This background essay introduces the diversity of China's natural and man-made features, as well as the relative population of its various areas. Used as background information, learners can explore the many different uses of maps (see related lesson plans). Road maps to find our way to other places. Physical maps show different landforms and elevations and bodies of water. Historical maps help us understand political boundaries and the movement of people, goods, and ideas. Military leaders need maps as they plan their campaigns, and tourists need maps in order to figure out interesting places to visit. Many maps show both natural and man-made features. They often reflect values of the people who create them and define their place in the world. Maps were used for military and political purposes and show how China viewed itself in relation to the rest of the world. In China ownership of a map indicated sovereignty over the land it depicted.
the interaction between a natural environment and various human and
cultural patterns is an essential aspect of geography. To fully
appreciate China's broad geographic and cultural diversity, one needs
to identify general characteristics that act as guidelines. The
technical term used to describe distinctive areas is "homogeneous
regions." Today "fingerprint" carries the same idea, namely some thing
or place that is distinctive. Just as fingers share general
characteristics, each has a unique "print" or pattern. This same
principle can be used to facilitate understanding complex cultures and
societies, such as those in China.
A distinct geographic print might include the following variables:
physical and environmental features, such as climates, soils,
topography, and location; historic patterns and their relationship to
the natural environment; the economic activities and resources that
define the area today.
An aid to creating an understanding of the nature of such fingerprints
would be tables showing each region's common (yet distinctive)
characteristics. An important characteristic is vernacular housing
(houses built without architects and that reflect local materials and
conditions), but today many people live in apartment buildings,
especially in urban areas. Social organization, transportation, and
food are other important aspects of a fingerprint.
The North China Plain
Physical characteristics: As its name indicates, this is an area of
gently rolling topography. It is subject to flooding, and water often
stands in large pools and "lakes," as there is no place for drainage.
This creates marshes and shallow, reed-filled lakes, which are good for
thatching and weaving as well as migratory birds, fish, and snails.
Winter and summer temperatures can be extreme, and dust storms are
common. Highly variable weather means good harvests for only three out
of every five years.
History: The North China Plain was one of the cradles of Chinese
civilization. China's earliest agricultural societies as well as
dynasties formed there. People traditionally lived in dispersed
communities rather than nucleated settlements because food and water
were available everywhere. The primary need to nucleate was as a
defense against invaders and raiders. The earliest archaeological sites
of "cities" are at the foot of the Taihang Mountains, where there are
minerals as well as manageable water resources for all seasons.
Economic activities and resources today: Even today the North China
Plain is a land of dispersed agricultural settlements. There is little
or no industry other than distinctive indigenous handicrafts. Fresh
water must come from wells that often are salty because of poor
drainage. The lack of topographic relief means seasonal winds are
strong and often destructive. The result is that many areas have
planted windbreaks to protect the soil of the fields from erosion. Life
on the North China Plain is one of self-sufficiency and subsistence.
Wheat, cotton, tobacco, peanuts, persimmons, and other seasonal fruits
and vegetables are grown there.
Housing: mud-based, single-story structures with flat roofs
Social organization: villages and clans
Transportation: walking, wheelbarrows, bicycles, cars
Food staples: wheat-based foods