The area of China Proper is not more than half that of the whole empire; it extends as far north only as 41° lat., and as far west as 98° long. It is about 1474 miles in length, and its breadth is about 1355 miles. Its coast line measures about 2500 miles; its land frontier is described as being 4400 miles in length, and its area is said to contain 1,399,609 square miles.
Surface.—One of the most noticeable features in the surface of China is the immense delta plain in the north-eastern portion of the empire, which, curving round the mountainous districts of Shan-tung, extends for about 700 miles in a southerly direction from the neighbourhood of Peking, and varies from 150 to 500 miles in breadth. Commencing in the prefecture of Yung-ping Foo, in the province of Chih-li, its outer limit passes in a westerly direction as far as Chang-ping Chow, north-west of Peking. Thence running a south-south-westerly course it passes westward of Ching-ting Foo and Kwang-ping Foo till it reaches the upper waters of the Wei River in Ho-nan. From this point it turns westward and crosses the Hwang-ho, or Yellow River, in the prefecture of Hwai-king. Leaving this river it takes a course a little to the east of south, and passing west of Joo-ning Foo, in the province of Ho-nan, it turns in a more easterly direction as far as Leuchow Foo. From this prefecture an arm of the plain, in which lies the Tsaou Lake, stretches southward from the Hwai River to the Yang-tsze Keang, and trending eastward occupies the region between the river and Hang-chow Bay. To the north of this arm rises a hilly district, in the centre of which stands Nanking.
The boundary of the plain round the mountainous region of Shan-tung begins at Lai-chow Foo, and describes a huge bow to the west and south, reaching westward to the prefecture of Tse-nan, and southward to the frontier of the province of Keang-soo, which boundary it follows to the sea. The greater part of this vast plain descends very gently towards the sea, and is generally below the level of the Yellow River,—hence the disastrous inundations which so often accompany the rise of the Hwang-ho. It is the delta of the Yellow River, and also to some extent of the Yang-tsze Keang, and it is chiefly remarkable for its semi-annular shape, within which it encloses the mountain districts of the province of Shan-tung. Owing to the great quantity of soil which is brought down by the waters of the Yellow River, and to the absence of oceanic currents, this delta is rapidly increasing and the adjoining seas are as rapidly becoming shallower. As an instance, it is said that the town of Pootai was 1 le west of the sea-shore, in the year 220 B.C., and in 1730 it was 140 le inland, thus giving a yearly encroachment on the sea of about 100 feet. Again, Seen-shwuy Kow on the Peiho was on the sea-shore in 500 A.D., and it is now about 18 miles inland.
The rest of the empire may be described as being either mountainous or hilly. Several ranges of high mountains, in connection with the mountain system of Central Asia, enter the western provinces of the empire, and after traversing the western and southern provinces in various directions dwindle down to low hills as they approach the sea-coast. In the eastern portion of Tibet the Kwan-lun range throws off a number of branches, which spread first of all in a south-easterly direction, and eventually take a north and south course, partly in the provinces of Sze-chuen and Yun-nan, where they divide the beds of the rivers which flow into Siam and Cochin-China, as well as the principal northern tributaries of the Yang-tsze Keang. Another range, known as the Tung-nan, or Foo-new Shan, which appears to be the eastern termination of the great Kwan-lun range of Central Asia, and which is said to have several snow-clad peaks, enters China in the soutern portion of the province of Kan-suh, and stretches in an easterly direction across the province of Shen-se into that of Ho-nan, where it finally disappears. This range separates the waters which enter the Hwang-ho, or Yellow River, through the Wei and the Lo from those which flow into the Yang-tsze Keang, through the Kia-ling and the Han. Forming the northern frontier of the province of Sze-chuen runs the Kew-lung or Po-mung range, which entering China in 102° long., takes a general course of east as far as 112° long., at about which point it is lost sight of in the province of Hoo-pih. In the south the Nan-shan ranges, some peaks of which are said to reach above the snow-level, take their rise in Yun-nan, and after spreading in a series of ranges over the south and east portions of Kwang-se trend in an easterly direction, covering the entire province of Kwang-tung. Then turning north-eastward, they occupy the whole area of the provinces of Fuh-keen, Keang-se, Chĕ-keang, Hoo-nan, and southern Gan-hwuy, until they reach the Yang-tsze Keang; which river, from the Tung-ting Lake to Chin-keang Foo, forms their northern boundary. It is reckoned that this mountain region occupies an area of about 300,000 square miles. Besides these more important ranges there are the Lung Mountains in Kan-suh, the Ta-hang Mountains in Shan-se, the Tae Mountains in Shan-tung, and many others, among which may be mentioned the ranges which form the northern frontier of Chih-li. It will thus be seen that there is a general subsidence from the mountain districts in the western portions of the empire to the central and south-eastern provinces, where the mountains dwindle down to hills, and where the snowy peaks and rugged sides of the ranges in Yun-nan and Sze-chuen are exchanged for the wooded tops and carefully-cultivated terraces of the littoral provinces.