The striking geographic diversity of China includes just about every topographical feature imaginable, including mountains, plateaus, broad plains, grasslands, basins, gentle hills, islands, tidal flatlands, desert, glaciers, and frozen tundra.
China is a country with over 1,500 large rivers and 370 large lakes and the Tibetan Plateau is the source for some of the world's mightiest river drainage systems, including the Yangtze River, the Yellow River and the Mekong River. In addition, over 5,000 islands are scattered throughout China's vast territorial waters from the Gulf of Bo Hai in the north to the extreme southern extent of the South China Sea.
China is primarily a mountainous nation with a landscape that descends from west to east across three distinct tiers. The highest tier is the Tibetan Plateau, a rugged land situated in southwest China that averages over 4,000 meters (13,100 ft) above sea level. North and east of this plateau, the land suddenly drops to an average elevation between 1,000 and 2,000 meters (3,280 to 6,560 feet) above sea level. The final tier is the vast expanse of land characterized by low hills averaging 500 m in elevation and broad coastal plains; the Manchurian Plain in northeast China, the densely populated North China Plain that spreads south along the Gulf of Bo Hai and the Yellow Sea to the great Yangtze River basin, and, further south, the dramatic topography of the southern coastal lowlands, a blend of unusually shaped cliffs, gorges, and waterfalls.
Known to the West for centuries as the island of Formosa, Taiwan is the largest of China's islands. It took the name Formosa in the mid-16th Century, when Portuguese mariners sailing northward from the South China Sea first spotted this splendid island rising out of the sea. Some sailors were so taken by the sight they blurted out, "Ilha Formosa !" (What a beautiful island !). To the natives it has always been "Taiwan" (Bay of Terraces).