China is the world's most populous country, with a continuous culture stretching back nearly 4,000 years.
Many of the elements that make up the foundation of the modern world originated in China, including paper, gunpowder, credit banking, the compass and paper money.
China stagnated for more than two decades under the rigid Communist rule of the founder of the People's Republic, Mao Zedong.
But China now has the world's fastest-growing economy and is undergoing what has been described as a second industrial revolution.
It has also launched an ambitious space exploration programme, involving plans to set up a space station by 2020.
The People's Republic of China (PRC) was founded in 1949 after the Communist Party defeated the previously dominant nationalist Kuomintang in a civil war.
The Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan, creating two rival Chinese states - the PRC on the mainland and the Republic of China based on Taiwan.