China can seem as impenetrable as it is imposing. Consider the numbers: it’s the world’s most populous nation (1.3 billion), where more than 100 cities have populations over a million. Fifty-six ethnic groups are spread across 22 wildly distinct provinces and five autonomous regions, in a landmass slightly larger than the U.S. Its history seems limitless and its traditions just as deep. But here and now, change is the only real constant—and it is accelerating at a dizzying pace. (One thousand new cars hit the streets of Beijing every day.)
How do you begin to fathom a country of such extremes? The futuristic cities glittering above timeworn villages; the great rivers and vast empty deserts; the radical new architecture juxtaposed with millennia-old monuments; the ceaseless push-and-pull between Confucianism, Communism, and commerce. Where do you even begin? Have no fear. Start here.