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Administrative divisions
of the People's Republic
of China
This article is part of the
Political divisions of China
Province level
Autonomous regions
Special Administrative
Regions (SARs)
History of its political divisions
Prefecture level
Autonomous prefectures
Prefecture-level cities
Sub-provincial cities
County level
Autonomous counties
County-level cities
Sub-prefecture-level cities
City districts
Autonomous banners
Township level
Townships (ethnic)
Sumu (ethnic)
County districts
Village level
People's Republic of China

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
the People's Republic of China

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Due to China's large population and area, the administrative divisions of China have 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: the province, prefecture, county, township, and village.

Since the seventeenth century, provincial boundaries in China have remained largely static. Major changes since then have been the reorganization of provinces in the northeast after the establishment of the People's Republic of China and the formation of autonomous regions, based on Soviet ethnic policies. The provinces serve an important cultural role in China, as people tend to identify with their native province.



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 sixth level, the district public office, below counties, but it is being abolished. The People's Republic of China administers 33 province-level regions, 333 prefecture-level regions, 2,862 county-level regions, 41,636 township-level regions and even more village-level regions.

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



This table summarizes the divisions of the area administered by the People's Republic of China as of December 31, 2005.

Level Name Types
1 Province level
2 Prefecture level
3 County level
4 Township level
5 Village level (informal)
  • Neighborhood committees (社区居民委员会 jūmínwěiyuánhùi) (80,717)[1]
    • Neighborhoods or communities (社区)
  • Village committees (村民委员会 cūnmínwěiyuánhùi) (623,669)[2] or Village groups (村民小组 cūnmínxiǎozǔ)
    • Administrative villages (行政村 xíngzhèngcūn)
    • Natural villages (自然村 zìráncūn)

Province level

The People's Republic of China administers 33 province-level divisions, including 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four municipalities, and two special administrative regions:

Provinces are theoretically subservient to the PRC central government, but in practice provincial officials have large 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, with the exception of the provinces in the northeast, have boundaries which were established long ago in the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. Sometimes provincial borders veer markedly away from cultural or geographical boundaries. 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 (1988) and Chongqing (1997) to provincial level status and the organization of Hong Kong (1997) and Macau (1999) as Special Administrative Regions.

Province-level governments vary in details of organization:

Administrative divisions of the
People's Republic of China by:
Population density
GDP per capita
Highest point
Natural growth rate
Life expectancy
Illiteracy rate
Tax Revenues
Historical capitals

Province level subdivisions

22 Provinces (; shěng)— A standard provincial government is nominally led by a provincial committee, headed by a secretary. The committee secretary is first-in-charge of the province, come in second is the governor of the provincial government.
Autonomous Regions (自治区; zìzhìqū)— A minority subject which has a higher population of a particular minority ethnic group along with its own local government, but an autonomous region theoretically has more legislative rights than in actual practice. The governor of the Autonomous Regions is appointed from the respective minority ethnic group.
Municipalities (直辖市; zhíxiáshì)— A higher level of city which is directly under the Chinese government, with status equal to that of the provinces.
Special Administrative Regions (SARs) (特别行政区; tèbiéxíngzhèngqū)— A highly autonomous and self-governing subnational subject of the People's Republic of China. Each SAR has a provincial level chief executive as head of the region and head of government. The region's government is not fully independent, as foreign policy and military defense are the responsibility of the central government, according to the constitution.
Claimed Province — The People's Republic of China claims the island of Taiwan and its surrounding islets, including Penghu, as "Taiwan Province". The territory is controlled by the Republic of China (ROC, commonly called "Taiwan").
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Tibet Autonomous Region Qinghai Gansu Sichuan Yunnan Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Shaanxi Chongqing Municipality Guizhou Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region Shanxi Henan Hubei Hunan Guangdong Hainan Hebei Heilongjiang Jilin Liaoning Beijing Municipality Tianjin Municipality Shandong Jiangsu Anhui Shanghai Municipality Zhejiang Jiangxi Fujian Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Macau Special Administrative Region Taiwan China administrative.gif
About this image

For a larger version of this map, see here.

