China (in Chinese, 中国 or 中國, both Zhōngguó) is a term used to refer to two countries; the People's Republic of China comprising a large part of eastern Asia, and the Republic of China, more commonly known as Taiwan, almost exclusively comprising the island of the same name off Asia's Pacific coast.
 The one on the continent
Mainland China, formally the People's Republic of China (中华人民共和国 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó), is the world's third largest country by area. It has the largest population of any country in the world. China has a well documented and long history, somehow predating Creation Week by thousands of years. China has produced many religious and philosophical traditions, and has recently grown to become a major power in international politics, overcoming the results of Guns, Germs, and Steel, by which the European nations overpowered it militarily in the late 1800s. An extremist Communist named Mao Zedong ran the country for quite some time, and sponsored a number of harsh government-sponsored programs that devastated China, such as the "Great Leap Forward" and the "Cultural Revolution." A conservatively-estimated 20 million people died as a result of these two programs.
The current government is nominally Communist, but is in reality functionally capitalist; for instance, China is currently privatizing its agricultural sector. Basically, China is maintaining its authoritarian government while having a fairly laissez-faire economic system (look at that, Milton).
A province (shěng or 省), formally provincial level administrative division, is the highest-level Chinese administrative division. There are 34 such divisions, classified as 22 provinces, 4 municipalities (huge metropolitan cities), 5 autonomous regions (as big as provinces but has ruling body and laws tailored for local ethnicities other than Han), 2 Special Administrative Regions (Hong Kong [香港 Hoeng1gong2] and Macau [澳門 Ou3mun4*2], cities that remained under lease until the late 90s), and Taiwan the "little."
Capitalism in China is particularly obvious to visitors: street merchants and vendor malls are regular sights, counterfeit goods are readily available, clothing stores sell alcoholic beverages, McDonald's and KFCs are large multilevel restaurants in major metropolitan areas, and haggling (to a certain degree) is expected. Green shops, or government-licensed stores, offer a "ten times your money back" guarantee on Chinese cultural merchandise discovered to be inauthentic, such as pearls, silk, jade, and tea.
There is lingering hostility between China and Japan over World War II and war crimes. Also, China is interested in eventually "liberating" the Republic of China (Taiwan) from what used to be called a "fascist Western puppet state" and finish the civil war.
China currently plays manufacturer and banker to the United States' consumer and borrower. This has economic and political implications, though contrary to what some kooks think it doesn't mean China is going to show up on the doorstep one day saying they own the country now.
On December 4th, 2014, it was announced by the IMF that China became the largest economy in the world (though only if measured by purchasing power parity), passing the US, which had previously held the title since the time of President Ulysses S. Grant.
 The one on the island
Contrary to popular Western opinion, the island of Taiwan existed long before 1949, with the earliest evidence of human presence dating to 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. The ancestors of many of Taiwan's indigenous peoples arrived approximately 8000 years ago; Taiwan's aboriginal peoples are the originators of Polynesian culture, which since spread from Oceania to Madagascar. Han Chinese settlement (primarily from China's Fujian province) began in earnest in the 17th century, and was shortly followed by the establishment of Dutch and Spanish settlements in the south and north of the island, respectively. The Dutch forcibly evicted the Spanish, and the Dutch were in turn evicted by the forces of Koxinga, who was seeking a base from which to attack the Manchu Qing Dynasty and restore the Han Ming Dynasty (much as the ROC once fully intended to use Taiwan as a base to attack the Communists and restore Nationalist China).
