The country is divided into provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the Central Government; and large cities.
- A province is subdivided into counties and cities. A county or city is subdivided into towns.
- An autonomous region is subdivided into autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties. Autonomous prefectures are subdivided into autonomous counties, and cities. An autonomous county is subdivided into national minority townships. Autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures, and autonomous counties are all autonomous national minority areas.
- The municipalities directly under the Central Government are Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Zhongqing. They are further subdivided into districts and counties; which are subdivided into towns.
- Large cities include the cities where the seat of governance for the province is located, the cities that are located in special economic regions, and the larger cities as approved by the State Council. Large cities draw up their independent development plans.
The Administrative units
China's administrative units are currently based on a three-level system dividing the nation into provinces, counties, and townships. In some instances, there are 4-level systems as is illustrated below.
City and Large City
The city of Dongguan has about 30 towns without district set-ups. Dongguan is not a large city and it adopts the 3-level administrative system. In contrast, Shenzhen has 6 districts which are further subdivided into towns. Shenzhen is one of the larger cities that adopt the 4-level system; namely provinces, cities, districts and towns. Guangzhou is the city where the seat of governance for Guangdong province is located and is also a large city as defined.
Special Economic Zones
The five special economic zones are Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Xiamen, Shantou, and Hainan. Shenzhen and Zhuhai are located within the Guangdong province. Shantou and Xiamen are located in the Fujian province. Hainan is in the Hainan province.
Special Administrative Regions
Article 31 of the Constitution specifically empowers the state to establish special administrative regions when necessary. A special administrative region is a local administrative area directly under the Central Government.
The two special administrative regions are: the Hong Kong special administrative region and the Macau special administrative region. Both of them adopt different legal systems from the mainland land under the principles of one-country two-systems.