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Official Name: People's Republic of China



Total area: 9,596,960 sq. km. (approximately 3.7 million sq. mi.).
Cities: Capital--Beijing. Other major cities--Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenyang, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Harbin, Chengdu.
Terrain: Plains, deltas, and hills in east; mountains, high plateaus, deserts in west.
Climate: Tropical in south to subarctic in north.


Nationality: Noun and adjective--Chinese (singular and plural).
Population (1997 est.): 1.22 billion.
Population growth rate (1997 est.): 0.93%.
Health (1997 est.): Infant mortality rate--37.9/1,000. Life expectancy--70.0 years (overall); 68.6 years for males, 71.5 years for females.
Literacy rate: 82%.
Ethnic groups: Han Chinese--91.9%; Zhuang, Manchu, Hui, Miao, Uygur, Yi, Mongolian, Tibetan, Buyi, Korean, and other nationalities--8.1%.
Religions: Officially atheist; Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity.
Language: Mandarin (Putonghua), plus many local dialects.
Education: Years compulsory-- 9. Literacy--81.5%.
Work force (699 million): Agriculture and forestry--60%. Industry and commerce--25%. Other--15%.


Type: Communist party-led state.
Constitution: December 4, 1982.
Independence: Unification under the Qin (Ch'in) Dynasty 221 BC; Qing (Ch'ing or Manchu) Dynasty replaced by a republic on February 12, 1912; People's Republic established October 1, 1949.
Branches: Executive--president, vice president, State Council, premier. Legislative--unicameral National People's Congress. Judicial--Supreme People's Court.
Administrative divisions: 23 provinces (the PRC considers Taiwan to be its 23rd province); 5 autonomous regions, including Tibet; 4 municipalities directly under the State Council.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.


GDP (1997 est.): $890 billion (exchange rate based).
Per capita GDP (1997 est.): $700 (exchange rate based).
GDP real growth rate: 8.8%.
Natural resources: Coal, iron ore, crude oil, mercury, tin, tungsten, antimony, manganese, molybdenum, vanadium, magnetite, aluminum, lead, zinc, uranium, hydropower potential (world's largest). Agriculture: Among the world's largest producers of rice, potatoes, sorghum, peanuts, tea, millet, barley; commercial crops include cotton, other fibers, and oilseeds; produces variety of livestock products.
Industry: Types--iron, steel, coal, machinery, light industrial products, armaments, petroleum.
Trade (1997): Exports--$182.7 billion: mainly textiles, garments, electrical machinery, foodstuffs, chemicals, footwear, minerals.
Main partners-- Japan, U.S., South Korea, Germany, Singapore, Netherlands.
Imports--$142.36 billion: mainly industrial machinery, electrical equipment, chemicals, textiles, steel.
Main partners--Japan, Taiwan, U.S., South Korea, Germany, Russia.


Ethnic Groups

The largest ethnic group is the Han Chinese, who constitute about 91.9% of the total population. The remaining 8.1% are Zhuang (16 million), Manchu (10 million), Hui (9 million), Miao (8 million), Uygur (7 million), Yi (7 million), Mongolian (5 million), Tibetan (5 million), Buyi (3 million), Korean (2 million), and other ethnic minorities.


There are seven major Chinese dialects and many subdialects. Mandarin (or Putonghua), the predominant dialect, is spoken by over 70% of the population. It is taught in all schools and is the medium of government. Only about two-thirds of the Han ethnic group are native speakers of Mandarin; the rest, concentrated in southwest and southeast China, speak one of the six other major Chinese dialects. Non-Chinese languages spoken widely by ethnic minorities include Mongolian, Tibetan, Uygur and other Turkic languages (in Xinjiang), and Korean (in the Northeast).


Religion plays a significant part in the life of many Chinese. Buddhism is most widely practiced, with an estimated 100 million adherents. Traditional Taoism also is practiced. Official figures indicate there are 18 million Muslims, 4 million Catholics, and 10 million Protestants; unofficial estimates are much higher.


State Structure

The major organs of state power are the National People's Congress (NPC), the President, and the State Council. Members of the State Council include Premier Zhu Rongji, a variable number of vice premiers (now four), five state councilors (protocol equal of vice premiers but with narrower portfolios), and 29 ministers and heads of State Council commissions.

Under the Chinese Constitution, the NPC is the highest organ of state power in China. It meets annually for about 2 weeks to review and approve major new policy directions, laws, the budget, and major personnel changes. These initiatives are presented to the NPC for consideration by the State Council after previous endorsement by the Communist Party's Central Committee. Although the NPC generally approves State Council policy and personnel recommendations, various NPC committees hold active debate in closed sessions, and changes may be made to accommodate alternate views.

