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  • Physical Geography of China
  • Human Geography of China
  • Population Control in China (One-child policy)
  • Effects of Population Control in China (Ageing population)
  • China’s Economy
  • Industrial Development in China
  • Impacts of Rapid Development in China
  • Sustainable Development in China
  • The Three Gorges Dam

What is the physical geography of China?


China is the fourth biggest country by area (after Russia, Canada and the USA). Around two thirds (2/3) of China is mountainous (hilly) highland. China has thousands of rivers.


Plateau of Tibet - a large area of flat mountainous land covering western China. It has an average height of 4,500m above sea level. It is sometimes referred to as the 'roof of the world'. as it accommodates many of the world's highest summits including Mount Everest. Additionally, sometimes it is referred to as the 'water tower of Asia' because it contains the source of many drainage basins and has tens of thousands of glaciers storing water.

River Yangtze - this is the longest river in China and Asia and the third longest in the world (after the Nile and Amazon) with a length of 6,300km long. It travels from west to east from its source in the Plateau of Tibet to its mouth on the East China Sea. 

Yellow River - this is China's second longest river at 5,464km long. It travels from west to east from its source in the Plateau of Tibet to its mouth on the Yellow Sea. It often floods in the lower course and for that reason has been termed as 'China's sorrow'.

Climate - because China is so big and mountainous, it has a wide range of climates. The far south is in the tropics whereas the north is much cooler. Temperatures decrease from south to north. Temperatures range from being above 20°C in the south to below 0°C (freezing) in the north. In the summer, the land heats up fast, which heats the air above it. Moist monsoon winds are drawn in from the south east over the sea, they bring monsoon rains. 

What is the human geography of China?


China is the most populated country with a population of around 1.39 billion. China introduced the one-child policy in 1979. This was ended in 2016 with experts claiming it reduced the population by 400 million. The north east, east and south of China are very densely populated due to urbanisation whereas the north, north west and west of China are sparesly populated due to the difficulties of development on mountainous terrain. 


China is the world's top exporter of goods and has a GNI of $12 trillions US dollars. China exports and trades a wide range of goods, mainly technology including broadcasting equipment, computers and mobile phones. It also exports clothing, toys, metals and chemicals amongst other goods.

Why did China introduce the one-child policy?


In the early 1950s the philosophy of the Chinese government was ‘a large population gives a strong nation’. The government wanted many children to be born to gain military strength and for the people to help with agricultural production.


During the 1950’s and 1960’s the Chinese government tried to address the problem by encouraging people to have fewer children.


In 1970 China's population was growing too quickly, there were not enough resources and this would have hindered development. China was becoming overpopulated and this was holding China back. To reduce the birth rate, China introduced a one-child policy in 1979. This meant that families could only have one child. Chinese officials state that the policy has reduced the population by 400 million and this was necessary to prevent poverty and allow China to develop into the country it is today. The policy was ended in 2016. This means families can now have more than one child and face no consequence. 

What were the effects of China's one-child policy?


Whilst the one-child policy was an infringement on human rights, it did work to reduce the population. 

  • China’s one-child policy has radically changed China’s population structure. It has led to an ‘ageing population’. It is estimated that 25% of the population will be over 60 by 2030. It has also to the ‘4-2-1’ problem, where one child may to care for their two parents as well as four grandparents (see the population pyramid below).

  • To encourage compliance with the one child policy, the Chinese government provided families with a certificate that rewarded them. Education subsidies, housing improvements, a longer leave period from their job, and interest-free loans were just some of the economic benefits that were awarded to families that complied with the policy.
  • Due to ageing population, there will be less economically active people in the future as many people over 60 will be either retired or unable to work due to health issues. This means less workers.
  • In Chinese culture it is generally seen to be more preferable to have a boy rather than a girl. During the one-child policy, this put pressure on women to have a boy. Developments in ultrasound technology in the 1990s means that women were able to find out the gender of their child before they were born. If parents found out they were expecting a girl, this increased the chances of them having an abortion. It is expected that China will have 30 million more men than women by 2030. 
  • With a smaller population and a generation of mostly only children entering the workforce, there would be more job opportunities and the chance for higher wages when compared to societies that did not have a one child policy in place. This could have helped to reduce the levels of extreme poverty that China experienced after World War II and lessened the food shortages that the country was experiencing.
  • Infanticide is the intentional killing of infants and babies. Lower value was put on the life of a girl This led to an increase in the neglect and deaths of baby girls. Either the baby would be killed after their birth, or abandoned at an orphanage. 95% of babies in China’s orphanages are female.

