The composition and distribution of China’s land resources have three major characteristics: (1) variety in type -- cultivated land, forests, grasslands, deserts and tideland; (2) more mountains and plateaus than flatlands and basins; (3) unbalanced distribution: farmland mainly concentrates in the east, grasslands largely in the west and north, and forests mostly in the far northeast and southwest.
In China today, 134.93 million hectares of land are cultivated, mainly in the Northeast Plain, the North China Plain, the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain, the Pearl River Delta Plain and the Sichuan Basin. The fertile black soil of the Northeast Plain is ideal for growing wheat, corn, sorghum, soybeans, flax and sugar beets. The deep, brown topsoil of the North China Plain is planted with wheat, corn, millet, sorghum and cotton. Plenty of lakes and rivers on the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain make it particularly suitable for paddy rice and freshwater fish, hence its designation of “land of fish and rice”. This area also produces large quantities of tea and silkworms. The purplish soil of the warm and humid Sichuan Basin is green with crops in all four seasons, including paddy rice, rapeseed and sugarcane, making it known as the land of plenty. The Pearl River Delta abounds with paddy rice, gathered twice or three times every year.
Forests blanket 208 million hectares of China. The Greater Hinggan, the Lesser Hinggan and the Changbai mountain ranges in the northeast are China’s largest natural forest areas. Major tree species found here include conifers, such as Korean pine, larch and Olga Bay larch, and broadleaves such as white birch, oak, willow, elm and Northeast China ash. Major tree species of the southwest include the dragon spruce, fir and Yunnan pine, as well as precious teak trees, red sandalwood, camphor trees, nanmu and padauk. Often called a kingdom of plants, Xishuangbanna in southern Yunnan province is a rarity in that it is a tropical broadleaf forest playing host to more than 5,000 plant species.
Grasslands in China cover an area of 400 million hectares, stretching more than 3,000 km from the northeast to the southwest. They are the centers of animal husbandry. The Inner Mongolian Prairie is China’s largest natural pastureland, and home to Sanhe horses, Sanhe cattle and Mongolian sheep. The famous natural pasturelands north and south of Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang are ideal for stockbreeding. The famous Ili horses and Xinjiang fine-wool sheep are raised here.
China’s cultivated lands, forests and grasslands are among the world’s largest in terms of sheer area. But due to China’s large population, the areas of cultivated land, forest and grassland per capita are small, especially in terms of cultivated land - less than 0.88 hectares per capita, or only one third of the world’s average.
China is rich in mineral resources, and all known minerals in the world can be found here. To date, geologists have confirmed reserves of 171 different minerals, putting China third in the world in total reserves. Proven reserves of energy sources include coal, petroleum, natural gas, and oil shale; and radioactive minerals include uranium and thorium. China’s coal reserves total 1.67 trillion tons, mainly distributed in north China, with Shanxi and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region taking the lead. Petroleum reserves are mainly in northwest and also in northeast China, north China and the continental shelves in east China. Proven reserves of ferrous metals include iron, manganese, vanadium, and titanium. China’s about 62.4 billion tons of iron ore are mainly distributed in northeast, north and southwest China. The Anshan-Benxi Area in Liaoning, east Hebei, and Panzhihua in Sichuan are major iron producers. China has the world’s largest reserves of tungsten, tin, antimony, zinc, molybdenum, lead, mercury, and other nonferrous metals; its reserves of rare earth metals far exceed the total in the rest of the world.
*Statistics and images updated in March, 2019