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Key facts about China

Chairman Mao Zedong dominates modern Chinese history.
Chairman Mao Zedong dominates modern Chinese history.

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The Second Session of the 10th National People's Congress runs in Beijing from March 5 for ten days.

Population: China is the world's most populous nation with 1.29 billion people.

Area: Spanning 9.6 million square km (3.7 million square miles) from the Tibetan plateau to the East China Sea, China is the world's fourth-largest country after Russia, Canada and the United States.

Geography: China borders Russia and Mongolia to the north, North Korea in the northeast, the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in the northwest, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bhutan to the west and southwest, and Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to the south.

Capital: Beijing, population 14 million.

Politics: The Communist Party has ruled China since winning a civil war in 1949 and driving the Nationalists from the mainland to Taiwan. The party, headed by the nine-man Politburo Standing Committee, sets policies and fills government posts. The National People's Congress, or parliament, meets annually and includes nearly 3,000 deputies.

It is largely viewed as a rubber stamp to the party, whose chief, Hu Jintao, also serves as president. A third powerful post, Central Military Commission chairman, is filled by Jiang Zemin, who remains influential after retiring as party chief in November 2002 and as president in March 2003.

Armed forces: China, a nuclear power, has at least 20 intercontinental ballistic missiles and more than 450 intermediate-range and short-range ones.

The People's Liberation Army is the world's largest standing army with 2.5 million troops, but has pledged to trim it by 200,000 starting this year. The People's Armed Police, a paramilitary force, has about 1.3 million personnel.

China has six nuclear submarines, but no aircraft carriers and does not have "blue-water" capability that would allow it to project power far from its shores.

Economy: Gross domestic product in 2003 was 11.67 trillion yuan ($1.41 trillion) up 9.1 percent from 2002. Most economists see growth above eight percent this year as the world's sixth-biggest economy continues to boom, despite growing concerns about over-investment and inflation.

Urban residents had per capita income of 8,472 yuan ($1,024) in 2003 while rural residents earned 2,622 yuan ($316.8). Nearly two-thirds of Chinese live in the countryside, where there is sporadic unrest by farmers over heavy taxation and low incomes.

The yuan currency, or renminbi, has been virtually pegged to the dollar at around 8.3 since mid-1990s.

But China has come under pressure -- mainly from the United States -- to revalue the currency. It has resisted, pledging only to relax the rigid controls in time.

U.S. manufacturers say this policy costs Americans jobs as it makes China's exports artificially cheap as the dollar falls.

Religion: The Chinese government, officially atheist, controls all official religious activity. China has more than 200 million religious followers, about half of them Buddhists and many of the rest Daoists.

About 20 million Muslims are concentrated in northwestern China. About 25 million Chinese are registered in state-approved Christian churches, while an estimated 40 million worship in underground churches.

History: The roots of Chinese civilisation can be traced back several thousand years, but the genesis of the Chinese nation is widely considered to have begun with the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.) which united several warring kingdoms. The word "China" is thought to be derived from the Qin name. More than 2,000 years later, the last imperial dynasty, the Qing, fell in 1911 to republican forces after 267 years in power.

Modern History: The 1920s saw the start of a long struggle between the Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists under Mao Zedong.

China also battled the invading Japanese, whose gradual incursions in the 1930s flared into all-out war by the end of the decade. Millions of Chinese died in the fighting and the war is still a major irritant in relations with Japan.

Mao's "Little Red Book". The aim of the Cultural Revolution the failure of the 'Great Leap Forward'.

The civil war continued after Japan's defeat and Mao founded the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, after driving Chiang and his army to Taiwan off China's southeastern coast.

In its early years, the People's Republic was closely allied with Communist mentor the Soviet Union and modelled itself on Stalin's centralized system.

But ideological and foreign policy arguments soon broke out and the Communist giants split bitterly in the early 1960s. Their long common frontier was bloodied by frequent military clashes. Most border disputes were settled during a thaw in Sino-Russian ties in the 1990s.

Mao's "Great Leap Forward" campaign to use Communist fervour to modernise China in one fell swoop brought economic ruin and famine that killed an estimated 30 million people from 1958-61.

In 1966, Mao, fearing a power grab by other party leaders, launched the ultra-leftist Cultural Revolution that plunged the country into 10 years of chaos. Millions of workers, officials and intellectuals were banished to the countryside for hard labour. Many were tortured, killed or driven to suicide.

In the 1970s, despite domestic turmoil, China -- with few friends -- began to mend fences with the non-Communist world even as relations with the Soviet bloc remained hostile.

In 1972, Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit Communist China. Diplomatic relations with Washington were normalised in 1979.

The year 1976 was historic for China. A huge earthquake in Tangshan, a city near Beijing, killed more than 250,000 people. Later that year, Mao died, age 82. His death ended the Cultural Revolution and the radical "Gang of Four," led by Mao's widow Jiang Qing, were arrested and imprisoned.

In 1978, Deng Xiaoping emerged as key leader and set about repairing the damage of Mao's rule. His market-oriented reforms, embodied in the maxim "to get rich is glorious," sparked more than two decades of phenomenal growth that lifted hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty.

But in 1988, China slid into economic chaos with bank runs and panic buying triggered by rising inflation that peaked at more than 30 percent in cities. Public discontent set the stage for pro-democracy demonstrations the next year.

On June 4, 1989, after weeks of protests in Beijing's central Tiananmen Square, troops backed by tanks crushed the demonstrations, killing hundreds of people and once again isolating China on the world stage.

After the crackdown, Deng plucked Jiang Zemin from relative obscurity in Shanghai to be the new Communist Party chief. Jiang replaced Zhao Ziyang, sacked for his sympathetic views towards the protesters. Zhao remains under house arrest in Beijing.

Deng remained paramount leader until his death in February 1997, at age 92. Jiang vanquished political rivals at a Communist Party congress that September.

Despite concerns over human rights, China won a bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, which the government hopes to use as a showcase for the country's progress.

In December 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization after more than a decade of negotiations, agreeing to slash tariffs on imported goods and open many industries wider to foreign companies over the next few years.

The Communist Party completed a sweeping leadership reshuffle of the party in November 2002 and government in March 2003 that saw Jiang and other aging leaders give way to a younger generation headed by Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.

With Jiang in the wings, Hu has quietly consolidated power while both he and Wen have charted populist agendas in their first year in office.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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