How did China start to develop?


About 45 years ago, most people in China were living in poverty and the population was growing rapidly. 


China was a communist state. The state owned all the land, the farmers were told what to grow and everything grown would belong to the state. The state also owned the factories and other businesses. People were told what work to do. In return, people had free food, education, healthcare and support when they grew old. China has also turned its back on most other countries. 


In 1979, China was in poor shape and so its leaders decided on some reforms.

  • Farmers could now farm land for themselves (subsistence farming), and sell any extra food they produced (commercial farming). 
  • People could start their own free enterprise businesses.
  • China started trading with the rest of the world and transnational companies (TNCs) could set up in China. TNCs were attracted to China due to the large workforce and cheap labour (as people were not paid much).
  • China introduced the one-child policy.
  • The government invested in infrastructure building new highways, railways and ports. China has five of the ten largest container ports in the world.

This has been a success. In 1881, 85% of Chinese people lived in poverty, this figure is less than 7% now. China is the world's top exporter of manufactured goods and China has the second largest economy in the world (after the USA) with a GNI of $12 trillion US dollars. The one-child policy has prevented around 400 million births. 


China's success in mainly a result of rapid urbanisation as new factories manufacture goods to export. Most factories are in towns and cities in the east along and near the coast. The factories caused an increase in rural-to-urban migration.

Is China helping to create an interdependent world?


China has a plan for a new project called the 'Belt and Road'. It is a global plan to fund infrastructure developments, which will make the world more interconnected and interdependent, which will increase trade links.


The Belt and Road initiative is a revived version of the Silk Trade Road. The Silk road was the world's longest overland trade route and was protected by the Great Wall of China. It began thousands of years ago when tradesmen found that ferrying goods was profitible and silk was one of the main items to trade. This overland route was used to connect eastern China to western Europe. Trading via the Silk road ceased due to politcal and technological advancements. The Belt and Road project has been referred to as the '21st century Silk Trade Raod'.

The Belt and Road project aims to boost trade and stimulate economic growth across Asia and parts of Africa and Europe. On the image above, the red lines show the overland trade routes (which made up the Silk Trade Road) and the blue lines show the martime shipping trade routes. 


China plans to boost economic growth across Asia by investing in infrastructure such as pipelines and ports in Pakistan, bridges in Bangladesh and railways to Russia. The Belt and Road project will connect 71 countries and around 65% of the world's population to China. 


Critics fear the Belt and Road project will give China too much power over smaller and poorer countries. 

What are the challenges of economic growth in China?


Economic growth is the increase in the production and selling of goods and services in a country. This will increase the country's GNI (Gross National Income). 


China uses a lot of coal to power industry and manufacturing, this causes air pollution and the burning of fossil fuels is a natural cause of climate change. The smoke from the factories mixes with cloud and fog in the lower atmosphere to create smog which worsens air quality. This affects people's health. Additionally, the large population has caused an increase in car ownership and traffic congestion which also burns fossil fuels and enhances the greenhouse effect. 


To attract more TNCs, China has limited regulation for the industrial sector and so industry such as dye is often poured into river systems, polluting the water supply. In Shanghai, around 90% of the water in cities major rivers is undrinkable. Water pollution also kills wildlife such as fish which will affect trade.


The increasing demand for power has led to river systems being exploited to produce dams, such as the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. This has many social and environmental impacts such as deforestation to make space for the dam and deliberate flooding of land behind the dam wall, which causes species to become endangered and people to be displaced.


Biodiversity is being affected in the south of China, with an increase in deforestation to clear land for rubber plantations. This is causing species such as pandas, gibbons and the golden monkey to become endangered. 

What is unethical treatment of employees and why does it happen?


Another challenge of economic growth in China are sweatshops. Many TNCs such as Amazon, Apple and Nike are attracted to China as it can pay low wages to employees, which increases its profits. A sweatshop is a factory where people work long hours for little pay in poor conditions. 


Many factories are modern, provide employees with personal protective clothing and comply with safety regulations. However, not all factories provide good working conditions. Some are overcrowded and dangerous.


In 2018, a study by Hong Kong Economic Rights Institute found that difficult working conditions including punishment for minor offences and high staff turnover in Chinese factories contribute to employee suicides. 


In 2018, managers at a chinese firm were jailed for whipping employees with belts and forcing employees to drink urine and eat cockroaches as a punishment for not meeting targets. 


