China may be most well-known among Americans for its Great Wall, (Americanized!) food, kung fu and communism, but with its massive East Asia landscape of mountains, waterways and desert, its rich civilization dating back nearly 5,000 years, and a population over 1.3 billion people, there’s certainly a lot more to learn. For starters, did you know an estimated 300 million people play basketball in China? That’s nearly the entire population of the United States! Explore and find more fun facts in the quiz, slide show, and geography, history and culture sections below.
With a population as plentiful and dynamic as China’s, it’s a tall order to generalize the country’s defining cultural characteristics. The majority of the nation speaks widely varying dialects of Mandarin, in addition to six other major languages, and there’s no official religion in China although a quarter practice traditional Taoism and Buddhism, with a bit of Catholicism, Islam and Protestantism practiced here and there.
Tea is a coveted cultural staple, and typical fare in China depends on geographical area and ethnicity, but a few standards include dishes of tofu, rice, dumplings, and veggies such as beans and bamboo shoots. However, food’s not just for sustenance—especially around the holidays. During the Chinese New Year celebration, (or Spring Festival), food is carefully selected and prepared with the symbolic purpose of enhancing the lives of those partaking, and their ancestors. Noodles dishes, for example, are served nice and long, to symbolize long life, while fish is served whole to symbolize togetherness. Outside of festive holidays, a focus on togetherness across generations of a family is prevalent in Chinese culture, from its wedding and funeral traditions to everyday life and decision-making.
China as a country has found international success in an array of sports, as evidenced by the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics where they won the most gold medals of any other country by far. But since the U.S. invention of basketball in the late 19th Century, the sport has been part of life for people from poor farmers and factory workers to wealthy military and political leaders. Table tennis has also been a source of national pride and unity for over a century.