. Of course, there’s also the famous Gobi Desert that runs from Mongolia to areas of Inner Mongolia. Moving east from Xinjiang, the deserts transform into the grasslands and the steppes of Inner Mongolia, a massive province in its own right.

 

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Swirling sand dunes of the Gobi Desert

This entire northwestern region once formed a large swathe of the the Silk Road, where goods, people, languages and ideas flowed between China, the Middle East and beyond. These days the region is still known for its resources, though of a different sort – fossil fuels, including gas, oil reserves and coal.


Regions at a Glance

5
 
   
Northwest

Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
Qinghai Province
Gansu Province
Shanxi Province
Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region

2
  The mystical Labrang Monastery in Gansu Province

  

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Arguably the most rugged region of the Middle Kingdom, China’s northwest is marked by the ancient Silk Road, which snakes through every one of its administrative regions. The area is often referred to as the country’s Wild West, as adventure – and at times a notable amount of danger – awaits daring travelers here. In the region’s western areas, nomads, yaks and camels populate the land, and pockets of isolated Tibetan and Muslim minorities still defy China’s rampant modernization. From here, the Silk Road winds further east, past Buddhist grottoes, Taoist holy mountains, and millennia-old tombs.

The bustling bazaars, prayer-filled mosques, ruined ancient desert cities, and time-locked camel highways of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region greatly differ from Beijing-influenced China. Central Asian heritage is strong here, where the 2009 riots in the capital of Urumqi are solemn reminders of the head butting that Uighur Muslims in Chinese Turkestan have had with Han and Manchu administrations for the greater part of 2,000 years.

Qinghai Province’s vast stretch on Tibetan Plateau is perfect for world-class hikes that will steal your breath (in more ways than one), and the lack of modern amenities truly define “roughing it.” Tibetans still call this region Amdo, one of old Tibet’s three traditional provinces.

Camels, nomads and general diversity do not let up once you reach Gansu Province. Buddhist temples and relics are plentiful here, as are Muslim peoples, who tend often to be more ethnically Hui or Dongxiang than Uighur. The Hui become strongest in Ningxia – their ancestral homelands – where Stone Age rock carvings are peppered over the great tombs of the Xixia Dynasty of the enigmatic Tangut people.

In Xi’an, the rowdy ancient capital of Shaanxi Province, eastern terminus of the Silk Road and one of China’s last walled cities, the distinctive architecture of the mighty Tang Dynasty puts on a lovely show, while the renowned army of the Terracotta Warriors is just one of a cache of artifact-filled tombs and mausoleums dotted around the countryside. After the tombs you can get some fresh air on Mt Huashan, one of Taoism’s most sacred mountains, or visit Yan’an, a CCP stronghold of the 1930s and ‘40s.

 


6
 
North
Beijing Municipality
Tianjin Municipality
Hebei Province
Shanxi Province
Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region

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  A contemporary Beijing Hutong in the winter

 

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  UNESCO-listed Pingyao Ancient Street in Shanxi Province

 

Ancient history meets modern life in ways that are strange and fascinating – and sometimes totally contradictory – in China’s north. It was from this region’s uppermost reaches that the ancient Chinese were terrorized by nomadic raiders to the point of building the longest defensive wall the world has ever seen. The desert winds of the Gobi still echo the past as they sweep sandstorms into the nascent art, music, drinking and dining scenes that electrify the nation’s roaring modern capital, while just a horse ride south, rural escapes trade urban clamor for stunningly preserved ancient towns and rustic villages.

Beijing: the capital of the People’s Republic of China has evolved from a largely unheard of on-again-off-again prefecture capital of the Warring States period to a ruined Liao Dynasty capital, and later rebuilt by the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty to serve as the de facto seat of power for three of China’s most productive and influential dynasties (Yuan, Ming and Qing). The legacy of Beijing’s remarkable history is painstakingly preserved in grand imperial palaces, ageless temples and Mongolian-era hutong alleyways, while in other parts it is bulldozed under hush-hush supervision to make way for steel skyscrapers, upscale shopping and dining, and a contemporary Beijing that doesn’t seem to care if you’re ready for it or not.

A quick train ride south of Beijing, the foreign concessions of Tianjin contrast their fascinating old European villas with the city's recently renovated Ming Dynasty architecture and a modern skyline that climbs higher every day. This bold port city on the eastern edges of Hebei Province further juxtaposes with the surrounding provincial countryside, where the rural villages of a more timeless China allow you to shrug off the brashness of overpopulated urban centers.

Sitting humbly further south, the province of Shanxi is perhaps China’s most underrated little region. From the UNESCO listed town of Pingyao – one of the most perfectly preserved ancient towns in the world – to the marvelous Buddhist monastery on Wutai Shan and the cave homes of Lijiashan – where the modern cave-dwelling inhabitants emphasize its frozen point in time – Shanxi is full of fascinating surprises.

