The People's Republic of China (PRC) is the most extensive country in East Asia and the third or fourth most extensive country in the world. With a population of over 1.3 billion people, it is the most populous country in the world.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) created the PRC in 1949 after defeating the Republic of China (ROC) in a civil war lasting from 1946 to 1950. China remains one of the few remaining officially communist/socialist states in the world, although its government, economics, and society can no longer be convincingly qualified as such. After Deng Xiaoping initiated the “reform and opening” period in the 1980s, which reintegrated China with world trade and dramatically increased its economic growth, the country’s government has referred to its political system as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
The term "Mainland China" is used to denote the areas under PRC rule, but excludes its two Special Administrative Regions: Hong Kong and Macau. Since the ROC and its main political party, the Nationalists or Guomindang (GMD) retreated to Taiwan, both mainland and Taiwanese governments have disputed the political status of the island. Efforts to assert de jure independence from the Taiwanese independence movement in the late 1990s created friction with the mainland, but the further lifting of trade, travel, and investment restrictions over past years have resulted in a period of warming relations.
Because of its vast population, rapidly growing economy, and large research and development investments, China is considered an "emerging superpower". In past years, it has consistently shown yearly double digit growth, which eventually allowed the country to become world's second largest economy in both nominal and purchasing power parity terms. According to various international groups, China passed Japan to become the world’s second largest economy at the end of 2010. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank respectively predict that China’s economy will become the world’s largest by 2017 or 2030. The government is currently trying to adjust the economy in two significant ways: first by slowing growth and preventing the economy from overheating; second by rebalancing to orient from export-driven to domestic-consumption driven growth.
China plays a critical role in international trade. The country is the world's largest consumer of steel and concrete, using, respectively, a third and over a half of the world's supply of each. Counting all products, China is the second largest importer and the largest exporter in the world.
However, in per capita terms, the country largely remains a developing nation, ranking 90th in the world with the average person making only more than $5,400 a year in 2011 (IMF). However, people living in relatively developed large urban areas in the coastal regions, especially in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou have living standards increasingly comparable to those in South Korea and Japan.
China is also a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Organization. Since 1978, China's economic reforms have lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. However, the country is now faced with a number of other economic problems, including an aging population, an increasing rural-urban income gap, and rapid environmental degradation.