China is a vast and diverse country. Its citizens live in a wide range of localities – from the high plains of Tibet to the rocky Gobi Desert, from sandy deserts to subtropical rainforests, and from nomadic herding settlements to some of the world’s largest cities. China’s cities can best be understood in the context of these widely differing landscapes and the people who inhabit them. The diversity of environments, peoples, and subsistence systems is integral to understanding the ways in which cities and systems of cities have developed in China, the current inequalities between cities and between the regions in which they are located, and the ways in which the Chinese government is approaching urban and regional development today. This chapter provides a brief overview of China’s physical environment, its population, and its economic foundations as a context for understanding cities and urbanization. The following questions should help guide the reading and discussion of the materials in this chapter:
• What are the basic patterns of China’s topography, climate, and vegetation? • What role have rivers played in the development of China? • How does Chinese agriculture vary across different regions? • What do Chinese industries produce? • How has the distribution of the Chinese population changed over time? • Where do the different peoples of China live?