Principal Government and Party Officials

President--Jiang Zemin

Vice President--Hu Jintao

Premier, State Council--Zhu Rongji

Vice Premiers -- Li Lanqing, Qian Qichen, Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao

Politburo Standing Committee -- Jiang Zemin (General Secretary), Li Peng, Zhu Rongji, Li Ruihuan, Hu Jintao, Wei Jianxing, Li Lanqing


Dynastic Period

China is the oldest continuous major world civilization, with records dating back about 3,500 years. Successive dynasties developed a system of bureaucratic control which gave the agrarian-based Chinese an advantage over neighboring nomadic and hill cultures. Chinese civilization was further strengthened by the development of a Confucian state ideology and a common written language that bridged the gaps among the country's many local languages and dialects. The last dynasty was established in 1644, when the nomadic Manchus overthrew the native Ming dynasty and established the Qing (Ch'ing) dynasty with Beijing as its capital.

Early 20th Century China

A revolutionary military uprising on October 10, 1911, led to the abdication of the last Qing monarch. Between 1911 and 1916, General Yuan Shikai served as president of China. Upon his death, and with no natural successor, China was ruled by shifting coalitions and competing provincial military leaders. In 1925, Chiang Kai-shek united most of south and central China under the rule of the Chinese Nationalist People's Party (KMT). During the 1920's, many leaders of the rival Communist Chinese Party (CCP) were executed, and those who survived reorganized under a new leader, Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung). By 1949, the CCP occupied most of the country. Chiang Kai-shek fled with the remnants of his KMT government and military forces to Taiwan, where he proclaimed Taipei to be China's "provisional capital".

The People's Republic of China

In Beijing, on October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China. In the early 1950s, China undertook a massive economic and social reconstruction. In 1958, Mao broke with the Soviet model and announced a new economic program, the "Great Leap Forward," aimed at rapidly raising industrial and agricultural production. Giant cooperatives (communes) were formed, and "backyard factories" dotted the Chinese landscape. The results were disastrous, as normal market mechanisms were disrupted, and agricultural production fell. In the spring of 1966, a new movement, the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," pitted a section of the Chinese Communist leadership against another leadership group. China was set on a course of political and social anarchy which lasted the better part of a decade. The leadership conflict came to a head in September 1971, when Party Vice Chairman and Defense Minister Lin Biao reportedly tried to stage a coup against Mao. In the aftermath of the Lin Biao incident, many officials criticized and dismissed during 1966-69 were reinstated.

The Post-Mao Era

Mao's death in September 1976 removed a towering figure from Chinese politics and set off a scramble for succession. After extensive deliberations, the Chinese Communist Party leadership reinstated Deng Xiaoping to all of his previous posts at the 11th Party Congress in August 1977. Deng then led the effort to place government control in the hands of veteran party officials opposed to the radical excesses of the previous two decades. The new, pragmatic leadership emphasized economic development and renounced mass political movements. After 1979, the Chinese leadership moved toward more pragmatic positions in almost all fields. The party encouraged artists, writers, and journalists to adopt more critical approaches, although open attacks on party authority were not permitted.

1989 Student Movement and Tiananmen Square

The death of Hu Yaobang, a popular reformer, on April 15, 1989, coupled with growing economic hardship caused by high inflation, provided the backdrop for a large scale protest movement by students, intellectuals, and other parts of a disaffected urban population. University students and other citizens in Beijing camped out at Tiananmen Square to mourn Hu's death and to protest against those who would slow reform. Their protests, which grew despite government efforts to contain them, called for an end to official corruption and for defense of freedoms guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution. Protests also spread through many other cities, including Shanghai and Guangzhou. After failing to persuade the demonstrators to abandon the streets, Zhao's strategy of reasoning with the demonstrators was overruled, and martial law was declared on May 20, 1989. Late on June 3 and early on the morning of June 4, military units were brought into Beijing. They used armed force to clear demonstrators from the streets. There are no official estimates of deaths in Beijing, but most observers believe that casualties numbered in the many hundreds.

After June 4, while foreign governments expressed horror at the brutal suppression of the demonstrators, the central government eliminated remaining sources of organized opposition, detained large numbers of protesters, removed Zhao supporters from office, and required political reeducation not only for students but also for large numbers of party cadre and government officials.

Third Generation of Leaders

Deng's health deteriorated in the years prior to his death in 1997. During that time, President Jiang Zemin and other members of his generation gradually assumed control of the day-to-day functions of government. This "third generation" leadership governs collectively with President Jiang at the center. In March 1998, Jiang was re-elected President during the 9th National People's Congress. Premier Li Peng was constitutionally required to step down from that post. China is firmly committed to economic reform and opening to the outside world. The Chinese leadership has identified reform of state industries as a government priority. Government strategies for achieving that goal include large-scale privatization of unprofitable state-owned enterprises and the layoff of workers. The leadership has also downsized the government bureaucracy.


