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China (traditional Chinese: 中國; simplified Chinese: 中国; Hanyu Pinyin: Zhōngguó (help·info); Tongyong Pinyin: Jhongguó; Wade-Giles (Mandarin): Chung¹kuo²) is a cultural region, an ancient civilization, and, depending on perspective, a national or multinational entity extending over a large area in East Asia.
China has one of the world's oldest people and continuous civilizations, consisting of states and cultures dating back more than six millennia. It has the world's longest continuously used written language system, and is the source of many major inventions, such as what the British scholar and biochemist Joseph Needham called the "four great inventions of Ancient China": paper, the compass, gunpowder, and printing. Historically, China's cultural sphere has extended across East Asia as a whole, with Chinese religion, customs, and writing systems being adopted to varying degrees by neighbors such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
Zhōngguó the Middle Kingdom
China is known as 'Zhōngguó' in Mandarin and pinyin (中國 in traditional chinese or 中国 in simplified chinese). The character zhōng means "middle" or central; the letter, guó, means land, kingdom or country. An appropriate English translation would be "middle kingdom".
The name "Zhōngguó" first appeared in the Classic of History (6th century BCE), and was used to refer to the late Zhou Dynasty, as they believed that they were the "center of civilization", while peoples in the four cardinals were called Eastern Yi, Southern Man, Western Rong and Northern Di respectively. Some texts imply that "Zhōngguó" was originally meant to refer to the capital of the sovereign, to differ from the capital of his vassals. The use of "Zhōngguó" implied a claim of political legitimacy, and "Zhōngguó" was often used by states who saw themselves as the sole legitimate successor to previous Chinese dynasties; for example, in the era of the Southern Song Dynasty, both the Jin Dynasty and the Southern Song state claimed to be "Zhōngguó".
"Zhōngguó" came to official use as an abbreviation for the Republic of China (Zhonghua Minguo) after the government's establishment in 1912. Since the People's Republic of China, established in 1949, now controls the great majority of the area encompassed within the traditional concept of "China", the People's Republic is the political unit most commonly identified with the abbreviated name "Zhōngguó".
Languages of China
Most languages in China belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family, spoken by 29 ethnicities. There are also several major dialects within the Chinese language itself. The most spoken dialects are Mandarin (spoken by over 70% of the population), Wu (Shanghainese), Yue (Cantonese), Min, Xiang, Gan, and Hakka. Non-Sinitic languages spoken widely by ethnic minorities include Zhuang (Thai), Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur (Turkic), Hmong and Korean.
Classical Chinese was the written standard in China for thousands of years, and allowed for written communication between speakers of various unintelligible languages and dialects in China. Vernacular Chinese or baihua is the written standard based on the Mandarin dialect first popularized in Ming dynasty novels, and was adopted (with significant modifications) during the early 20th century as the national vernacular. Classical Chinese is still part of the high school curriculum and is thus intelligible to some degree to many Chinese.
Science and technology
Remains of an ancient Chinese handheld crossbow, 2nd century BCE.
Among the technological accomplishments of ancient China were paper (not papyrus) and papermaking, woodblock printing and movable type printing, the early lodestone and needle compass, gunpowder, toilet paper, early seismological detectors, matches, pound locks, the double-action piston pump, blast furnace and cast iron, the iron plough, the multi-tube seed drill, the suspension bridge, natural gas as fuel, the escapement mechanism for clocks, the differential gear for the South Pointing Chariot, the hydraulic-powered armillary sphere, the hydraulic-powered trip hammer, the mechanical chain drive, the mechanical belt drive, the raised-relief map, the propeller, the crossbow, the cannon, the rocket, the multistage rocket, etc. Chinese astronomers were among the first to record observations of a supernova. The work of the astronomer Shen Kuo (1031–1095) alone was most impressive, as he theorized that the sun and moon were spherical, corrected the position of the polestar with his improved sighting tube, discovered the concept of true north, wrote of planetary motions such as retrogradation, and compared the orbital paths of the planets to points on the shape of a rotating willow leaf. With evidence for them, he also postulated geological theories for the processes of land formation in geomorphology and climate change in paleoclimatology. Other important astronomers included Gan De, Shi Shen, Zhang Heng, Yi Xing, Zhang Sixun, Su Song, Guo Shoujing, and Xu Guangqi. Chinese mathematics evolved independently of Greek mathematics and is therefore of great interest in the history of mathematics. The Chinese were also keen on documenting all of their technological achievements, such as in the Tiangong Kaiwu encyclopedia written by Song Yingxing (1587–1666).
China's science and technology had fallen behind that of Europe by the 17th century. Political, social and cultural reasons have been given for this, although recent historians focus more on economic causes, such as the high level equilibrium trap. Since the PRC's market reforms, China has become better connected to the global economy and is placing greater emphasis on science and technology.
Hundreds of ethnic groups have existed in China throughout its history. The largest ethnic group in China by far is the Han. This group, however, is internally diverse and can be further divided into smaller ethnic groups that share similar traits.
Over the last three millennia, many previously distinct ethnic groups in China have been Sinicized into a Han identity, which over time dramatically expanded the size of the Han population. However, these assimilations were usually incomplete, and vestiges of indigenous language and culture still often remain in various regions of China. Because of this, many within the Han identity have maintained distinct linguistic and cultural traditions while still identifying as Han. Several ethnicities have also dramatically shaped Han culture, e.g. the Manchurian clothing called the qipao became the new "Chinese" fashion after the 17th century, replacing earlier Han styles of clothing such as the Hanfu. The modern term Chinese nation (Zhonghua Minzu) is now used to describe a notion of a Chinese nationality that transcends ethnic divisions.