China topography varies greatly from highly mountainous regions to inhospitable desert zones and flat, fertile plains. It can be compared to a staircase descending from west to east. The Tibetan Plateau forms the highest part of the country (the first step). Known as the ‘roof of the world’, the Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau is more than 5,000 feet above sea level. The Himalayan mountain range has a number of peaks over 23,000 feet, with the tallest in the world, Mount Everest, at the Sino-Nepalese border, Melting snows from these peaks are the source of several of the main Chinese rivers including the Yangtze and the Yellowm River which run from west to east.
The second step is the Inner Mongolia and Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau as well as the Tarim, Sichuan and Junggar basins. The Tarim Basin is the site of Xinjiang Autonomous Region where the largest desert in China, the Taklimakan, is located. The plains of the Yangtze River and of northern and eastern China are the country’s most populated areas and the agricultural center of the country.
Finally the coastal zones, stretching from Vietnam to North Korea and bordering the South China, East China and Yellow Seas, join the Pacific Ocean. (China Connection Tours)
Located in Southeast Asia along the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, China is the world’s third largest country, after Russia and Canada. With an area of 9.6 million square kilometers and a coastline of 18,000 kilometers, its shape on the map is like a rooster. It reaches Mohe in Heilongjiang Province as its northern end, Zengmu Ansha (or James Shoal) to the south, Pamirs to the west, and expands to the eastern border at the conjunction of the Heilongjiang (Amur) River and the Wusuli (Ussuri) River, spanning about 50 degrees of latitude and 62 degrees of longitude. China is bordered by 14 countries — Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Burma, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan, Mongolia, and Russia. Marine-side neighbors include eight countries — North Korea, Korea, Japan, Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The vast land expanses of China include plateaus, plains, basins, foothills, and mountains. Defining rugged plateaus, foothills and mountains as mountainous, they occupy nearly two-thirds of the land, higher in the West and lower in the East like a three-step ladder.
The highest step of the typical ‘ladder topography’ is formed by the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at the average height of over 4,000 meters, with the Kunlunshan range, Qilianshan range and Hengduan mountain chain as the division between this step and the second one. The highest peak in the world, Everest, at 8844.43 meters high is known as ‘the Roof of the World’.
On the second step are large basins and plateaus, most of which are 1,000 – 2,000 meters high. The Daxing’an, Taihang, Wu and Xuefeng Mountains divide this step and the next lower one. Plateaus including Inner Mongolian, Loess, Yungui Plateaus, and basins such as Tarim, Junggar, and Sichuan Basins are situated here.
The third step, abundant in broad plains, is dotted with the foothills and lower mountains, with altitudes of over 500 meters. Here are located famous plains: the Northeast, the North China, and the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plains, neighboring with each other from north to south. These well-cultivated and fertile lands produce abundant crops. People tend to divide China into four regions, that is, the North, South, Northwest and the Qinghai-Tibetan areas. Because of geographical differences, residents of each region have distinctive life styles and customs.
The North and South regions are located in the Eastern monsoon area and are divided by the Qin Mountains-Huai River. Nearly 95 percent of the Chinese population lives here. The other two regions, the Northwest and Qinghai-Tibetan regions that occupy 55 percent of the land, have fewer people, although most of the ethnic groups cluster there. ( Travel China Guide)