Political divisions of China

Due to China's large population and area, the political divisions of China have always consisted of several levels since ancient times. The constitution of the People's Republic of China provides for three de jure levels of government. Currently, however, there are five practical (de facto) levels of local government in mainland China: the province, prefecture, county, township, and village. The Republic of China on Taiwan uses a slightly different system, with streamlined provinces and no prefectures. (see Political divisions of the Republic of China for more details)

The provinces serve an important cultural role in China. People tend to be identified in terms of their native provinces, and each province has a stereotype that corresponds to their inhabitants. Most of the provinces of China have boundaries which were established in the late Ming Dynasty. Major changes since then have been the reorganization of provinces in the Northeast after the Communist takeover of mainland China in 1949 and the establishment of autonomous regions which are based on Soviet nationality theory.

Missing image
Administrative divisions of the People's Republic of China
Administrative divisions of the  over its actual area of control
Administrative divisions of the Republic of China over its actual area of control


The constitution of the People's Republic of China provides for three levels: the province, county, and township. However, two more levels have been inserted in actual implementation: the prefecture, under provinces; and the village, under townships. (There is a six level, the district public office, under counties, but it is being abolished.)

Each of the levels correspond to a level in the Civil service of the People's Republic of China.

Province level

The People's Republic of China administers 33 province-level (省级 shěngj) divisions, including 22 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, 4 municipalities, and 2 special administrative regions. The Republic of China administers 2 municipalities and 2 provinces (though both provincial governments have been largely streamlined).

In mainland China, provinces are theoretically subservient to the PRC central government, but in practice provincial officials have a large amount of discretion with regard to economic policy. Unlike the United States, the power of the central government was (with the exception of the military) not exercised through a parallel set of institutions until the early 1990s. The actual practical power of the provinces has created what some economists call federalism with Chinese characteristics.

Most of the provinces of China, with the exception of the provinces in the northeast, have boundaries which were established during the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. Sometimes provincial borders veer markedly away from cultural or geographical boundaries, a phenomenon described as "dog's teeth interlocking" (犬牙交错 quǎnyjiāocu). This was an attempt by the imperial government to discourage separatism and warlordism through a divide and rule policy. Nevertheless, provinces have come to serve an important cultural role in China. People tend to be identified in terms of their native provinces, and each province has a stereotype that corresponds to their inhabitants.

The most recent administrative changes have included the elevation of Hainan and Chongqing to provincial level status and the organization of Hong Kong and Macau as Special Administrative Regions. In Taiwan, Taipei and Kaohsiung were elevated to the status of centrally administered municipalities after the retreat of the KMT-led government.


Provinces (省 shěng) are the most common type of province-level division.

Name Chinese (S) pinyin Abbreviation Capital List of county-level divisions
Anhui安徽Ānhuī皖 wǎnHefeiList of county-level divisions
Fujian福建Fjin闽 mǐnFuzhouList of county-level divisions
Gansu甘肃Gāns甘 gān or 陇 lǒngLanzhouList of county-level divisions
Guangdong广东Guǎngdōng粤 yuGuangzhouList of county-level divisions
Guizhou贵州Guzhōu黔 qin or 贵 guGuiyangList of county-level divisions
Hainan海南Hǎinn琼 qingHaikouList of county-level divisions
Hebei河北Hběi冀 jShijiazhuangList of county-level divisions
Heilongjiang黑龙江Hēilngjiāng黑 hēiHarbinList of county-level divisions
Henan河南Hnn豫 yZhengzhouList of county-level divisions
Hubei湖北HběiWuhanList of county-level divisions
Hunan湖南Hnn湘 xiāngChangshaList of county-level divisions
Jiangsu江苏Jiāngsū苏 sūNanjingList of county-level divisions
Jiangxi江西Jiāngxī赣 gnNanchangList of county-level divisions
Jilin吉林Jln吉 jChangchunList of county-level divisions
Liaoning辽宁Lionng辽 lioShenyangList of county-level divisions
Qinghai青海Qīnghǎi青 qīngXiningList of county-level divisions
Shaanxi陕西Shǎnxī陕 shǎn or 秦 qnXi'anList of county-level divisions
Shandong山东Shāndōng鲁 lǔJinanList of county-level divisions
Shanxi山西Shānxī晋 jnTaiyuanList of county-level divisions
Sichuan四川Schuān川 chuān or 蜀 shǔChengduList of county-level divisions
Yunnan云南Ynnn滇 diān or 云 ynKunmingList of county-level divisions
Zhejiang浙江Zhjiāng浙 zhHangzhouList of county-level divisions
Disputed province

Main article: Political status of Taiwan

Name Traditional
Pinyin Abbreviation Capital
Taiwan臺灣台湾Tiwān台 tiJhongsing Village

Since its founding in 1949, the People's Republic of China has considered Taiwan to be its 23rd province. However, the Republic of China currently controls this province, which consists of Taiwan island and the Pescadores. The ROC also controls one county of Fuchien (or Fukien) province: Kinmen; and part of a second county: Lienchiang. In addition, the ROC officially claims all of mainland China (including Tibet), outer Mongolia and Tuva. Though this claim was unofficially dropped by then ROC President Lee Teng-hui in 1991, this action was not officially approved by the National Assembly.

