The great narrative of the 21st century will be the geopolitical struggle between China and India

The two countries that together account for 36% of humanity. And also happen to be neighbors

So one would expect these two nations to evince a great deal of interest in each other
Yet mutual ignorance is extremely high. Particularly on the Indian side.

While the average well-read Indian may be very familiar with Western history and Western thought in general, his familiarity with China is close to NIL. There is not even a territorial familiarity
The average well-read Indian with a sound liberal arts education, can rattle off about Plato and Aristotle, Magna Carta and the Glorious Revolution, Hume and Smith, Neitzche and Heidegger.

But China? We usually draw a blank. This is a bit worrying.
One major misconception among many people in India (that I have heard) is that China is much less dense than India. It's population density is 147 per sq km as opposed to 380 per sq km in India.

It is 2.9 times as big as India yet has the same population.
While this may be true on paper, it betrays an ignorance of Chinese territory and the population distribution

Unlike India whose population is fairly evenly spread across the country, the centroid of the Chinese population is much further to the east than its geographic centroid
So let's take a look at the territorial map of China.

It comprises of 33 divisions - 22 of which are designated "Provinces", 4 municipalities, 5 Autonomous regions, and 3 special administrative regions
Now here's the thing.

Unlike India, the standard deviation in the size of these territories is much much higher. And so is the standard deviation in population density
The 4 autonomous regions are

Inner Mongolia

These regions have greater autonomy than the regular provinces on account of their historic ethnic distinctiveness but today Ningxia and Guangxi are culturally Han Chinese, and v atypical in this group
So that leaves us with the three big Autonomous regions -
Inner Mongolia

Here's a stunner - these 3 ARs account for 4 MM sq kms - 42% of China's area.

And yes larger than India!

Yet they account for just 50MM - 3.7% of China's population!

Worth pausing over
Yet these 3 provinces are very different from each other.

TIbet is ofcourse proudly Tibetan and the Hans haven't quite settled the area yet.

93% of Tibet comprises of TIbetans, with Hans accounting for just 6%
Xinjiang's major ethnic group are the Uighurs - a Turkic ethnic group that is today predominantly Sunni Muslim.

Yet unlike in Tibet, the Hans have managed to settle Xinjiang in very large numbers. While Uighurs are 45% of the population, Hans run them close at 41%
Inner Mongolia is the most dense of these 3 very sparsely populated Autonomous regions. 25MM of the 50MM who live in these 3 regions.

Also it is the most "Han-nified" of the 3 ARs. With Hans accounting for 79% of the population, while the Mongols constitute just 17%
The story of the 21st century will probably be the completion of the process of Han-nifying these 3 great and very large regions that constitute a large part of the Earth's land surface - 4 million sq kms!
To this day, the Chinese have always tended to look at these provinces as the "Other".

So when we talk of Western China with a Chinese, it is not Xinjiang or Tibet. It is actually Sichuan / Chongquing - which appear to be in central China for us geographically
Now let's look at China proper. The land that stretches from Heilongjiang in the North East extremity to Yunnan in the South west

Here again, though every province is "Han" for the most part, the provinces at the extremes of this zone are still fairly sparse in population
Heilongjiang in the North eastern extremity is a very large province, with mountainous terrain

454,000 sq kms, but just 38MM people.

That's larger than Karnataka and Tamil Nadu put together, but with fewer people than Kerala
The province at the extreme South West is Yunnan. Again this is a large territory that neighbors Tibet.

It is only 67% Han - one of the lowest Han % among the provinces.

And has just 45MM people among its nearly 400,000 sq kms.
So if we keep whittling down and focus on Han China proper, which lies for the most part in the eastern half of the land, we get a very different view of China.

A country about the same size as India, with very similar population density.
Let's take a province like Shandong on the eastern seaboard.

This is the China of yore. And it has 96MM people concetrated on its small area of 154K sq km. Population density is 623 as of 2010!!

That's not much lower than the density of Uttar Pradesh.
The neighboring Jiangsu province, also on the eastern seaboard, which has the old capital of several Chinese dynasties - Nanking (Nanjing), is even more densely populated.

79MM people over 100K sq kms. Density of nearly 800 per sq km. That's much much denser than say Tamil Nadu
Guangdong in the south east is another province. Population density of nearly 600, housing over 100MM people in an area of 180K sq kms.

This is excluding Hong Kong and Macau mind you, which are in the Guangdong region, but are regarded as separate entities.
So China "proper" is every bit as dense as India. And yes, no larger than India in terms of area.

Let's focus on the following provinces / municipalities -
Anhui, Beijing, Chongquing, Fujian, Guangdong, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Hainan, Hebei, Hong Kong, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shandong, Macau, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Guizhou, Sichuan, Zhejiang
One can regard these territories as China proper.

Collectively their area is 2,9 MM sq. km - a little less than India's 3.3 MM sq km.

Their population is 1 Billion. Again a little less than India's 1.3 Bn.
So this cultural and territorial "core" of China is about the same size as India, with the same population - well almost.

Something that we tend to overlook.
While India has the same population and area as "China proper", it has to continue supporting the growth of this popuation on the same land mass.
China "proper" which I outlined above is about the same size both area-wise and people-wise.

But China has the option of spreading its wings and populating about 2/3rd of its land mass - which is not adequately Han-nified. At least not yet.
How do these countries manage to provide a great future for nearly 40% of humanity will be the major story of the 21st century.
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