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Administrative Divisions

Last updated by fabiowzgogo at 2016/12/11

When experts analyze the Chinese success story, they often talk about the Chinese political system that has made this success possible. They argue that under the one-party system, long-term policies can be formulated which have national development priorities in focus, and there is no negative impact caused by the change of ruling parties with different ideologies and positions coming into power from time to time. They also talk about the high levels of efficiency within the administration, and quick and effective responses to challenges and opportunities. They argue that the system of selection of people and their elevation from one level to another is superior to the election system, and this coupled with training and the accountability system in place makes for good administrators.

China Map

China Map


The China administrative divisions are governed by strong local systems. The purpose of such an arrangement is to have practices and processes in place that facilitate smooth functioning of the local administration.

•The whole of China is classified into autonomous regions, provinces, and municipalities that are governed by the Central Government.

•The regions which are autonomous and the various provinces are broken up into prefectures which are also autonomous; other counties which are autonomous; and counties and cities

•The counties which are autonomous, and other counties are then further broken down to townships (which are ethnic), towns and other townships

•The autonomous regions, large cities of various provinces, as well as the municipalities which fall under the purview of the Government at the Center are divided into counties and districts.

•Prefectures which are autonomous are in turn divided into cities, counties which are themselves autonomous, and other counties.

Besides the above, some regions may be set up by the Government at the Center designated as administrative regions which are special.

The Chinese administrative divisions

1. Municipalities which are self-governing districts falling under the direct control of the central government. These are four in number and are – Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai and Tianjin

2. Autonomous Regions which are administrative regions where the local government and congress is made up of the minority Chinese Han. These are five in number – Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Tibet and Xinjiang.

3. Special Administrative Regions (SAR) - administrative regions that pursue a policy of one country, two systems. These are two in number – Hong Kong and Macau.

4. Provinces – 23 in number. They are the first-level local state administrative organs in China. They are  - Guizhou,  Sichuan, Anhui, Gansu, Fujian, Guangdong, Hebei, Henan, Shangxi,  Hubei, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Hunan, Qinghai, Yunnan, Shandong, Jilin, Hainan, Shaangxi, Zhejiang

The Levels of Chinese Administrative Divisions

Under the system which has two levels, there are:

•the municipalities which fall under the government at the center

•the districts

Under the system which has three levels there are

•the autonomous regions, provinces, and municipalities under the government at the center

•Counties, cities and autonomous counties

•Townships, other towns and townships which are ethnic

Under the four-level system are:

•The provinces, municipalities under the government at the center and regions that are autonomous

•Cities which have prefectures that are autonomous, and other districts

•Counties, cities and other counties which are autonomous

•Townships, other towns and townships which are ethnic

The Creation Of The Modern Chinese State

The Chinese Civil War which stretched for about 23 years (1927 -1950) resulted in China being split into two – the People’s Republic of China in the mainland, controlled by the Communist Party of China; and the Republic of China in Taiwan, controlled by the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party). While major hostilities ended in 1950, it is still debatable whether the war has officially ended. The political status of Taiwan continues to be a sore point and political, economic pressure and military threats continue to this day. For the record, no peace treaty or armistice has been signed, and the People’s Republic of China still actively claims Taiwan as part of its territory, while the Republic of China claims like-wise for the mainland.

All of this makes for a fairly complicated state of affairs, and given the fact that across history China has taken many shapes and been influenced by many political organizations, boundaries have often been blurred.

Historical Administrative Divisions In China

During the periods of the various dynasties that have ruled China in times gone by, the Chinese administrative divisions evolved.

The administrative divisions prevalent during those times were as follows:

The Qin Dynasty was the first imperial dynasty of China. Their rule lasted from 221 to 207 BCE. The China administrative divisions during this period were two tiered, with the primary level called the commandery and the secondary level called the county. During the Han Dynasty that followed (206 BCE – 220 CE) and the Jin Dynasty that came after that (265 – 420 CE), the Chinese administrative divisions were three tiered -  province, commandery and county. Later, during the Sui Dynasty (589 – 618 CE), the administrative divisions were designated as prefecture and county. During the Tang (618 – 907 CE) and the Song (960 – 1279 CE) dynasties that followed, the terms used were circuit, prefecture and county. In the reign of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368 CE), the primary division was called province, and the secondary and tertiary as circuit and prefecture respectively. The Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912) classified the administrative divisions as province, circuit, prefecture and county, while the Republic of China (1912 – 1949) divided China into province and special municipality (primary division), circuit (secondary division), county and provincial city (tertiary division) and district, urban township and rural township (quaternary division).