Missing image
Official map of the Republic of China, currently based in Taiwan.

Maps of China published in Taiwan will often show provincial boundaries as they were in 1949 which do not match the current administrative structure as decided by the Communist Party of China post-1949, and include all of the areas claimed by the ROC.

Autonomous regions

Autonomous regions (自治区 zzhqū) are province-level divisions with a designated ethnic minority, and are guaranteed more rights under the constitution. For example, they have a chairman (where regular provinces have governors), who must be of the ethnic group as specified by the autonomous region (Tibetan, Uighur, etc)

Autonomous regions were established after communist takeover, following Soviet nationality policy. There are five in total.

Name Chinese (S) pinyin Designated minority Local name Abbreviation Capital List of county-level divisions
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region 广西壮族自治区 Guǎngxī Zhungz Zzhqū Zhuang Zhuang -
Gvangjsih Bouxcuengh Swcigi
桂 Gu Nanning List of county-level divisions
Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region 内蒙古自治区 Niměnggǔ Zzhqū Mongol Mongolian -
ᠥᠪᠦᠷ ᠮᠣᠨᠺᠤᠯᠤᠨ ᠥᠪᠡᠷᠲᠡᠺᠡᠨ ᠵᠠᠰᠠᠬᠤ ᠣᠷᠤᠨ /
br Mongghul-un bertegen Jasaqu Orun
内蒙古 Niměnggǔ Hohhot List of county-level divisions
Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region 宁夏回族自治区 Nngxi Huz Zzhqū Hui (The Hui speak Chinese) 宁 nng Yinchuan List of county-level divisions
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region 新疆维吾尔自治区 Xīnjiāng Wiw'ěr Zzhqū Uighur Uighur -
شىنجاڭ ئۇيغۇر ئاپتونوم رايونى /
Shinjang Uyghur Aptonom Rayoni
新 xīn Urumqi List of county-level divisions
Tibet Autonomous Region 西藏自治区 Xīzng ZzhqūTibetan Tibetan -
བོད་རང་སྐྱོང་ལྗོངས /
藏 zng Lhasa List of county-level divisions


Municipalities (直辖市 zhxish) are large cities that have the same administrative level as provinces. Municipalities directly control county-level divisions, without an intervening prefecture-level. In practice, the actual metropolitan area of a municipality is only a tiny fraction of its total area; the rest of the municipality consists of towns and farmland. Chongqing is an extreme example of this — the rural population of this municipality exceeds its urban population.

There are 4 municipalities in the People's Republic of China.

Name Chinese (S) pinyin Abbreviation List of county-level divisions
Beijing北京Běijīng京 jīngList of county-level divisions
Chongqing重庆Chngqng渝 yList of county-level divisions
Shanghai上海Shnghǎi沪 hList of county-level divisions
Tianjin天津Tiānjīn津 jīnList of county-level divisions

There are 2 municipalities administered by the ROC. These are quite different from the municipalities found in Mainland China: rather than governing an area many times larger than the metropolitan area, they govern only a portion of the metropolitan areas of which they are a part. See Political divisions of the Republic of China.

Name Chinese pinyin Abbreviation
Kaohsiung City高雄Gāoxing高 gāo
Taipei City台北Tiběi北 běi

Since these two cities were elevated after 1949 by a government the PRC considered no longer legitimate, the PRC does not consider them to be centrally administered municipalities and refers to Taipei, and not Jhongsing Village, as the provincial capital of Taiwan.

Special administrative regions

Special administrative regions (特別行政區/特别行政区 tbixngzhngqū) (SARs) are local administrative regions enjoying a high degree of autonomy under the One country, two systems arrangement, and come directly under the Central People's Government, as provided in the articles 12 of both basic laws of the two SARs.

Unlike provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, which legal basis is provided for in Article 30 of the 1982 Constitution that governs administrative divisions, special administrative regions are provided for in Article 31 in anticipation of the retrocession of Hong Kong and Macau. The two SARs were established in 1997 and 1999 when the sovereignty of the two entities was transferred (from the United Kingdom and Portugal respectively) to the People's Republic of China.

The two special administrative regions come directly under the Central People's Government. As opposed to other provincial-level administrative divisions (provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions), SARs reserve a much higher level of autonomy, with their own courts of last resort, legal systems, passports, currencies, customs control, immigration policies, extradition, etc., except diplomatic relations and national defence. The SARs participate in various international organisations and sporting events as separate members/teams from the PRC.