Legal System

After the Cultural Revolution, China's leaders aimed to develop a legal system to restrain abuses of official authority and revolutionary excesses. In 1982, the National People's Congress adopted a new state constitution that emphasized the rule of law under which even party leaders are theoretically held accountable. In keeping with this emphasis on predictability and the rule of law, the NPC delegates also passed a number of new statutes. Some were designed to assure foreigners doing business with China that agreements and contracts would be honored and that arbitrary behavior would not be tolerated.

In other legal developments, the first civil procedure law in the history of the People's Republic of China was promulgated for provisional use in 1982, filling a major gap in the legal system. Since 1979, when the drive to establish a functioning legal system began, more than 300 laws and regulations, most of them in the economic area, have been promulgated. The use of mediation committees--informed groups of citizens who resolve about 90% of China's civil disputes and some minor criminal cases at no cost to the parties--is one innovative device. There are more than 800,000 such committees in both rural and urban areas.

Legal reform became a government priority in the 1990's. Legislation designed to modernize and professionalize the nation's lawyers, judges, and prisons was enacted. The 1994 Administrative Procedure Law allows citizens to sue officials for abuse of authority or malfeasance. In addition, the criminal law and the criminal procedures laws were amended to introduce significant reforms. The criminal law amendments abolished the crime of "counter-revolutionary" activity, while criminal procedures reforms encouraged establishment of a more transparent, adversarial trial process. The Chinese Constitution and laws provide for fundamental human rights, including due process, but theses are often ignored in practice. However, the government's efforts to promote rule of law are significant and ongoing.

Human Rights

China has acknowledged in principle the importance of protection of human rights and has taken steps to bring its human rights practices into conformity with international norms. Among these steps are signature in October 1997 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and its announcement in March 1998 that it intends to sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The latter document codifies human rights principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. China has also expanded dialogue with its foreign critics. However, its human rights practices remain repressive. The government restricts freedom of assembly, expression, and the press and represses dissent.

Although China attempts to control religion through state-sponsored organizations, unofficial religious practice is flourishing. Catholics and Protestants have been prosecuted for maintaining foreign ties, proselytizing, or conducting "illegal" religious services. China hosted a delegation of distinguished American religious leaders in February 1998. The religious leaders met with President Jiang Zemin, conveyed concerns about religious freedom, and traveled to numerous sites, including Tibet.



Most of China's labor force is engaged in agriculture, even though only 10% of the land is suitable for cultivation. Virtually all arable land is used for food crops, and China is among the world's largest producers of rice, potatoes, sorghum, millet, barley, peanuts, tea, and pork. Major non-food crops, including cotton, other fibers, and oil seeds, furnish China with a large proportion of its foreign trade revenue. Agricultural exports, such as vegetables and fruits, fish and shellfish, grain and grain products, and meat and meat products, are exported to Hong Kong. Yields are high because of intensive cultivation, but China hopes to further increase agricultural production through improved plant stocks, fertilizers, and technology.


Major state industries are iron, steel, coal, machine building, light industrial products, armaments, and textiles. These industries completed a decade of reform (1979-89) with little substantial management change. The 1996 industrial census revealed that there were 7,342,000 industrial enterprises at the end of 1995; total employment in industrial enterprises was approximately 147 million. The automobile industry is expected to grow rapidly, as is electric power generation. Machinery and electronic products have become China's main exports.

Economic Reforms

Since 1979, China has been engaged in an effort to reform its economy. The Chinese leadership has adopted a pragmatic perspective on many political and socioeconomic problems, and has sharply reduced the role of ideology in economic policy.

In the 1980s, China tried to combine central planning with market-oriented reforms to increase productivity, living standards, and technological quality without exacerbating inflation, unemployment, and budget deficits. During the 1980s, these reforms led to average annual rates of growth of 10% in agricultural and industrial output. Rural per capita real income doubled. China became self-sufficient in grain production; rural industries accounted for 23% of agricultural output, helping absorb surplus labor in the countryside. The variety of light industrial and consumer goods increased. Reforms began in the fiscal, financial, banking, price setting, and labor systems.

However, by the late 1980s, the economy had become overheated with increasing rates of inflation. At the end of 1988, in reaction to a surge of inflation caused by accelerated price reforms, the leadership introduced an austerity program. China's economy regained momentum in the early 1990s. During 1993, output and prices were accelerating, investment outside the state budget was soaring, and economic expansion was fueled by the introduction of more than 2,000 special economic zones (SEZs) and the influx of foreign capital that the SEZs facilitated. By early 1997, the Chinese economy was growing at a rate of 9.5%, accompanied by low inflation.

