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Prefecture-level divisions
China prefectural-level divisions and administrative divisions (PRoC claim).png
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese地级行政区
Traditional Chinese地級行政區
Alternative Chinese name
Simplified Chinese地区
Traditional Chinese地區
Tibetan name
Zhuang name
Mongolian name
Mongolian CyrillicTranslate as League (盟)
Uyghur name
Manchu name
Manchu scriptᠪᠠ
former name (1949–1971)
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese专级行政区
Traditional Chinese專級行政區
former name (1949–1971)
Simplified Chinese专区
Traditional Chinese專區
former name (1932–1949)
Simplified Chinese行政督察区
Traditional Chinese行政督察區
Tibet only (1910–1960)
Tibetan name

In the context of China, the term prefecture is used to refer to several unrelated political divisions in both ancient and modern China.

In modern China, a prefecture is formally a kind of prefecture-level division. There are 339 prefecture-level divisions in China. These include 7 prefectures, 299 prefecture-level cities, 30 autonomous prefectures and 3 leagues. Other than provincial level divisions, prefectural level divisions are not mentioned in the Chinese constitution.

Types of prefectural level divisions

Further information: List of prefectures in China

Province Prefecture-level city Autonomous prefecture Prefecture League
National total 299 30 7 3
Beijing 0 0 0 0
Tianjin 0 0 0 0
Hebei 11 0 0 0
Shanxi 11 0 0 0
Inner Mongolia 9 0 0 3
Liaoning 14 0 0 0
Jilin 8 1 0 0
Heilongjiang 12 0 1 0
Shanghai 0 0 0 0
Jiangsu 13 0 0 0
Zhejiang 11 0 0 0
Anhui 16 0 0 0
Fujian 9 0 0 0
Jiangxi 11 0 0 0
Shandong 16 0 0 0
Taiwan 6 0 0 0
Henan 17 0 0 0
Hubei 12 1 0 0
Hunan 13 1 0 0
Guangdong 21 0 0 0
Guangxi 14 0 0 0
Hainan 4 0 0 0
Chongqing 0 0 0 0
Sichuan 18 3 0 0
Guizhou 6 3 0 0
Yunnan 8 8 0 0
Tibet 6 0 1 0
Shaanxi 10 0 0 0
Gansu 12 2 0 0
Qinghai 2 6 0 0
Ningxia 5 0 0 0
Xinjiang 4 5 5 0


Prefectures are administrative subdivisions of provincial-level divisions.

The administrative commission (Chinese: 行政公署; pinyin: xíngzhèng gōngshǔ) is an administrative branch office with the rank of a national ministerial department (司级) and dispatched by the higher-level provincial government. The leader of the prefecture government, titled as prefectural administrative commissioner (行政公署专员; xíngzhèng gōngshǔ zhūanyūan), is appointed by the provincial government. Instead of local people's congresses, the prefecture's working commission of the standing committee of the provincial people's congress is dispatched and supervises the prefecture governments, but can not elect or dismiss prefecture governments.[1] The prefecture's working committee of the provincial committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPCC) is a part of the prefecture's committee of the CPPCC. This means that the prefecture's working committee of the CPPCC is a branch of the provincial committee of the CPPCC, not an individual society entity. The same is valid for provincial CPPCCs, which are formally sections of the national CPPCC.

The term prefecture derives from the former circuit, which was a level between the provincial and the county level during the Qing dynasty. In 1928, the government of the Republic of China abolished the circuit level and the province administrated counties directly; however, this reform was soon found unfeasible because some provinces had hundreds of counties. Consequently, in 1932, provinces were again subdivided into several prefectures, and regional administrative offices were set up.

At one point, prefectures were the most common type of prefecture-level division. Today they have been mostly converted into prefecture-level cities, and the trend is still ongoing, with only seven prefectures remaining in China.

Name Chinese Provincial-level region Population (2010) Area (km2) Prefecture seat
Daxing'anling Prefecture 大兴安岭地区 Heilongjiang 511,564 46,755 Jiagedaqi District (de facto); Mohe city (de jure)
Ngari Prefecture 阿里地区 Tibet 95,465 304,683 Sênggêzangbo town, Gar County
Altay Prefecture 阿勒泰地区 Xinjiang 603,280 117,988 Altay city
Tacheng Prefecture 塔城地区 Xinjiang 1,219,212 94,891 Tacheng city
Kashgar Prefecture 喀什地区 Xinjiang 3,979,362 112,058 Kashgar city
Aksu Prefecture 阿克苏地区 Xinjiang 2,370,887 128,099 Aksu city
Hotan Prefecture 和田地区 Xinjiang 2,014,365 248,946 Hotan city

Prefecture-level city

Main article: Prefecture-level city

Prefecture-level cities (地级市; dìjíshì) are municipalities that are given prefecture status and the right to govern surrounding counties. In practice, prefecture-level cities are so large that they are just like any other prefectures (prefecture-level administrative divisions), and not cities in the traditional sense of the word at all.

Prefecture-level cities are the most common type of prefecture-level division in mainland China today.