North of it all, Inner Mongolia fills its vast stretches of sand and time with time-honored Mongolian horse rides, traditional yurt living, lively festivals, secluded lakes and some of the most fantastic and hearty hot pot in the entire Middle Kingdom.


 7

Northeast
Liaoning Province
Jilin Province
Heilongjiang Province

China’s not-to-be-forgotten northeast is not simply the place you go to when temples and imperial palaces have lost their shine, rather it’s where any traveler can head to grab a taste of China that few in the West have ever had, or have even known existed. Sub-zero winters allow enough superb activities and scenery (and a world-class ice festival) to warm you to the core. Summer makes way for fantastic beer gardens that can be guzzled all over the region, and a chance to rub elbows with ancient Korean relics and pyramids. You can also get right up to the border with North Korea, or hang out with the ethnic Korean population in its own autonomous prefecture. Russians and Jews have made their footprint as well, and if you trek your way past their awesome architectural legacy in the far north, you can even catch the aurora borealis during the endlessly long summer days.

Though the most southern of China’s northeast, Liaoning is still frigid in the winter. With less wintertime fun than its northern partners, Liaoning is best tackled in the summer when a grand beer festival kicks back along the golden coastline of Dalian, just across the bay from North Korea.

Jilin Province is beginning to bank on its bone-chilling winter temperatures with formidable skiing opportunities. Historic perspectives stay on the unique side in the ruins of the ancient Korean Koguryo Kingdom and the former palace of China’s last emperor, Puyi, where he resided when he was a puppet-ruler of the Japanese Manchukuo state. Stunning natural scenery joins the party as well at the epic volcano-crater lake that sits just south of a little-known Korean autonomous prefecture.

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  A tomb from the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom, Jilin Province

 

In icy Heilongjiang, the best of the winter and summer worlds come alive in vivid fashion. The world-renowned Snow and Ice Festival of Harbin is one of the best on the planet, while beer gardens drown the city in fun and good spirits during the summer. Orthodox Jewish and Russian architecture fascinates countless visitors, while in the countryside dormant volcanoes and cooled lava fields have grown a wondrous lost world. At the tip top of China, spooky Siberian forests surround the town of Mohe as the summer sky is illuminated with the unforgettable northern lights.


8 
East
Shanghai Municipality
Jiangsu Province
Zhejiang Province
Anhui Province
Fujian Province
Jiangxi Province
Shandong Province
Taiwan

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The jaw-dropping Heavenly Gate atop Mount Taishan, Shandong Province

3
  Zhouzhuang Water Town, Jiangsu Province

Possibly the region least connected by a tangible common culture, eastern China is small in size but packs a staggering punch in sights, sounds, feelings, moments, and history. Up and down the coast, the land is home to water towns filled with picturesque wetlands, canal streets reminiscent of Venice, and enough breezy coastal cities to give California a run for its money. History is packed to the brim in much of the region as well, especially in Confucius’ Shandong hometown or the cozy mountain villages of Anhui. Throw in the dramatic scenery of sacred mountains like Taishan, Putuo and Huangshan, as well as the cosmopolitan showmanship of Shanghai – often called the Paris of the East – and you have a diverse Chinese region just begging for a spot at the top of your list.

It really doesn’t get any more Chinese than Shanghai. Even though it’s probably not the China of your childhood dreams, lacking in dusty temples, creaky imperial palaces, and seemingly anything pre-2000, it is the epitome of what China is today, or at least what it strives to be. The economic powerhouse that is Shanghai, typified by the gleaming behemoth skyscrapers of the financial district, only seems challenged by the fashion that parades from every corner of the city. Across the river from the soaring skyline, the Bund will further charm you with European art deco buildings that combine with a standout art district to cement Shanghai as China’s most modern and modish destination.

Just south of Shanghai lies Zhejiang Province, whose capital of Hangzhou boasts the nationally renowned splendor of West Lake and glorious wetland parks, and whose Buddhist island retreat on Mt Putuo urges you to skip the crowds around its temples and holy peak and just chill by the beach.

Watery elegance continues as you strike just north of Shanghai to Jiangsu. The province is so full of charming Yangtze River canal towns – nowhere better than Suzhou – that you’ll never want to leave… until the tour groups come. That’s when you sneak over to the former imperial capital of Nanjing for a look at the awesomely overgrown Ming Dynasty city walls and a cache of fantastic museums.

Above Jiangsu, historic heavy hitter Confucius steps up to bat in his hometown of Qufu, Shandong Province. In Qufu, you can visit his tomb and former clan mansion, as well as all things Confucius. After you climb the sacred Taoist mountain of Mt Taishan, relax in the province’s laid-back seaside city of Qingdao, ranked as one of the best places to live in Asia (and you thought it was all about the locally brewed Tsingtao beer).