List of province-level subdivisions

Provinces-level divisions of the People's Republic of China[3]
Map # Region Division name Trad. Simp. Pinyin Postal Abbr. ISO[4] Type Capital Population¹ Density² Area³ Divisions
1 Northwest Xinjiang 新疆 新疆 Xīnjiāng Sinkiang xīn CN-65 AR Ürümqi 19,630,000 12 1,660,400 List
2 North Inner Mongolia 內蒙古 内蒙古 Nèiměnggǔ Mongolia 内蒙 Nèiměng CN-15 AR Hohhot 23,840,000 20 1,183,000 List
3 Northeast Heilongjiang 黑龍江 黑龙江 Hēilóngjiāng Heilungkiang hēi CN-23 Province Harbin 38,170,000 83 454,000 List
4 Northeast Jilin 吉林 吉林 Jílín Kirin CN-22 Province Changchun 27,090,000 145 187,400 List
5 Northeast Liaoning 遼寧 辽宁 Liáoníng Fengtien liáo CN-21 Province Shenyang 42,170,000 289 145,900 List
6 Southwest Tibet 西藏 西藏 Xīzàng Tibet zàng CN-54 AR Lhasa 2,740,000 2 1,228,400 List
7 Northwest Qinghai 青海 青海 Qīnghǎi Tsinghai qīng CN-63 Province Xining 5,390,000 7 721,200 List
8 Northwest Gansu 甘肅 甘肃 Gānsù Kansu gān CN-62 Province Lanzhou 26,190,000 58 454,300 List
9 Northwest Ningxia 寧夏 宁夏 Níngxià Ningsia níng CN-64 AR Yinchuan 5,880,000 89 66,400 List
10 Northwest Shaanxi 陝西 陕西 Shǎnxī Shensi shǎn CN-61 Province Xi'an 37,050,000 180 205,600 List
11 North Shanxi 山西 山西 Shānxī Shansi jìn CN-14 Province Taiyuan 33,350,000 213 156,300 List
12 North Hebei 河北 河北 Héběi Hopeh CN-13 Province Shijiazhuang 68,090,000 363 187,700 List
13 North Beijing 北京 北京 Běijīng Peking jīng CN-11 Municip. 15,810,000 941 16,800 List
14 North Tianjin 天津 天津 Tiānjīn Tientsin jīn CN-12 Municip. 11,519,000 980 11,305 List
15 East Shandong 山東 山东 Shāndōng Shantung CN-37 Province Jinan 91,800,000 586 153,800 List
16 South Central Henan 河南 河南 Hénán Honan CN-41 Province Zhengzhou 98,690,000 591 167,000 List
17 Southwest Sichuan 四川 四川 Sìchuān Szechuan chuān CN-51 Province Chengdu 87,250,000 180 485,000 List
18 Southwest Chongqing 重慶 重庆 Chóngqìng Chungking CN-50 Municip. 31,442,300 382 82,300 List
19 South Central Hubei 湖北 湖北 Húběi Hupeh è CN-42 Province Wuhan 60,160,000 324 185,900 List
20 East Anhui 安徽 安徽 Ānhuī Anhwei wǎn CN-34 Province Hefei 64,610,000 463 139,700 List
21 East Jiangsu 江蘇 江苏 Jiāngsū Kiangsu CN-32 Province Nanjing 75,495,000 736 102,600 List
22 Southwest Yunnan 雲南 云南 Yúnnán Yunnan diān CN-53 Province Kunming 44,150,000 112 394,000 List
23 Southwest Guizhou 貴州 贵州 Gùizhōu Kweichow qián CN-52 Province Guiyang 39,040,000 222 176,000 List
24 South Central Hunan 湖南 湖南 Húnán Hunan xiāng CN-43 Province Changsha 66,980,000 316 210,000 List
25 East Jiangxi 江西 江西 Jiāngxī Kiangsi gàn CN-36 Province Nanchang 42,840,000 257 167,000 List
26 East Zhejiang 浙江 浙江 Zhèjiāng Chekiang zhè CN-33 Province Hangzhou 47,200,000 464 102,000 List
27 East Shanghai 上海 上海 Shànghǎi Shanghai CN-31 Municip. 18,450,000 2,622 6,341 List
28 South Central Guangxi 廣西 广西 Guǎngxī Kwangsi Guì CN-45 AR Nanning 48,890,000 207 236,000 List
29 South Central Guangdong 廣東 广东 Guǎngdōng Kwangtung yuè CN-44 Province Guangzhou 113,040,000 467 180,000 List
30 East Fujian 福建 福建 Fújiàn Fukien mǐn CN-35 Province Fuzhou 35,110,000 289 121,300 List
31 South Central Macau 澳門 澳门 Àomén Macau ào CN-92 SAR 520,400 17,310 29 List
32 South Central Hong Kong 香港 香港 Xiānggǎng Hong Kong gǎng CN-91 SAR 6,985,200 6,352 1,104 List
33 South Central Hainan 海南 海南 Hǎinán Hainan qióng CN-46 Province Haikou 8,180,000 241 34,000 List
East Taiwan 臺灣 台湾 Táiwān Formosa tái CN-71 Claimed Province Taipei 23,000,000 636 35,581 List


¹: as of 2004
²: per km²
³: km²
†: Since its founding in 1949, the People's Republic of China (PRC) has considered Taiwan to be its 23rd province. However, the PRC has never controlled Taiwan. The Republic of China (ROC, "Taiwan") currently controls Taiwan which it governs as Taiwan Province, consisting of Taiwan island and Penghu. The ROC also controls one county of Fuchien (or Fukien) province: Kinmen; and part of a second county: Lienchiang.

