Zhou (country subdivision)

Zhou (country subdivision)

The zhōu (州) was a historical political division of China. First established during the Han Dynasty, zhou continued to exist until the establishment of the Republic of China — a period of over 2000 years. "Zhou" were also used in Korea, with the word borrowed into the Korean language as ju (주) (see Provinces of Korea), and into Vietnamese as châu. The word was also borrowed into Japanese as shū, which is found in the names of the Japanese islands of Honshū and Kyūshū.The Tang Dynasty also established (府), which were "zhou" of special importance, such as capitals and other major cities. These are also translated as "prefectures" into English. Fu was borrowed into the Japanese language and is still used today as the designation of Osaka Prefecture and Kyoto Prefecture. See Prefectures of Japan.

"Zhou" is usually rendered by several terms into the English language:
*"Zhou" before the Tang Dynasty are called provinces or regions
*"Zhou" during or after the Tang Dynasty are called prefectures
*"Zhou" of the Qing Dynasty are also called departments (either independent departments or dependent departments depending on level.)
*"Ju" of Korea are called provinces

As an administrative entity, "zhou" exist today only in the form of "zìzhìzhōu", or autonomous prefectures. These were established by the People's Republic of China as administrative areas for designated minorities. These "zhou" are not connected to the historical "zhou" described in the rest of this article.

"Zhou" have left a huge mark on the place names of China: the province of Guizhou, as well as the major cities of Guangzhou, Fuzhou, Hangzhou, Zhengzhou, Lanzhou, Suzhou, Liuzhou, Chuzhou, Wenzhou, Quanzhou, Xuzhou, Wuzhou, Jiangzhou, Bazhou, Bozhou, Changzhou, Cangzhou, Jinzhou, Taizhou, Chaozhou, and many more, all owe their -zhou endings to their onetime status as "zhou". The same goes for the Korean province of Jeju, as well as the cities of Gwangju, Jeonju, Naju, Cheongju, Chungju, Gongju, Sinŭiju, and many more.


"Zhou" were first mentioned in several ancient texts, notably the "Yugong". All of these texts divided China into nine "zhou", though they differed as to what the "zhou" specifically were. These "zhou" were geographical concepts, not administrative entities.

The Han Dynasty was the first to formalize the "zhou" into actual administrative divisions, by establishing 14 "zhou" all across China. Because these "zhou" were the largest divisions of the China at the time, they are translated as "provinces". After the Han Dynasty, however, the number of "zhou" began to increase. By the time the Sui Dynasty began, there were over a hundred "zhou" all across China.

(See History of the political divisions of China#Ancient times for a table of "zhou" under the Western Jin Dynasty.)

The Sui Dynasty and Tang Dynasty merged "zhou" with the next level down, the "jun", or commanderies. The Tang Dynasty also added another level on top: the circuits; from here onwards "zhou" were lowered to second-level status, and they are therefore translated into English as "prefectures". "Zhou" then continued to survive as a second- or third-level political division all the way until the Qing Dynasty.

The Republic of China abolished "zhou" altogether, leaving the word "zhou" to survive only as a fossil in the names of cities such as Guangzhou and Hangzhou. The People's Republic of China, on the other hand, has recycled the name, and now use it to refer to autonomous prefectures, or "zìzhìzhōu", a prefecture-level division.

ee also

*Province (China)
*Political divisions of China

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