Despite China's impressive economic development during the past two decades, reforming the state sector remains a major hurdle. Over half of China's state-owned enterprises are inefficient and reporting losses. During the 15th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party that met in September 1997, President Jiang Zemin announced plans to sell, merge, or close the vast majority of SOEs in his call for increased "public ownership" (privatization in euphemistic terms). The 9th National People's Congress endorsed the plans at its March 1998 session.


In February 1972, President Nixon traveled to Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. At the conclusion of his trip, the U.S. and Chinese Governments issued the "Shanghai Communique," a statement of their foreign policy views). In the Communique, both nations pledged to work toward the full normalization of diplomatic relations. The U.S. acknowledged the Chinese position that all Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The statement enabled the U.S. and China to temporarily set aside the "crucial question obstructing the normalization of relations"--Taiwan--and to open trade and other contacts.

President Ford visited China in 1975 and reaffirmed the U.S. interest in normalizing relations with Beijing. Shortly after taking office in 1977, President Carter again reaffirmed the interest expressed in the Shanghai Communique. The United States and China announced on December 15, 1978, that the two governments would establish diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979. On March 1, 1979, the United States and China formally established embassies in Beijing and Washington. Vice President Walter Mondale's visit to China in August 1979 led to agreements in September 1980 on maritime affairs, civil aviation links, and textile matters, as well as a bilateral consular convention.

Bilateral Relations After Tiananmen

Following the Chinese authorities' brutal suppression of demonstrators in June 1989, the U.S. and other governments enacted a number of measures to express their condemnation of Chinese action that violated the basic human rights of its citizens. The U.S. suspended high-level official exchanges with China and weapons exports from the U.S. to China. The U.S. also imposed a series of economic sanctions. In the summer of 1990, at the G-7 Houston summit, Western nations called for renewed political and economic reforms in China, particularly in the field of human rights.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited the United States in the fall of 1997, the first state visit to the U.S. by a Chinese president since 1985. In connection with that visit, the two sides reached agreement on implementation of their 1985 agreement on the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, as well as a number of other issues. President Clinton will pay a reciprocal visit to China in June 1998.

U.S.-Chinese Economic Relations

U.S. direct investment in China covers a wide range of manufacturing sectors, several large hotel projects, and a heavy concentration in offshore oil and gas development in the South China Sea. U.S. companies have entered agreements establishing more than 20,000 equity joint ventures, contractual joint ventures, and wholly foreign-owned enterprises in China. Over 100 U.S.-based multinationals have projects, some with multiple investments.

The increasingly important U.S. economic and trade relations with China are an important element of the Administration's engagement policy toward China. In economics and trade, there are two main elements to the U.S. approach:

First, the United States seeks to fully integrate China into the global, market-based economic and trading system. China's participation in the global economy will nurture the process of economic reform and increase China's stake in the stability and prosperity of East Asia.

Second, the United States seeks to expand U.S. exporters' and investors' access to the Chinese market. As China grows and develops, its needs for imported goods and services will grow even more rapidly.

At the September 1997 Joint Economic Committee meeting in Beijing, the U.S. continued dialogue with the Chinese on macroeconomic issues. The Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, hosted in Beijing in October 1997, discussed expansion of long-term economic and business ties between China and the United States. Agreements were made to set up seminars on project finance and export controls, to establish a series of exchanges on commercial law, and to further explore ways to assist small and medium-sized U.S. businesses export to China.

At the October 1997 summit, China agreed to purchase 50 Boeing aircraft valued at approximately $3 billion, participate in the Information Technology Agreement which cuts to zero tariffs on computers, semiconductors, and telecommunications, and allow U.S. financial news services providers to operate on acceptable terms in China.

China's Most Favored Nation (MFN) Status

In 1994, President Clinton decided to delink the annual MFN process from China's human rights record. At the same time, the President decided to adopt a new human rights strategy, maintaining human rights concerns as an essential part of the U.S. engagement with China but in a broader context. The President also ordered several additional steps to support those seeking to foster the rule of law and a more open civil society in China.

Revoking or conditioning Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status and tariff treatment would remove a beneficial influence for creating a more open China. It would undermine American leadership in the region and the confidence of our Asian allies. It would damage our economy, harm Taiwan and especially Hong Kong, whose economies are closely intertwined with that of the P.R.C.; and it would damage our ability to work with China on vital regional security issues such as North Korea and global security concerns such as nonproliferation. Continuation of MFN status for China will help further integrate it into the international system and promote the interests of the American people.


Ambassador--James R. Sasser
Deputy Chief of Mission--William C. McCahill
Political Officer--William A. Stanton
Economic Officer--Robert Ludan
Commercial Officer--Alan Turley

There are U.S. Consulates General in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang.

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