Foxconn is a company that produces goods in China, for Amazon. In 2018, a report found that it had a high percentage of underpaid dispatch workers, working long hours. 


In 2019, a factory was temporarily closed by authorities after it made employees crawl along a public road for not meeting end of year targets. 

This unethical treatment occurs because factory owners want more work to increase profits. Factory owners punish employees for poor performance in a bid to speed up their production lines. Many employees will not speak in case they are fired.


In recent years, many TNCs have started to audit the working conditions in factories making their products which forces factory bosses who want the work to clean up their act. 

How is economic growth affecting biodiversity?


South west China is rich in biodiversity and is China's most biodiverse region. It was once covered in large forests. However as the population increased, deforestation increased for firewood and timber, and to clear land for agriculture, road building and settlements. Today, many species that live in the forests are in danger of extinction. There is not enough forest to support them.


Pandas feed on bamboo. Sichuan once had enough bamboo forests but as these were cut down, the pandas had to move to higher land, where there is less bamboo. This caused a decrease in the number of pandas. Pandas are now an endangered species. Sichuan wants to ensure pandas do not become and extinct and so a large area has been protected for panda sanctuaries, where they are looked after and bred. 


The golden monkey also lives in bamboo forests and shares the panda's sanctuary in Sichuan. The snow leopard roams the mountainous south west region, but is at risk from hunters.


Deforestation is a problem everywhere in China.

  • Illegal loggers get 7 years in prison, if they are caught.
  • Millions of new trees are being planted all over China. Farmers are paid to plant and maintain them.
  • China has protected areas of forests as reserves/sanctuaries, where wildlife is protected and bred. 

In the south of Yunnan, there is rainforest and lots of deforestation to plant rubber trees. The rubber is for car tyres. Wildlife struggles to live in rubber plantations and so it has migrated. The local people depend on rubber for an income. As the car industry grows in China, they earn more income. This means the local leaders want even more rubber plantations. There are over 300 000 rubber farmers in China. 


Gibbons have been known to disappear completely from rubber forests. Conversion to rubber plantations also has a knock on effect for freshwater species because fertilisers and pesticides run off into rivers and streams. In China, well water in the south west has been found to be contaminated. 

What is life like in Tibet?


Tibet is located on the Plateau of Tibet, this is over ten times bigger than the UK and around 4.5km high above sea level. It is often referred to as the 'roof of the world'. 


Tibet is cold in the winter and cool in the summer. The highest parts are forever cold with very strong winds. Most of Tibet is tundra, with a frozen layer of top soil and no trees. However, there are fertile soils in the valleys which are good for agriculture. Tibet is dry for nine months of the year because it is sheltered by the Himalayas. In the summer, Tibet gets some monsoon rain from the east of China. The colder and higher areas of Tibet get snow and hail. Tibet has thousands of glaciers and lakes and several famous rivers including the Yangtze River and Yellow River have their source on the Plateau of Tibet. 


Tibet has a population of around 3 million. It is the least densely populated area of China with 2.2 people living in each square mile (one square mile is the size of Manchester Golf Club). There are a small number of towns and cities in Tibet. Most Tibetans live in rural areas and are farmers. In the fertile river valleys, they grow barley and fruit and vegetables (arable farming). In the colder areas, the land is used for pastoral farming (raising of animals) such as yaks, horses, goats and sheep. The Tibetan people are Buddhists.

How can Tibet develop?


Tibet hasn't always been part of China. Before 1950, Tibet was a separate country, under a Buddhist leader called the Dalai Lama. In 1950, the Chinese army moved into Tibet. Initially, China and Tibet agreed the army would have a base there, but not to be involved in the leadership of Tibet. However, in 1959 China took control over Tibet. The Dalai Lama moved to India. Some Tibetans want to be free of China and hold protests.


China wants to develop Tibet.

  • China has developed Tibet's transport infrastructure by building its first railway linking towns. By 2020, there will be several new highways and two more airports to compliment the existing four airports. 
  • China has found that Tibet has oil, gas and metal ores which will create a lot of mining and industry in Tibet. 
  • With the vast amount of water, many dams have been proposed to exploit this. This will produce hydroelectric power but will destroy habitats, flood land behind the dam to create a reservoir and displace people who lived there. 
  • By 2014, China has moved 2.3 million nomads (people who move around to find new pasture for animals) into villages to protect the tundra biome and prevent overgrazing and grassland degradation. It is believed that China wants the land for its own projects including mining. 