Thus it can be seen that during various periods of history, the Chinese administrative divisions varied a great deal, depending on the administrative convenience of various rulers in power at each of those times.

Ranking Of Top Five Chinese Provinces Based On GDP

1. Guangdong – located on the South China Sea coast, and previously known as Kwangtung Province, Guangdong has now become the most highly populated province in China. The capital Guangzhou and the economic hub Shenzhen are two of the most important cities in the country. The province contributes more than 11% of the Chinese GDP, and has been growing at a scorching 10% per annum. The size of GDP of this province alone is bigger that all of Netherlands put together.

2. Jiangsu province, contributing more than 10% of the Chinese GDP, and growing at 11% per annum is the next in rank. Equivalent in terms of size of GDP to Turkey, Jiangsu is located on the east coast of China. It enjoys a thousand kilometers of coastline stretching along the Yellow Sea. The Yangtze River crosses through it on the south. Ever since the onset of economic development, Jiangsu has witnessed phenomenal growth, and is at present the province with the highest per capita GDP. It has received massive doses of foreign direct investment, and many of the world’s largest electronic equipment, chemical and textile exporters have their base here.

3. The third largest province based on GDP is Shandong. Part of East China, this province is equally important from point of view of economic development as well as for historical reasons. It is a religious center for Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. The city of Qufu is the birthplace of Confucius. Contributing almost 10% of Chinas GDP, and growing at about 11% per annum, Shandong has a GDP that is equivalent to that of Turkey.

4. Zhejiang, with an economy as big as Belgium, and growing at the rate of 9% per annum, has the fourth largest GDP. It accounts for about 7% of the China GDP. Zhejiang is another province located on the eastern seaboard. The river Qiantang passes through the city of Hangzhou, which is the capital of the province.

5. Henan province, with an annual GDP growth rate of about 12%, and accounting for about 6% of the Chinese GDP has an economy almost as big as that of South Africa. The Yellow River runs through the province. Considered to be the cradle of the ancient Chinese civilization, Henan boasts of history that is more than 5,000 years old. It is the third most populous province in China, and if it were to be a country, it would be the 12th most populous country in the world, behind Mexico, and ahead of the Philippines.

Growing Centers Of Economic Development

From point of view of the highest GDP growth rates per annum, the provinces of Chongqing and Tianjin both have topped 16%, the highest in China. Chongqing is a member of CHAMPS in a report about the top 20 emerging cities in China put together by a economic think-tank. CHAMPS is an acronym for C-Chongqing, H-Hefei, A-Anshan, M-Maanshan, P-Pingdingshan and S-Shenyang – and identifies Chinas fastest-growing cities based on the level of business opportunities available, the construction explosion, rising vehicle and home ownership, and purchase level of appliances.

Impact Of the Local, Provincial And Municipal Governments

There is little doubt that the formulation of the China administrative divisions and their actual governance has had a significant role to play in the economic success that China is at present enjoying. The provincial and local officials and state government bureaucracy act in concert to implement the business of state. There are some 34 provincial governments, more than 300 governments at the level of the prefecture, about 3,000 governments at the level of the county and more than 40,000 township governments. The constitution allows the local governments to carry out administration work related to education, public health, the economy, culture, science, finance, rural and urban development, family planning, affairs of a civil nature, security of the public, affairs relating to nationalities and the administration of the judiciary in the administrative areas that come under their purview.

While the Chinese administrative divisions and their functioning cannot be termed faultless, with relatively high levels of corruption prevailing at the level of county and municipal officials, they are still delivering results in what is otherwise a very challenging environment, given the large area that needs to be administered to. Many serious attempts are on by the Chinese government to bring about reforms in the China administrative divisions to make it more flat-structured, and to remove excessive layers of hierarchy.