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Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometres, China is the world's second-largest country by land area, and the third- or fourth-largest by total area, depending on the definition of total area. China's landscape is vast and diverse, with forest steppes and the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts occupying the arid north and northwest near Mongolia and Central Asia, and subtropical forests prevalent in the wetter south near Southeast Asia. The terrain of western China is rugged and elevated, with the Himalaya, Karakoram, Pamir and Tian Shan mountain ranges separating China from South and Central Asia. The Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, the third- and sixth-longest in the world, have their sources in the Tibetan Plateau and continue to the densely populated eastern seaboard. China's coastline along the Pacific Ocean is 14,500 kilometres (9,000 mi) long and is bounded by the Bohai, Yellow,East and South China Seas.
The ancient Chinese civilization – one of the world's earliest – flourished in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. For millennia, China's political system was based on hereditary monarchies, known as dynasties, beginning with the semi-mythological Xia of the Yellow River basin (c. 2000 BC). Since 221 BC, when the Qin Dynasty first conquered several states to form a Chinese empire, the country has expanded, fractured and been reformed numerous times. The Republic of China overthrew the last dynasty in 1911, and ruled the Chinese mainland until 1949. In 1945, the ROC acquired Taiwan from the Empire of Japan following World War II. In the 1946–1949 phase of the Chinese Civil War, the Communist Party defeated the nationalist Kuomintang in mainland China and established the People's Republic of China in Beijing on 1 October 1949, while the Kuomintang relocated the ROC government to Taipei. The ROC's jurisdiction is now limited to Taiwan and several outlying islands, including Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, and it has received limited diplomatic recognition.