Koxinga's grandson surrendered to the Qing, and Taiwan was made part of Fujian province in 1683. Taiwan became a full province after being attacked by the French in 1884, but was ceded in perpetuity to Japan in 1895 at the conclusion of the first Sino-Japanese War. Japan invested much of the indemnities received from the Qing into building Taiwan's infrastructure, and Taiwan became a self-reliant colony despite initial resistance by both Han settlers and indigenous peoples. Notably, the Empire of Japan was the first entity to control all of Taiwan (with Qing control being mainly limited to the west coast). During World War 2, the allies proclaimed in the Cairo Declaration that Taiwan would be given to the ROC (a claim notably absent from the official surrender document, the Treaty of San Francisco (1952)). ROC forces entered Taiwan in 1945, and relations between the Mandarin-speaking ROC troops and Taiwanese/Hakka/Japanese-speaking local Taiwanese became increasingly strained, particularly as the ROC was more interested in stripping Taiwan's assets to finance the civil war in China than in actually governing Taiwan. An altercation between ROC soliders and a cigarette vendor in 1947 resulted in a bloody crackdown known as the 228 Incident, which was followed by the longest period of martial law in documented history (38 years), in which local Taiwanese were kept out of positions of power, and anyone suspected of harboring pro-independence views was imprisoned or disappeared.
In the aftermath of the Communist revolution's success on the mainland in 1949, the remaining Nationalist counterrevolutionaries from the defeated Kuomintang (KMT) forces escaped to the island of Taiwan (臺灣 Táiwān) together with many refugees; the newly arrived civilians and soldiers (referred to as (外省人 wàishěngrén) (the most appropriate English translation would be 'mainlanders', but this has unfortunate connotations) now comprised 10% of the population, but possessed all the political power. The KMT maintained almost unbroken rule of the Republic of China (中華民國 Zhōnghuá Mínguó) (the one exception being 2000-2008, when Taiwan was led by the DPP's Chen Shuibian). Initially an oligarchy under Chiang Kai-shek, the ROC became a democracy after his death.
In accordance with the "One China" principle, the ROC continues to nominally claim authority over all of China, as well as outer Mongolia and Tuva. The ROC currently only administers Taiwan and smaller outlying islands. Internationally, "Taiwan" is the common shorthand for the ROC, but the country is officially designated Chinese Taipei on the rare occasions when it can participate in international events (such as sporting competitions) alongside the PRC.
The international relations of the Chinas can get a bit sticky. Both the PRC and the ROC claim authority over all of China under the One-China policy. What this means is that other nations can only diplomatically recognize one or the other, and the vast majority of nations recognize the PRC; however, many Western governments have strong ties with Taiwan, including unofficial embassies. The PRC considers the territories controlled by the ROC to be a rogue province and gets very pissed off when foreign diplomats assert, or even imply, Taiwanese independence.
People on the mainland are split between supporting reunification (such supporters include many descendants of refugees from 1949) and declaring independence (such supporters include many descendants of immigrants over the preceding 400 years). Those who support reunification (known as Pan-Blue, or supporters of the Kuomintang party and other parties under the Pan-Blue umbrella, such as the People First Party), however, disagree as to which government should rule over the unified China. Pan-Green supporters (supporter of the more liberal Democratic Progressive Party, and other parties, such as the Taiwan Solidarity Union) support abandoning the One-China policy and renouncing all claims on the mainland (i.e. proclaiming an independent Taiwan). Regardless of their views, however, most people in Taiwan can agree that they view themselves as Taiwanese, not Mainland Chinese (which is also an insult for a plethora of things in Taiwan).
 The Great Firewall
Censorship in Mainland China consists of a a mish-mash of tools to prevent "collective action"; simply because of the sheer scale of web users, Beijing knows it won't be able to filter out everything. Nonetheless, the effort to block "subversive" Internet content frequently enters comical territory, for example, a World of Warcraft expansion delayed specifically for depicting walking skeletons. As human rights actvists find increasingly complex ways to bypass the system, Chinese internet censorship is also rather harsh when it comes to porn. It remains to be seen how long the authorities are able to clamp down on those evil Western influences.
 See also
- ↑ The China Story You Should Pay Attention to, and the One You Should Ignore, The Atlantic
- ↑ Harvard team finds that China's Internet policy allows more than most realize, Ars Technica
- ↑ Banning Skeletons in Chinese Games, Popular Science
- ↑ How Memes Became the Best Weapon Against Chinese Internet Censorship, The Atlantic