Main article: Leagues of China

Leagues (; méng) are the prefectures of Inner Mongolia. The name comes from a kind of ancient Mongolian administrative unit used during the Qing dynasty in Mongolia. To preempt any sense of Mongolian unity or solidarity, the Qing dynasty executed divide and rule policies in which Mongolian banners (county-level regions) were separated from each other. Leagues had no true ruler-ship, they only had conventional assemblies consisting of banners. During the ROC era, the leagues had a status equivalent to provinces. Leagues contain banners, equivalent to counties.

After the establishment of the provincial-level Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in 1947, the leagues of Inner Mongolia became equal to prefectures in other provinces and autonomous regions. The governments of the league, xíngzhènggōngshǔ (行政公署), are the administrative branch offices dispatched by the People's Government of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The leader of the league's government, titled as league leader (盟长; méngzhǎng), is appointed by the People's Government of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. So are deputy leaders of leagues. Instead of a local-level people's congress, a league's working commissions of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region are detached and supervise the league's governments, but can not elect or dismiss league's government officials.[1] In such a way, the league's working committee of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region's committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference is instead the league's committee of the CPPCC.

Similar to prefectures, most leagues have been replaced by prefecture-level cities. There are only three leagues remaining in Inner Mongolia.

Name Chinese Provincial-level region Population (2010) Area (km2) Prefecture seat
Alxa League 阿拉善盟 Inner Mongolia 231,334 267,574 Bayanhot Elute Subdistrict, Alxa Left Banner
Xilingol League 锡林郭勒盟 Inner Mongolia 1,028,022 202,580 Xilinhot city
Hinggan League 兴安盟 Inner Mongolia 1,613,250 59,806 Ulanhot city

Autonomous prefecture

Main article: Autonomous prefecture

Autonomous prefectures (自治州; zìzhìzhōu) either have over 50% of the population with ethnic minorities or are historically resided by significant minorities. All autonomous prefectures are mostly dominated, in population, by the Han Chinese. The official name of an autonomous prefecture includes the most dominant minority in that region, sometimes two, rarely three. For example, a Kazakh (Kazak in official naming system) prefecture may be called Kazak Zizhizhou.

Like all other prefecture-level divisions, autonomous prefectures are divided into county-level divisions. There is one exception: Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture contains two prefectures of its own.

Under the constitution of the People's Republic of China, autonomous prefectures cannot be abolished. However, two autonomous prefecture were dissolved when new provinces were established such as Hainan Li and Miao Autonomous Prefecture when Hainan Province was established in 1988 and Qianjiang Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture when Chongqing Municipality was established in 1997.

Development zone

Development zones (开发区; kāifāqū) were temporary prefectural level divisions. Chongqing was a development zone before it became a municipality, and two development zones were set up within Chongqing immediately after it became a municipality. These divisions were temporary and no longer exist.

Legal status

The constitution of the People's Republic of China does not endorse any prefectural level division, except for autonomous prefectures. Prefectures and leagues are not at all mentioned; provinces are explicitly stated to be divided directly into counties.

The constitution does not explicitly endorse the existence of prefecture-level cities, but it does mention that "comparatively large cities" (较大的市) are divided into counties and districts. However, there are only 49 prefectural level cities that have been designated as "comparatively large". As a result, the vast majority of prefecture-level cities do not have the constitutional basis for governing districts and counties.

The wholesale conversion of prefectures into prefectural level cities has resulted in the phenomenon of "cities containing cities"—prefectural level cities containing county level cities. There is no legal basis for this, not even for the 49 "comparatively large cities". Thus, the county-level cities technically do not "belong" to the prefecture-level city, but are instead "governed on behalf" (代管) of the province by the prefectural level city, though in practice the county level cities do indeed belong to their governing prefectural level cities.

Ancient sense

In the history of the political divisions of China, the word "prefecture" has been applied onto three unrelated types of division: the xian, the zhou and the fu. In general the word "prefecture" is applied to xian for the period before the Sui and Tang dynasties; for the period after, xian are called "districts" or "counties", while "prefectures" now refer to zhou and fu.


Main article: Counties of the People's Republic of China

Xian (/) were first established during the Warring States period, and have existed continuously ever since. Today, they continue to form an important part of the political divisions of China.

Xian has been translated using several English language terms. In the context of ancient history, "district" and "prefecture" are the most commonly used terms, while "county" is generally used for more contemporary contexts.


Main article: Zhou (country subdivision)

Zhou () were first established during the Han dynasty, and were abolished only with the establishment of the Republic of China.

Zhou is generally translated as "province" or "region" for the period before the Sui dynasty, and "prefecture" for the period from the Sui dynasty onwards.

The People's Republic of China has revived the word zhou as part of the term "zizhizhou" (自治州), which is translated as "autonomous prefectures", as described above.


Main articles: Fu (country subdivision) and List of fu prefectures of China

Fu () were first established during the Tang dynasty, and were also abolished with the establishment of the Republic of China.

During the Tang and Song dynasties, the term was mainly applied to prefectures with major urban centers. For this period, it is often translated as "urban prefecture" or "superior prefecture". Later, however, most first-level prefectures under provinces would become known as fu.

See also


  1. ^ a b "The standing committee of the people’s congress of a province and autonomous region may set up administrative offices in the prefectures under its jurisdiction. " from Item 2, Article 53, Organic Law of the Local People’s Congresses and Local People’s Governments of the People’s Republic of China (2004 Revision)