Chinese Administrative Districts and Websites
Due to China's large population and geographical area, the administrative divisions of China have consisted of several levels since ancient times. The constitution of China provides for three de jure levels of government. Currently, however, there are five practical (de facto) levels of local government: the provincial (province, autonomous region, municipality, and special administrative region), prefecture, county, township, and village.
The Constitution of China provides for four levels: the provincial (province, autonomous region, municipality, and special administrative region), the prefectural (prefecture-level city [officially "city with district-level divisions" (设区的市) and "city without district-level divisions" (不设区的市)], autonomous prefecture, prefecture [additional division] and league [the alternative name of “prefecture” which is used in Inner Mongolia]), county (district, county, county-level city [officially “city without district-level divisions”], autonomous county, banner [the alternative name of “county” which is used in Inner Mongolia], autonomous banner [the alternative name of “autonomous county” which is used in Inner Mongolia], special district [additional division], forestry area [additional division]) and township. The fifth level which is commonly known as “village level” is actually not an administrative level. The Constitution of China designs the fifth level as “basic level autonomy”. As of 2017, China administers 33 provincial-level regions, 334 prefecture-level divisions, 2,862 county-level divisions, 41,034 township-level administrations, and 704,382 basic level autonomies.
Since the 17th 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.
Each of the levels (except "special administrative regions") corresponds to a level in the Civil Service of the People's Republic of China.
The People's Republic of China (PRC) administers 34 provincial-level divisions (省级行政区) or first-level divisions (一级行政区), including 22 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, 4 municipalities, and 2 special administrative regions and 1 claimed province:
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 form 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.
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.
The most recent administrative changes have included the elevation of Hainan (1988) and Chongqing (1997) to provincial level status, and the creation of Hong Kong (1997) and Macau (1999) as Special administrative regions.
Provincial level governments vary in details of organization:
Provincial divisions of China
Provincial-level (1st) subdivisions
22 Provinces (省; 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.
5 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 usually appointed from the respective minority ethnic group.
4 Municipalities (直辖市; zhíxiáshì): A higher level of city that is directly under the Chinese government, with status equal to that of the provinces. In practice, their political status is higher than that of common provinces.
2 Special administrative regions (特别行政区/特別行政區; tèbié xíngzhèngqū): A highly autonomous and self-governing subnational subject of the People's Republic of China. Each SAR has a chief executive as head of the region and head of government. The SAR's government is not fully independent, as foreign policy and military defence are the responsibility of the central government, according to the Basic Laws of the two SARs.
1 Claimed province: (声称省份; shēngchēng shěngfèn): The People's Republic of China claims the island of Taiwan and its surrounding islets, including Penghu, as Taiwan Province. (Kinmen and the Matsu Islands are claimed by the PRC as part of its Fujian Province. Pratas and Itu Aba are claimed by the PRC as part of Guangdong and Hainan provinces respectively.) The territory is controlled by the Republic of China (ROC, commonly called "Taiwan"). Taiwan is fully independent and has its own head of state, army, and foreign policy.