Administrative Divisions in the People’s Republic of China
The highest level within the Chinese system of administrative division is the “province” (Ch: sheng). Apart from the regular provinces, province-level areas include the Beijing municipal area and the five “autonomous regions” (Ch: zizhiqu). The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is thus a province-level administrative unit.
Within each province, there are “prefectures” (Ch: zhou) and prefecture-level “municipal areas” (Ch: shi). Some prefectures are “autonomous prefectures” (Ch: zizhizhou) assigned to one or more ethnic minorities. However, within an autonomous region, there are no autonomous prefectures, since the higher-level administrative unit is already assigned to an ethnic minority.
Within each prefecture, there are “counties” (Ch: xian), some of which are “autonomous counties” (Ch: zizhixian). Counties are explicitly designated autonomous only when they are located within a prefecture that either is not autonomous or is assigned to an ethnic group other than the one for whom the county is designated. A municipality may also be a county-level administrative unit, but there are no autonomous municipalities.
Within each county, there are “village districts” (Ch: xiang) and “townships” (Ch: zhen). In some areas, the older designation “district” (Ch: diqu) is still in use. Since the early 1980s, village districts and townships have been administered by their own governments. Some village districts with large minority populations located outside autonomous counties or within autonomous counties assigned to other ethnic minorities have since been assigned the status of autonomous village district.