Life gets even more relaxing at the foot of spectacular Mount Huangshan in Anhui Province, where UNESCO listed Hui villages rear up to the mountain that inspired an entire school of 17th century painters. Over the southern border in Jiangxi Province, the constant drizzle of rain may remind you of the definition of nuisance, but it sure does make the rice paddy terraces and mountain scenery look even more gorgeous.

The march into China’s southeastern edges brings the seafaring province of Fujian to the fore, which was once home to ancestors of many Taiwanese. On the coast, the mellow port city of Xiamen is sandwiched by relaxing island escapes, while inland the mind-blowing tulou – giant stone, wood and mud-packed dwellings of the Hakka people, make up the local UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bobbing off the coast of Fujian, the island of Taiwan is an often overlooked sanctuary of preserved Chinese culture. Once a haven for Chinese fleeing the Cultural Revolution and the Chinese Civil War, today Taiwan showcases a provocative meld of the traditional East and the flashy West in places such as the squeaky-clean cosmopolitan capital of Taipei and the riveting natural scenery of Sun Moon Lake, as well as a fantastic mix of indigenous ethnic minorities on the east coast. It’s also the perfect place to bake in the sun or splash in the waves, especially in the southern town of Kenting.

 


11
South Central
Henan Province
Hubei Province
Hunan Province
Guangdong Province
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
Hainan Province
Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
Macau Special Administrative Region

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  The legendary Shaolin Temple in Henan Province


4
  The Li River at Yangshuo, Guangxi Province


China’s south central region is the nation’s heartland. Booming with out-of-this-world scenes of karst formations, alluring forests and beaches, and the legendary Three Gorges of the Yangtze River, the region also thunders with the kung fu kicks of monks at the Shaolin Temple and Taoist tai chi masters on Mt Wudang, and sizzles with the tongue-tingling spices of Hunan’s famous cuisine. Down south, the hip and the international meet in intriguing fashion in Hong Kong, while Macau’s gambling addiction grows larger day by day.

Home to the renowned Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of kung fu, Henan Province makes martial artists around the world drool with excitement. Though the warrior monks have become more performance based in light of the corrupting tourist dollar, the temple is still a worthy destination and sits on the backdrop of Henan’s mighty dynastic history. Further off the beaten path, China’s last Maoist collective farm at Nanjiecun will remind you to button up your drab green Mao suit and drink one for the proletariat.

Internal martial artists should make their tour just south into Hubei Province, where the breathtaking slopes of beautiful Mount Wudang rise up to the peaks and temples where all things tai chi began. This is also the place of the Yangtze River’s meeting with the geological magnificence of the Three Gorges and all the majesty that branches out from there.

And then there’s Hunan Province, lauded by communist hardliners as the birthplace of Mao Zedong, where more than 80% of the land is layered in unbelievable mountain scenery and karst formations that meet up with the verdant lands of the Yangtze River basin. It’s here that spice-addicts are challenged by Hunan’s world famous fiery dishes, right on their tasty home turf.

It’s in neighboring Guangdong Province, however, that the culinary adventure really picks up. Cantonese food is by far the most famous in the West, so while you’re enjoying Guandong’s World Heritage-listed watchtowers and gorgeous natural scenery, make some time for dim sum and dumplings. The province also puts you in perfect striking position to hit the golden-sand beaches and crystal clear waters of Hainan, a small island just off the coast that’s perfect for lazy bicycling.

Those who didn’t get enough of the mesmerizing karst cliffs of south central China’s northern provinces can veer west to the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The mere mention of Guangxi or its magnificent cities of Guilin or Yangshuo can incite outdoorsmen to gush with excitement about the endless cycling, hiking and boating that can be done through Guangxi’s verdant lush mountains and valleys. The beauty of Guangxi is seductive, and even if you’re not ready for so much physical activity, the region offers more than its share of soothing river cruises and laidback retreats.

Off the Mainland, the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong is not only the flavorful culinary capital of Cantonese cuisine, but it also packs its share of surprises. From a long standing art, music and film scene that glitters among the beaming metal skyline, to tenements fitted side by side with wealthy high-rises and fertile green mountains, Hong Kong lives up to its legend. A hop, skip and a jump over the water lies Macau, which recently surpassed Las Vegas in gambling revenue to have the term “Vegas of China” flipped on its head. The “Macau of America,” anyone?
 

 

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Southwest
Chongqing Municipality
Sichuan Province
Guizhou Province
Yunnan Province
Tibet Autonomous Region

 12

The rice terraces of Yuanyang County, Yunnan Province


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Xijiang Village of the Miao minority, Guizhou Province

 

Magnificent southwestern China – the spanning diversity of people and landscapes here is so vast that few other places in Asia can hope to match it, and none in China can. Whether you want quirky modern cities, peppery Sichuan cooking, or unstoppably epic treks to remember for a lifetime, southwestern China will hit you with a Cupid’s arrow no matter where you travel. The only problem is once you get a taste, you’re just going to want more and more, and most people are hard-pressed to visit this part of China only once.