List of former provinces

situation province Chinese abbreviation belongs today to
ROC-Andong.png Andong 安東
today part of Liaoning and Jilin
ROC-Chahar.png Chahar 察哈爾

today part of Inner Mongolia
before 1907 "Liaoning"

1907 - 1929 "Fengtian"

05.02.1929 - 01.03.1932 "Liaoning"

01.03.1932 - 18.08.1945 "Fengtian" (Manchukuo regime)

since 1945 "Liaoning"

Fengtian 奉天

today part of Liaoning. The former name of Liaoning province from 1907 to 1929. Under the Manchukuo regime, the name was revived, but was again abolished in 1945.
ROC-Hejiang.png Hejiang 合江
today part of Heilongjiang
ROC-Liaobei.png Liaobei 遼北
today part of Inner Mongolia
ROC-Rehe.png Rehe 熱河

today mostly part of Hebei
ROC-Songjiang.png Songjiang (province) 松江
today part of Heilongjiang
ROC-Suiyuan.png Suiyuan 綏遠

today part of Inner Mongolia
ROC-Xikang.png Xikang 西康

Its western part today belongs to Tibet, its eastern part to Sichuan.
ROC-Xingan.png Xing'an 興安
today part of Heilongjiang and Liaoning

Prefecture level

Map of China's prefecture-level divisions

Prefecture-level divisions are the second level of the administrative structure. Most provinces are divided into only prefecture-level cities and contain no other second-level administrative units. Of the 22 provinces and 5 autonomous regions only 3 provinces (Yunnan, Guizhou, Qinghai) and 2 autonomous regions (Xinjiang, Tibet) have more than three second-level or prefecture-level divisions that are not prefecture-level cities. As of December 31, 2005, there were 333 prefecture-level divisions:

17 Prefectures (地区; dìqū) — formerly the dominant second-level division, thus this administrative level is often called "prefecture-level". They were mostly replaced by prefecture-level cities from 1983 to the 1990s. Today, prefectures exist mostly in Xinjiang and Tibet.
30 Autonomous Prefectures (自治州; zīzhìzhōu) — prefectures with one or more designated ethnic minorities, mostly in China's western regions.
283 Prefecture-level Cities (地级市; dìjíshì) — the largest number of prefecture-level divisions, generally composed of an urban center and surrounding rural areas much larger than the urban core, and thus are not "cities" but municipal in the strict sense of the term
Leagues (; méng)— effectively the same as prefectures, but 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.

County level

Map of China's county-level divisions

As of December 31, 2005, there were 2,872 county-level divisions:

1,464 County (; xiàn) — the most common county-level divisions, continuously in existence since the Warring States Period, much earlier than any other level of government in China. Xian is often translated as "district" or "prefecture".
117 Autonomous Counties (自治县; zìzhìxiàn) — counties with one or more designated ethnic minorities, analogous to autonomous regions and prefectures
374 County-level cities (县级市; xiànjíshì) — similar to prefecture-level cities, covering both urban and rural areas. It was popular for counties to become county-level cities in the 1990s, though this has since been halted.
852 Districts (市辖区; shìxiáqū) — formerly the subdivisions of urban areas, consisting of built-up areas only. Recently many counties have become districts, so that districts are now often just like counties, with towns, villages, and farmland.
49 Banners (; ) — the same as counties except in the name, a holdover from earlier forms of administration in Mongolia
Autonomous Banners (自治旗; zìzhìqí) — the same as autonomous counties except in the name, a holdover from earlier forms of administration in Mongolia
1 Forestry Area (林区; línqū) — a special county-level forestry district located in Hubei province
2 Special Districts (特区; tèqū) — a special county-level division exclusively located in Guizhou province

Township level

Township level subdivisions

14,677 Townships (; xiāng)— in smaller rural areas division they are divided into this subject
 Ethnic Townships (民族乡; mínzúxiāng)— in a small one or more designated ethnic minorities rural areas division they are divided into this subject
19,522 Towns (; zhèn)— in larger rural areas division they are divided into this subject
6,152 Subdistricts (街道办事处; jiēdàobànshìchù)— in a small urban areas division they are divided into this subject
11 District Public Offices (区公所; qūgōngsuǒ)— are a vestigial level of government. 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.
181 Sumus (苏木; sūmù)— are the same as townships, but are unique to Inner Mongolia.
1 Ethnic Sumus (民族苏木; mínzúsūmù)— are the same as ethnic townships, but are unique to Inner Mongolia.

