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Topography and Mountain Ranges
China's surface slopes down from west to east in a four-step staircase.

The top of the staircase is the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, with an average elevation of more than 4,000 metres and known as "the roof of the world." The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is composed of rows of snow-capped peaks and glaciers. The major mountain ranges are the Kunlun, Gangdise and Himalaya.

The second step consists of the Inner Mongolia, Loess and Yunnan-Guizhou plateaus, and the Tarim, Junggar and Sichuan basins, on an altitude of 1,000-2,000 metres.

The third step, about 500-1,000 metres in elevation, begins at the line from the Greater Hinggan, Taihang, Wushan and Xuefeng mountain ranges eastward to the sea coast. Here, running from north to south are the Northeast Plain, the North China Plain, and the Middle-Lower Yangtze Plain. Interspersed amongst the plains are hills and foothills.

To the east of the third step the shallow waters of the continental shelf, an extension of the land into the ocean, form the fourth step of the staff case. The depth of the water here is less than 200 metres. Great quantities of mud and sand have been carried here by the rivers on the mainland.

China's many mountains are well known throughout the world. Her mountain ranges can be divided into five basic categories according to the directions in which they run: (1) west to east mountain ranges, including the Tianshan-Yinshan-Yanshan mountain system, the Kunlun-Qinling-Dabie mountain system, and the Nanling mountain system; (2) north to south mountain ranges, including the Helan, Liupan, and Hengduan ranges; (3) northeast to southwest mountain ranges, including the Changbai, Greater Hinggan, Taihang, and Wushan ranges; (4) northwest to southeast mountain ranges, including the Altay, Qilian and Gangdise ranges; and (5) arc-shaped mountain ranges, including the Himalayas and Taiwan Mountains
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