Local government in China is organized into three major administrative tiers: provinces, counties, and administrative towns and villages. At the first level, directly below the central government, are the 22 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, and 4 directly governed municipalities—Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Chongqing. Hong Kong S. A. R. and Macau S. A. R. are self-governing special administrative regions with their own constitutions. At the second level are prefectures, counties, and municipalities; at the third are municipal subdivisions, administrative towns, and villages. At each of these levels are found special autonomous entities in areas inhabited primarily by non-Chinese minorities.
From the late 1950s to the 1970s, in most areas administrative towns and villages were replaced by communes as the basic administrative units and the communes were further divided into production brigades. In 1985 a five-year campaign to dismantle 56,000 rural communes was completed. After 1984 a continuing reform programme began to transfer administration of counties from prefectures to cities given similar rank and people’s congresses, in order to generate rural economic growth under urban leadership.
Although each layer of governmental structure is responsible to the layer above it, much authority has generally been vested in small local units. The promise of such an arrangement was important in the success of the Chinese Communists in 1949. The government has expended considerable energy to continue to have such local government provide a forum for discussion of and input into the governing process in China. Government at village level is now handled by a highly successful system of free local elections.
The thrust of government policy in the 1980s was to delegate authority to promote growth. In 1983 seven cities (Chongqing, Wuhan, Shenyang, Dalian, Guangzhou, Harbin, and Xi’an) were freed from provincial jurisdiction and left answering directly to central authority; Shanghai gained similar status in 1990. The provinces, with their own people’s congresses since 1980, likewise have considerable autonomy, and have increasingly been able to dilute or disregard any central dictates as they choose.
The economic reforms of the 1980s and the slackening of central control have left many local authorities at lower levels far more concerned with pursuing wealth, even by peddling influence, than political action, and have loosened curbs on arbitrary rule by local blocs. "China" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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