Circuit (administrative division)

Circuit (administrative division)

A circuit (道 ; Chinese: dào; Japanese: ) was a historical political division of China, and is still a Japanese one. In Korea, the same word (; do) is translated as "province".



Circuits originated in China in 627, when Emperor Taizong subdivided China into ten circuits. These were originally meant to be purely geographic and not administrative. Emperor Xuanzong further added five. Slowly, the circuits strengthened their own power, until they became powerful regional forces that tore the country apart during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. During the Later Jin and Song dynasties, circuits were renamed from dao to lu (), both of which literally mean "road" or "path". Dao were revived during the Yuan Dynasty.

At first, circuits were the highest of the three-tier administrative system of China; the next two were prefectures or zhou () and counties (, also translated as "districts"). They are simultaneously inspection areas (監察區 jiān chá qū). Circuits were demoted to the second-level after the Yuan Dynasty established provinces at the very top, and remained there for the next several centuries.

Circuits still existed as high-level, though not top-level, divisions of the Republic of China, such as Qiongya Circuit (now Hainan Province). In 1928, all circuits were replaced with committees or just completely abandoned.


During the pre-modern era, Japan was divided into seven circuits encompassing the islands of Honshū, Shikoku, Kyūshū. The seven defunct circuits spread all over the three islands:

  • Tōkaidō (東海道) "East Sea Circuit": 15 provinces (kuni)
  • Nankaidō (南海道) "South Sea Circuit": 6 provinces
  • Saikaidō (西海道) "West Sea Circuit": 8 provinces
  • Hokurikudō (北陸道) "North Land Circuit": 7 provinces
  • San'indō (山陰道) "Mountain-north Circuit": 8 provinces
  • San'yōdō (山陽道) "Mountain-south Circuit": 8 provinces
  • Tōsandō (東山道) "East Mountain Circuit": 13 provinces

(For the mountain south-north reference with in and , see Yin Yang.)

In the mid-19th century, the northern island of Ezo was settled, and renamed Hokkaidō (北海道?, "North Sea Circuit"). However, Hokkaido was never a "circuit" in the classical sense. It was essentially a prefecture with a different name from the other prefectures.


Since the late 10th century, the do (“province”) has been the primary administrative division in Korea. See Eight Provinces, Provinces of Korea, Subdivisions of South Korea and Administrative divisions of North Korea for details.

See also

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