You Won’t Believe These 4 Bizarre Facts About China

China, China, China. Seems like you can’t flip on the news or open your web browser without hearing or seeing something new about the Middle Kingdom (as China is sometimes called). There’s a reason for this: China is the world’s most populous country and will soon — if current trends hold — have its largest economy. Many of the world’s consumer goods are manufactured in China, and the country is increasingly a consumer powerhouse of its own. Plus, its semi-authoritarian government appears to have big designs on regional influence.

Big things are happening in China. Unfortunately, most Americans know precious little about the world’s second-largest economy. Check out these four crazy facts about China — and, as there are plenty more where these came from, feel free to share your own.

  1. It’s Arguably the World’s Oldest Extant Civilization

Modern China is a big place: larger than the continental United States, in fact. It’s important to note that, in spite of outsiders’ perceptions, it’s not ethnically homogeneous. Much of China’s western reaches, including Xinjiang Province and the vast Tibetan Plateau, house ethnocultural groups that have historically been marginalized by the Han, China’s dominant ethnic group.

For better or worse, the Han are more or less synonymous with “China,” and they form the core of what’s arguably the world’s oldest continuously operating civilization. In fact, China has existed in recognizable form since before 3,000 B.C. — putting it on par with the long-vanished Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations.

  1. China Actually Won’t Be the World’s Most Populous Nation for Much Longer

China remains the world’s most populous nation, but it won’t be for too much longer. Despite a long-predicted slowdown in its fertility rate, India is projected to overtake China as the world’s largest country by 2030. By then, the two countries will house nearly 1 in 3 of Earth’s inhabitants.

  1. China Has a Dynamic Precious Metals Market

China is one of the world’s largest single markets for precious metals. In particular, it’s a top destination for salvaged metals from old catalytic converters — accounting for the lion’s share of the market for rhodium and palladium on any given day.

  1. China Has Thousands of Miles of Bullet Trains

Love trains? You’ll love China. China has about 12,000 miles of dedicated high speed rail as of late 2015, according to this fascinating article, and nearly double that amount in planning or under construction. China’s bullet train network includes the world’s only pressurized rail line, a Tibet-bound service that reaches more than 15,000 feet above sea level.

Go East

Here’s a bit of friendly advice: If you’ve never been to China, go. You don’t need to drop everything you’re doing and board the next flight to Beijing, but there’s no reason not to make the Middle Kingdom a priority destination.

In fact, why not swap out your next trip to New York or San Francisco for a week in China’s hinterland? You’ll make back the extra airfare costs thanks to China’s low, low living costs, and you’re sure to see things you never even knew existed in the process. Your favorite American attractions will still be there when you get back — and just think of the stories you’ll be able to tell.