If you’ve started to do your research on where to go in China, you may have come across terms such as prefecture, special administrative region, province, etc. These terms refer to various aspects of China’s administrative structure. The administrative structure is how the central government divides up China for the purposes of management. Due to China’s large area and population, there are 4 administrative divisions in modern times: provincial, prefecture, county, and municipality.Here in the USA we also have 4 divisions, despite the huge difference in population size: federal, state, county, and city.
Xiao Dong Jiang, Chenzhou City, Hunan Province, China - yue su via unsplash
Provinces in China are similar to states in the US. Like states, provinces, along with their subdivisions such as autonomous and special administrative regions, answer to the central government. However, they have a greater level of control over their economic policy. An example of a province would be Hunan, a landlocked province located in central China. It is known for its natural environment and for being a major center of agriculture, growing rice, tea and oranges.
Alxa Zuoqi, Alxa, Inner Mongolia, China – Jun Gao via Unsplash
Autonomous regions such as the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region function similarly to Native AmericanReservations in the US. These regions have their own local government and rights similar to provinces with some extra rights and support given to the minorities within them.
Macau at night – AndyLeungHK via Pixabay
Special Administrative Regions (SAR) is a term you are likely to see in the news when talking about places such as Macau, a former Portuguese colony transferred
back to China in 1999. SAR’s have a high degree of autonomy managing everything except diplomatic relations and national defense, both of which are
handled by the central government. This is similar to the US’s relationship with Puerto Rico.
Yangzhou – HKMAA via Flickr
This second level of the administrative structure primarily consists of prefecture-level cities such as Yangzhou. These cities consist of the urban center (the actual city) and the surrounding rural area which contains many smaller cities, towns and villages. The closest equivalent in the US would be if Los Angeles County, which contains the city of LA, Santa Monica, Long Beach, etc., also contained farmland.
Dengfeng Pagoda, Dengfeng, Henan Province – Gary Todd via Flickr
Unlike the US, a county in china is the equivalent of a city. An example is Dengfeng located in the Henan Province in South Central China. Located at the foot of Mount Song, one of the most sacred mountains in China, it is known for its UNESCO heritage sites such as the Gaocheng Astronomical Observatory and the Shaolin Monastery which has appeared in a number of martial arts films.
Tianjin – Lancerman via Pixabay
Two of the most popular cities visited by foreign travelers in China are in fact municipalities: Beijing and Shanghai. A municipality has the same amount of power as a province, yet they are smaller but have high populations. There are four municipalities in China, the two already mentioned, plus Tianjin in the northeast and Chongqing in the center of the country. For some frame of reference, Beijing municipality is a little larger than the state of Connecticut and Shanghai is little larger than Rhode Island.Municipalities are quite large and do have districts within them but for all intents and purposes we can stop here having covered the 4 major administrative divisions of China.
As you’re researching for your trip to China, don’t forget to check your visa requirements.