The mighty megalopolis of Chongqing Municipality is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, but it’s here that you can still find some of the most interesting visions of old China. Once a fortress city, Chongqing sits on the Yangtze River, washing some of its best old timey idiosyncrasies onto the city’s riverfront docks. Delve deeper into the countryside for a sprinkling of charming time-locked villages, ancient Buddhist carvings, and one-of-a-kind Yangtze River cruises.

Though hot pot is said to have originated in Chongqing, it is Sichuan Province that holds the title of hot pot king these days. Few dishes are as associated with a Chinese region as this sizzling fare is with Sichuan, and hot pot can be found at countless eateries in the slow-paced capital of Chengdu. It’s particularly good to be a hiker in Sichuan, given that your choices are the bamboo forests of the south-central areas, the Ming villages and lakes of the north, or the western alpine reaches of Kham – one of old Tibet’s three traditional regions. If that’s not enough, the worlds biggest Buddha awaits you outside of Leshan, while the nation’s adorable panda mascots crawl around in local reserves.

If you’re really looking to rub shoulders with local villagers, then you can’t miss Guizhou Province. More than one third of the population is composed of ethnic minorities, which is why Guizhou has more fantastic festivals – filling every month of the year – than any other province in China. There’s also plenty to do in the wilderness areas, waterfalls, and ancient towns.

There is no better place in China, however, than Yunnan Province to…well, to do just about anything. This one has it all. Easily the most prolific Chinese province in terms of people, landscapes, flora, fauna and mind-boggling adventures, Yunnan takes the cake for epic China majesty. If you’re looking for world-class treks through incredible mountain scenery in the Tibetan foothills, you’ll find it here. Want to take a trip to balmy jungles and raucous Myanmar border towns that seem more SE Asian than Chinese? Yunnan will deliver. How about UNESCO listed rice terraces, a panoply of beautifully preserved ancient villages and mountain towns, and enough delicious snacks to keep you full for a lifetime? Yup, Yunnan’s got those too. And with more than half of China’s 56 recognized ethnic groups and over one quarter of its plant and animal life, there’s nothing this place can’t do.

 

Tibetan Lands
Tibet Autonomous Region
Qinghai Province
Southwestern Gansu Province
Western Sichuan Province
Northwestern Yunnan Province


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  The imperious Potala Palace, Tibet

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  The Qinghai-Tibet Railway travels at heights of more than 16,600 ft above sea level

At the top of the world, the mystical land of Tibet is as beguiling as it is beautiful. The high altitude plateau, covered with lakes that sparkle like gemstones and an endless selection of mountain temples, is one of the most spiritually aware places on the planet, though wrought with controversy. If you can manage to put together solid arrangements to enter this land of unspeakable beauty, it is worth your time, but ever-changing regulations make entering Tibet complicated at best, and impossible at worst.

Entering Tibet currently requires any foreigner to sign up with a tour group. This is costly and does not allow you to explore at your whim, but if you want to see Lhasa, it may be your only option. Things may change by the time you read this book, so keep checking. If a trip to Tibet just doesn’t pan out, consider that the regions in Qinghai, southwestern Gansu, western Sichuan, and northwestern Yunnan. They not only have large Tibetan populations, but also sit on the foothills of the Tibetan Plateau and can deliver a fantastic Tibetan experience.


Administrative Divisions
The People's Republic of China has administrative control over 22 provinces and considers Taiwan to be its 23rd province. 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.

Provinces (省): Anhui (安徽省) - Fujian (福建省) - Gansu (甘肃省) - Guangdong (广东省) - Guizhou (贵州省) - Hainan (海南省) - Hebei (河北省) - Heilongjiang (黑龙江省) - Henan (河南省)
Hubei (湖北省) - Hunan (湖南省) - Jiangsu (江苏省) - Jiangxi (江西省) - Jilin (吉林省) - Liaoning (辽宁省) - Qinghai (青海省) - Shaanxi (陕西省) - Shandong (山东省) - Shanxi (山西省)
Sichuan (四川省) - Taiwan (台湾省) - Yunnan (云南省) - Zhejiang (浙江省)

Autonomous regions (自治区): Guangxi (广西壮族自治区) - Inner Mongolia (内蒙古自治区) - Ningxia (宁夏回族自治区) - Xinjiang (新疆维吾尔自治区) - Tibet (西藏自治区)

Municipalities (直辖市): Beijing (北京市) - Chongqing (重庆市) - Shanghai (上海市) - Tianjin (天津市)

Special administrative regions (特别行政区): Hong Kong (香港特别行政区) - Macau (澳门特别行政区) 

 
 

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