Village level

The village level serves as an organizational division (census, mail system) and does not have 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 urban areas, every subdistrict of a district of a city administers many communities or neighborhoods. Each of them have a neighborhood committee to administer the dwellers of that neighborhood or community. Rural areas are organized into village committees or villager groups. A "village" in this case can either be a natural village, one that spontaneously and naturally exists, or an administrative village, which is a bureaucratic entity.

Village level subdivisions

80,717 Neighborhood Committees (社区居民委员会; jūmínwěiyuánhùi)
  Neighborhoods / Communities (社区; shèqū)
623,669 Village Committees / Village groups ((村民委员会 / 村民小组; cūnmínwěiyuánhùi / cūnmínxiǎozǔ)
  Administrative Villages (行政村; xíngzhèngcūn)
   Natural Villages (自然村; zìráncūn)
   City-Type Neighborhood (居民区; jūmínqū)
   City-Type Communities (社区; shèqū)

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, 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, 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).

Examples are Pudong, Shanghai and Binhai, Tianjin. Although its status as a district of a direct-controlled municipality would define it as prefecture-level, the district head of Pudong is given sub-provincial powers. In other words, it is half a level higher than what it would normally be.

Special cases subdivisions

15 Sub-Provincial Cities (副省级城市; fùshěngjíchéngshì)
Sub-Prefecture-Level Cities (副地级市); fùdìjíshì)
2 Sub-Provincial Districts (副省级城市辖区; fùshěngjíchéngshìxiáqū)

Ambiguity of the word "city" in China

Due to the complexity of the administrative divisions, the Chinese word "市"(shì) or in English "city", have many different meanings.

By its political level, when a "city" is referred, it can be a:

  • LV 1 (provincial-level):
  • LV 2 (prefecture-level):
  • LV 3 (county-level):

When used in the statistical data, the word "city" may have three different meanings:

  • The area administrated by the city. For the municipality, the sub-provincial city, or the prefecture-level city, a "city" in this sense includes all of the counties, county-level cities, city districts that the city governed. For the Sub-prefecture-level city or the County-level city, it includes all of the subdistricts, towns and townships that it has.
  • The area comprised by its the urban city districts and suburb city districts. The difference between the urban district and the suburb districts is that an urban district is only comprised by the subdistricts, while a suburb district also have towns and townships to govern rural areas. In some sense, this definition is approximately the metropolitan area. This definition is not applied to the sub-prefecture-level city and the county-level city since they do not have city districts under them.
  • The urban area. Sometimes the urban area is referred as (市区 shìqū). For the municipality, the sub-provincial city, and the prefecture-level city, it is comprised by the urban city district and the adjacent subdistricts of the suburb city districts. For the sub-prefecture-level city and the county-level city, only central subdistricts are included. This definition is close to the strict meaning of "city" in western countries.

It is important to specify the definition of "city" when referring to statistical data of Chinese cities. Otherwise, confusion may arise. For example, Shanghai is the largest city in China by the population in the urban area, but it is a smaller city than Chongqing by the population within the administration area.[citation needed]


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: jùn commanderies and xiàn counties. 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 abolished commanderies, and added circuits (dào, later 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 in 1928, 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. The ROC government soon learned that it was not feasible for a province to directly govern tens and sometimes hundreds of counties. Started from Jiangxi province in 1935, Prefectures were later inserted between provinces and counties. They continue be ubiquitously applied by the PRC government to nearly all areas of China until 1980s. Since then, most of the prefectures were converted into prefecture-level cities. Greater administrative areas were inserted on top of provinces by the PRC government, but they were soon abolished, in 1954. 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.


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.[5]

The 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. There are also calls to reduce the size of the provinces. The ultimate goal is to reduce the different administration levels from five to three, (Provincial, County, Village) reducing the amount of corruption as well as the number of government workers, in order to lower the budget.

See also


  1. ^ China Statistical Yearbook 2007, Ch. 23-28 Basic Conditions of Civil Affairs Agencies"
  2. ^ China Statistical Yearbook 2007, Ch. 23-28, op.cit.
  3. ^ References and details on data provided in the table can be found within the individual provincial articles.
  4. ^ ISO 3166-2:CN (ISO 3166-2 codes for the provinces of China)
  5. ^ Consulte-General of the People's Repiblic of China in New York: 民政部官员:“中国将要设50个省区市”报道失实

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