Both SARs are small, and neither uses the administrative structure of mainland China. Hong Kong is divided into 18 districts, each with a consultative district council. Macau is divided into two concelhos and seven freguesias (parishes) with no formal duties.

Name Chinese (T) Pinyin Abbreviation
Hong Kong香港Xiānggǎng港 gǎng
Macau澳門omn澳 o

See also:

Prefecture level

For a complete listing of all the prefecture-level divisions of China, see the article for each province.

Prefecture-level (地级 dj) divisions are a level of administration that exists only on mainland China, not Taiwan. As of December 31, 2004, there are 333 prefecture-level divisions, including 283 cities, 17 prefectures, 30 autonomous prefectures, and 3 leagues in mainland China.

The vast majority of prefecture-level divisions are prefecture-level cities (地级市 djsh). These are not really "cities" in the traditional sense of the word, since they are actually large administrative regions that cover both urban and rural areas. Most provinces are divided into only prefecture-level cities.

Prefectures (地区 dqū) are another level of government found at the prefecture-level. These used to be the dominant prefecture-level division across all of China, which is why this administrative level is called "prefecture-level". However, they were replaced for the most part by prefecture-level cities in the 1990s. Today, prefectures are restricted mostly to Xinjiang and Tibet.

Leagues (盟 mng) are effectively the same as prefectures, but they are to be found only in Inner Mongolia. Like prefectures, leagues have mostly been replaced with prefecture-level cities. The unique name is a holdover from earlier forms of administration in Mongolia.

Autonomous prefectures (自治州 zzhzhōu) are prefectures with one or several designated ethnic minority/minorities. These are mostly to be found in the western parts of the country.

County level

For a complete listing of all the county-level divisions of China, follow the links in these tables

As of December 31, 2004, there are 2862 county-level (县级 xinj) divisions, including 852 districts, 374 cities, 1464 counties, 117 autonomous counties, 49 banners, 3 autonomous banners, 2 special regions and 1 forestry area in mainland China. The Republic of China governs 23 county-level divisions, including 18 counties and 5 provincial municipalities.

Counties (县 xin) are the most common county-level division. Counties have continuously existed since the Warring States Period, much earlier than any other level of government in China. In Sinologist literature, xian are often translated as "districts" or "prefectures". Wikipedia will try to maintain consistency and translate all of them as "counties".

Autonomous counties (自治县 zzhxin) are counties with one or several designated ethnic minority/minorities. These are analogous to autonomous regions (at the province-level) and autonomous prefectures (at the prefecture-level).

Inner Mongolia has banners (旗 q) and autonomous banners (自治旗 zzhq), which are the same as counties and autonomous counties except in name. The name is a holdover from earlier forms of administration in Mongolia.

County-level cities (县级市 xinjsh) are, like prefecture-level cities, not "cities" in the traditional sense of the word, since they are actually large administrative regions that cover both urban and rural areas. It was popular for counties to become county-level cities in the 1990s, though this has since been halted. In Taiwan, county-level cities are known as provincial cities (省轄市 shěngxish).

Districts (市辖区 shxiqū or simply 区 ) are another type of county-level division. These were formerly the subdivisions of urban areas, consisting of built-up areas only. In recent years, however, many counties have been converted into districts, so that today districts are often just like counties, with towns, villages, and farmland.

In addition there are a few special cases. There is a forestry area (林区 lnqū) in Hubei province, Shennongjia, that is a county-level division; so are two special districts (特区 tqū) in Guizhou province.

Township level

As of December 31, 2004 there were 43275 township-level (乡级 xiāngj) divisions. These include 19892 towns, 16130 township, 1126 ethnic townships, 277 sumu, 1 ethnic sumu, 5829 subdistricts, and 20 district public offices in mainland China. At the same administrative level, the Republic of China administers 32 county-administered cities, 226 rural townships, and 61 urban townships. (See Political divisions of the Republic of China.)

In the mainland, in general, urban areas are divided into subdistricts (街道办事处 jiēdobnshch or simply 街办 jiēbn, literally "street offices"), while rural areas are divided into towns (镇 zhn), townships (乡 xiāng), and ethnic townships (民族乡 mnzxiāng). Sumu (苏木 sūm) and ethnic sumu (民族苏木 mnzsūm) are the same as townships and ethnic townships, but are unique to Inner Mongolia.

The Republic of China is different from mainland China in that it also has county-administered cities (縣轄市 xinxish), which are cities at the township level. The People's Republic of China has no equivalent of this. Also, the urban townships and rural townships of the Republic of China are the same as towns and townships of the mainland; the difference is in the translation to English.

