''Zhou'' () were historical administrative and political divisions of China. Formally established during the Han dynasty, ''zhou'' exist continuously in 1912—a period of over 2000 years. ''Zhou'' were also previously used in Korea (, ''ju''), Vietnam ( vi|châu), and .


''Zhou'' is typically rendered by several terms in the English language: * The large ''zhou'' before the Tang dynasty and in countries other than China are called "provinces" * The smaller ''zhou'' during and after the Tang dynasty are called "prefectures" * The ''zhou'' of the Qing dynasty are also called either "independent" or "dependent departments", depending on their level. The Tang dynasty also established '''' (, "prefectures"), ''zhou'' of special importance such as capitals and other major cities. By the Ming and Qing, became predominant divisions within Chinese provinces. In Ming and Qing, the word ''fǔ'' () was typically attached to the name of each prefecture's capital city, thus both Chinese and Western maps and geographical works would often call the respective cities Hangzhou-fu, Wenzhou-fu, Wuchang-fu, etc. Following the Meiji Restoration, ''fu'' was also used in Japanese for the urban prefectures of the most important cities; today, it is still used in the Japanese names for the Osaka and Kyoto Prefectures. In the People's Republic of China, ''zhou'' today exists only in the designation "autonomous prefecture" (), administrative areas for China's designated minorities. However, ''zhou'' have left a huge mark on Chinese place names, including the province of Guizhou and the major cities of Guangzhou, Fuzhou, Hangzhou, Lanzhou, and Suzhou, among many others. Likewise, although modern Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese provinces are no longer designated by ''zhou'' cognates, the older terms survive in various place names, notably the Japanese islands of Honshu and Kyushu, the Korean province Jeju-do, and Lai Châu in Vietnam.


''Zhou'' were first mentioned in ancient Chinese texts, notably the ''Yu Gong'' or ''Tribute of Yu'', section of the ''Book of Documents''. All agreed on the division of China into nine ''zhou'', though they differed on their names and position. These ''zhou'' were geographical concepts, not administrative entities. The Han dynasty was the first to formalize the ''zhou'' into actual administrative divisions by establishing 13 ''zhou'' all across China. Because these ''zhou'' were the largest divisions of the China at the time, they are usually translated as "provinces". After the Han Dynasty, however, the number of ''zhou'' began to increase. By the time of the Sui dynasty, there were over a hundred ''zhou'' all across China. The Sui and Tang dynasties merged ''zhou'' with the next level down, the commanderies or (). The Tang also added another level on top: the circuit or (). Henceforth, ''zhou'' were lowered to second-level status, and the word becomes translated into English as "prefecture". Thereafter, ''zhou'' continued to survive as second- or third-level political divisions until the Qing dynasty. The People's Republic of China recycled the name, using it to refer to the autonomous prefectures granted to various ethnicities.

See also

* Administrative divisions of China * Provinces of China


{{DEFAULTSORT:Zhou (administrative division) Category:Administrative divisions of ancient China * Category:Types of administrative division