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China is seen variously as an ancient civilization extending over a large area in East Asia, a nation and/or a multinational entity.

In 1949, when major combat ended in the Chinese Civil War, two political entities emerged having the term "China" in their names:

  • The People's Republic of China (PRC), established in 1949, commonly known as China, has control over mainland China and the largely self-governing territories of Hong Kong (since 1997) and Macau (since 1999).
  • The Republic of China (ROC) established in 1912 on mainland China, now commonly known as Taiwan, has control over the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu.

China is one of the world's oldest continuous civilizations. and for most of the last two millennia was one of the largest and most advanced civilizations in the world, until the 1850s when it missed the industrial revolution. Subsequently, imperialism, wars and civil wars damaged the country and its economy up to the end of the civil war in 1949. In the 1950s, change to economic policies in the Republic of China (Taiwan) transformed the island into a technology-oriented industrialized developed economy. It became known as one of the Four Asian Tigers along with Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore. In mainland China, in the 1970s, reforms known as the Four Modernizations modernized the agriculture, industry, technology and defense, eventually making the PRC one of the major powers. China is viewed as the source of many major inventions. It has also one of the world's oldest written language systems.

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. The first evidence of human presence in the region was found at the Zhoukoudian cave. It is one of the first known specimens of Homo erectus, now commonly known as the Peking Man, estimated to have lived from 300,000 to 780,000 years ago.

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