China is the oldest continuous major world civilization, with records dating back about 3,500 years. Prior to early 20th century, China was ruled by dozens of successive dynasties. With the weakening of the Qing Dynasty in the 19th century, prosperity diminished and China suffered massive social strife and economic stagnation. A revolutionary military uprising in October 1911 overthrew the Qing Dynasty and ended the monarchy system in China, but in the next few decades China continued to suffer from internal conflicts. In 1949, the People's Republic of China (PRC) was founded after the Communist Party defeated the nationalist Kuomintang in a civil war.
China embarked on a market-oriented economic reform in the late 1970s that brought significant changes to the country. As a result, living standards for much of the population have improved dramatically, although political freedom remains limited. With a population of more than 1.3 billion, China is the most populous country in the world. China is also the fastest growing economy in the world, with GDP expanding at an annual average rate of around nine percent over the past two decades. Benefiting from increased access to foreign markets since joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, China has become one of the world’s largest trading countries as well as a global economic force.