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CategorySecond level administrative division of a unitary state
Number7 prefectures
Populations95,465 (Ngari) – 3,979,362 (Kaxgar)
Areas46,755 km2 (18,052 sq mi) (Daxing'anling) – 304,683 km2 (117,639 sq mi) (Ngari)

Prefectures are one of four types of prefecture-level divisions in China, the second-level administrative division in the country. While at one time prefectures were the most common prefecture-level division, they are in the process of being abolished and only seven formally-designated prefectures remain.

The term "prefecture" is also used as a translation of three unrelated types of administrative divisions that were historically in use in China: the xian, the zhou, and the fu.

Modern prefectures

Prefectures are administrative subdivisions of provincial-level divisions. The constitution of the People's Republic of China does not endorse any prefecture-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 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 provinces and the counties during the Qing dynasty. In 1928, the government of the Republic of China abolished circuits and provinces began to administer 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.

List of prefectures

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

Historical prefectures

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" refer to zhou and fu.


See also: 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 (administrative division) 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. ^ "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)