Tibet depends on money from China as it does not earn much for itself. Tibet's main source of income is from agriculture and tourism.


Most of the glaciers on the Plateau of Tibet are receding and the permafrost is beginning to melt as a result of climate change. This will increase desertification and grassland degradation. 

What is the water tower of Asia?


The Plateau of Tibet is known as the 'water tower of Asia'. 

Many rivers rise in, or flow through the south west of China. 


A dam is a man-made structure along a river. It is a barrier that holds back water; dams are primarily used to manage the flow of water into specific areas. In addition, some dams are used to generate hydropower. A reservoir is a man-made lake behind a dam that is used to store water. 


China plans to build many dams along these rivers in the south west region. These will provide hydroelectric power to factories and homes, so fewer coal power stations will be needed meaning less air pollution. However, countries that share these rivers with China (Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma and India) are not in full agreement as they depend on them for water supply. They are concerned that China will use the dams to divert the flow to other parts of China.


People within and outside China are concerned with its proposals.

  • When a dam is built, a reservoir forms behind it. This means people who lived there are displaced and have to move as this land becomes flooded. When the Three Gorges Dam was built, 1.3 million people were displaced.
  • Deforestation occurs along the river to make room for dams. This impacts on wildlife as ecosystems are changed.
  • Many of China's proposed dams are in earthquake prone areas. If a dam cracks as a result of an earthquake, this could cause major flooding and destruction.

What are the costs and benefits of the Three Gorges Dam?


The Three Gorges Dam, located on the Yangtze River in China, is the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. The project cost $24 billion, and took thirteen years to complete, from 1993 to 2006. The dam was constructed to generate power and control flooding.



  • The dam produces electricity through hydroelectric power instead of through the use of fossil fuels; this does not release greenhouse gases and therefore improves air quality whilst proving more electrical use.
  • The dam is estimated to generate about an eighth (1/8) of China's energy.
  • The dam also reduces seasonal flooding, which has contributed to over one million deaths over the past 100 years.


  • The unstable sides of the river bank had the potential to cause landslides, and the significant weight of the water in the reservoir behind the dam had the potential to cause earthquakes. 
  • The dam submerged the beautiful cliffs and mountains that had once lined the Yangtze River, ruining the natural beauty and cultural relics that were on the banks.
  • Deforestation also took place as areas had to be cleared in order for there to be space to build the dam, as well as so that people who were displaced could build new homes or farms. 
  • Farmers were also left with no land to farm, and had to find new jobs.
  • After the construction of the dam, the Chinese river dolphin went officially extinct.

What was the point of the Great Wall of China?


The Great Wall of China is an awe-inspiring 5-8m high long wall in northern China. The building of the wall began as early as the 7th century and was contributed to by different states and dynasties (rulers of a country). The estimated length of the Great Wall is 21.1km. 


It was built to protect territorial borders, prevent invasion and protect the Silk road trade. The Silk road is the world's longest overland trade route. It began thousands of years ago when tradesmen found that ferrying goods was profitible and silk was one of the main items to trade. This overland route was used to connect eastern China to western Europe. Trading via the Silk road ceased due to politcal and technological advancements. However, China plan to revive it through developing new highways and railways as part of the Belt and Road project. 


Over a million people died building the Wall and archaeologists have found human remains buried under parts of the wall.


Over 10 million tourists visit the wall each year, providing $620 billion US dollars in 2017 to China's economy. 

Is China's economic growth sustainable?


Sustainability means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs for the future. It requires a balance between economic activity, social equality and the environment. 

  • The Environmental Protection Tax Law started in 2018. The law, which relates to air, water, solid waste and noise pollution, encourages environmentally friendly production models for high-quality economic development. The main purpose of the new rules are to protect and improve the environment, and to reduce the emission of pollutants. However, something like this already existed; the pollutants discharge fee. 
  • The increasing demand for power has led to river systems being exploited to produce dams, such as the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. This can produce hydroelectric power which is cleaner than the coal power stations currently used. In 2015, HEP accounted for almost 20% of all of China's electricity. 

  • Areas of land are protected to ensure species do not become extinct due to deforestation. Sichuan wants to ensure pandas do not become and extinct and so a large area has been protected for panda sanctuaries, where they are looked after and bred. 
  • Beijing is adding more urban green space (urban greening). In 2018, Beijing will build five urban forests, 21 small green spaces, 10 leisure parks and 100 km of healthy green ways. The greenery will absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and improve air quality as well as the lives of people as it creates more recreational and leisure space.