District public offices (区公所 qūgōngsuǒ) are a vestigial level of government in mainland China. These once represented an extra level of government between the county- and township-levels. Today there are very few of these remaining and they are gradually being phased out.

Village level

The village level (cun) serves as organizational (census, mail system) and not so much importance in political representative power. Basic local divisions like neighborhoods and communities are not informal like in the West, but have defined boundaries and designated heads (one per area):

In general, urban areas are organized into neighborhood committees (居民委员会 jūmnwěiyunhu or simply 居委会 jūwěihu), while rural areas are organized into village committees (村民委员会 cūnmnwěiyunhu or simply 村委会 cūnwěihu) or villager groups (村民小组 cūnmnxiǎozǔ). A "village" in this case can either be a natural village (自然村 zrncūn), or one that spontaneously and naturally exists, or an administrative village (行政村 xngzhngcūn), which is a bureaucratic entity.

Instead of neighborhood committees and sub-districts, a city could have:

Special cases

Although every single administrative division has a clearly defined level associated with it, sometimes an entity may be given more autonomy than its level allows for.

For example, a few of the largest prefecture-level cities are given more autonomy. These are known as sub-provincial cities (副省级市 fshěngjsh), meaning that they are given a level of power higher than a prefecture, but still lower than a province. Such cities are half a level higher than what they would normally be. Although these cities still belong to provinces, their special status gives them a high degree of autonomy within their respective provinces.

A similar case exists with some county-level cities. Some county-level cities are given more autonomy. These cities are known as sub-prefecture-level cities (副地级市 fdjsh), meaning that they are given a level of power higher than a county, but still lower than a prefecture. Such cities are also half a level higher than what they would normally be. Sub-prefecture-level cities are often not put into any prefecture (i.e. they are directly administered by their province).

An extreme example is Pudong District of Shanghai. Although its status as a district would define it as county-level, the district head of Pudong is given sub-provincial powers. In other words, it is one and a half levels higher than what it would normally be.


This table summarizes the divisions of the area administered by the People's Republic of China.

Level Name Types
1 Province level
2 Prefecture level
3 County level
4 Township level
5 Village level (informal)

Note: Province-, prefecture-, and county-level data are accurate as of December 31, 2004. Township-level data are accurate as of December 31, 2004.


Main article: History of the political divisions of China

Before the establishment of the Qin Dynasty, China was ruled by a network of kings, nobles, and tribes. The rivalry of these groups culminated in the Warring States Period, and the state of Qin eventually emerged dominant.

The Qin Dynasty was determined not to allow China to fall back into disunity, and therefore designed the first hierarchical administrative divisions in China, based on two levels: jn commanderies and xin counties (xian is usually translated as "districts" or "prefectures" in Sinologist literature, but here we will use "county", the contemporary term). The Han Dynasty that came immediately after added zhōu (usually translated as "provinces") as a third level on top, forming a three-tier structure.

The Sui Dynasty and Tang Dynasty abolised commanderies, and added circuits (do, later l under the Song) on top, maintaining a three-tier system that lasted through the Song Dynasty. (As a second-level division, zhou are translated as "prefectures".) The Mongol-established Yuan Dynasty introduced the modern precursors to provinces, bringing the number of levels to four. This system was then kept more or less intact until the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty to rule China.

The Republic of China streamlined the levels to just provinces and counties, and made the first attempt to extend political administration beyond the county level by establishing townships below counties. This was also the system officially adopted by the People's Republic of China in 1949, which defined the administrative divisions of China as three levels: provinces, counties, and townships.

In practice, however, more levels were inserted. Greater administrative areas were inserted on top of provinces, but they were soon abolished, in 1954. Prefectures were inserted between provinces and counties; they continue be ubiquitously applied to nearly all areas of China. District public offices were inserted between counties and townships; once ubiquitous as well, they are currently being abolished, and very few remain.

The most recent developments major developments have been the establishment of Chongqing as a municipality and the creation of Hong Kong and Macau special administrative regions.


Main article: Reform of the political divisions of China

In recent years there have been calls to reform the administrative divisions and levels of China. Rumours of an impending major reform have also spread through various online bulletin boards.

The abolishment of district public offices is an ongoing reform to remove an extra level of administration from between the county and township levels. There have also been calls to abolish the prefecture level, and some provinces have transferred some of the power prefectures currently hold to the counties they govern.

See also

External links

de:Administrative Gliederung der Volksrepublik China fr:Provinces de Chine nl:Provincies van China ja:中華人民共和国の行政区分 pl:Podział administracyjny ChRL pt:Subdivises da Repblica Popular da China simple:List of provinces of China sl:Upravna delitev Kitajske fi:Kiinan alueellinen hallinto sv:Administrativa regioner i Kina zh:中国行政区划


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