Prefecture (China)


Prefecture (China)

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

In a modern context, prefecture-level (地区级, abbreviated 地级, "region") is used to refer to a level of division between the province and county levels. The prefecture level is the second level in the administrative hierarchy of the People's Republic of China. There are four kinds of prefecture-level divisions: prefectures, prefecture-level cities, autonomous prefectures, and leagues.

The modern Chinese prefecture is a relatively recent creation. When the word "prefecture" is encountered in literature referring to ancient China, it refers to either the "xian" or the "zhou", which are two other types of administrative division.

Prefecture

Prefectures (地区 pinyin: dìqū) are governed by administrative offices (行政公署 "xíngzhènggōngshǔ"), led by a head of office (行政首长 "xíngzhèngshǒuzhǎng") appointed by the province.

Prefecture is developed from the Circuit, which was a level between the province level and the county level in Qing dynasty. In 1928, the government of the Republic of China abolished the circuit level and the province administrated county directly. Soon, this reform was found unfeasible because some provinces had hundreds of counties. Consequently, province was 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.

There are 17 prefectures remaining in mainland China, mostly in Xinjiang and Tibet.

Prefecture-level city

Prefecture-level cities (地级市 pinyin: dìjíshì) are cities 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 administrative division, 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.

League

Leagues (盟 pinyin: méng) are the prefectures of Inner Mongolia. The name comes from an ancient Mongolian administrative unit, which were used during the Qing Dynasty in Mongolia. During the ROC rule, the leagues had status equivalent to provinces. Leagues contain banners, equivalent to counties.

Just like prefectures, most leagues have been replaced by prefecture-level cities. There are only 3 leagues remaining in Inner Mongolia.

Autonomous prefecture

Autonomous prefectures (自治州 pinyin: 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.

Development zone

Development zones (开发区 pinyin: kāifāqū) were temporary prefecture-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 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 constitution does not explicit 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 prefecture-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 prefecture-level cities has resulted in the phenomenon of "cities containing cities" — prefecture-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" of the province by the prefecture-level city, though in practice the county-level cities do indeed belong to their governing prefecture-level cities.

Ancient sense

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

"Xian"

"Xian" (县/縣) 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.

"Zhou"

"Zhou" (州) 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.

ee also

* List of prefecture-level divisions of China


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