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Map of the PRC in 1949

Before the establishment of the Qin Dynasty, China was ruled by a network of kings, nobles, and tribes. The rivalry of these groups culminated in the Warring States period, and the state of Qin eventually emerged dominant.

The Qin Dynasty was determined not to allow China to fall back into disunity, and therefore designed the first hierarchical administrative divisions in China, based on two levels: jùn commanderies and xiàn counties. The Han Dynasty that came immediately after added zhōu (usually translated as "provinces") as a third level on top, forming a three-tier structure.

The Sui Dynasty and Tang Dynasty abolished commanderies, and added circuits (dào, later under the Song and Jin) on top, maintaining a three-tier system that lasted through the 13th century. (As a second-level division, zhou are translated as "prefectures".) The Mongol-established Qin Dynasty, China was ruled by a network of kings, nobles, and tribes. The rivalry of these groups culminated in the Warring States period, and the state of Qin eventually emerged dominant.

The Qin Dynasty was determined not to allow China to fall back into disunity, and therefore designed the first hierarchical administrative divisions in China, based on two levels: jùn commanderies and xiàn counties. The Han Dynasty that came immediately after added zhōu (usually translated as "provinces") as a third level on top, forming a three-tier structure.

The Sui Dynasty and Tang Dynasty abolished commanderies, and added circuits (dào, later under the The Qin Dynasty was determined not to allow China to fall back into disunity, and therefore designed the first hierarchical administrative divisions in China, based on two levels: jùn commanderies and xiàn counties. The Han Dynasty that came immediately after added zhōu (usually translated as "provinces") as a third level on top, forming a three-tier structure.

The Sui Dynasty and Tang Dynasty abolished commanderies, and added circuits (dào, later under the Song and Jin) on top, maintaining a three-tier system that lasted through the 13th century. (As a second-level division, zhou are translated as "prefectures".) The Mongol-established Yuan Dynasty introduced the modern precursors to provinces, bringing the number of levels to four. This system was then kept more or less intact until the Qing Dynasty, the last imperial dynasty to rule China.

The Republic of China streamlined the levels to just provinces and counties in 1928, and made the first attempt to extend political administration beyond the county level by establishing townships below counties. This was also the system officially adopted by the People's Republic of China in 1949, which defined the administrative divisions of China as three levels: provinces, counties, and townships.

In practice, however, more levels were inserted. The ROC government soon learned that it was not feasible for a province to directly govern tens and sometimes hundreds of counties. Started from Jiangxi province in 1935, prefectures were later inserted between provinces and counties. They continued to be ubiquitously applied by the PRC government to nearly all areas of China until the 1980s. Since then, most of the prefectures were converted into prefecture-level cities. Greater administrative areas were inserted on top of provinces by the PRC government, but they were soon abolished, in 1954. District public offices were inserted between counties and townships; once ubiquitous as well, they are currently being abolished, and very few remain.

The most recent major developments have been the establishment of Chongqing as a municipality and the creation of Hong Kong and Macau as special administrative regions.

In recent years there have been calls to reform the administrative divisions and levels of China. Rumours of an impending major reform have also spread through various online bulletin boards.[10]

The district public offices is an ongoing reform to remove an extra level of administration from between the county and township levels. There have also been calls to abolish the prefecture level, and some provinces have transferred some of the power prefectures currently hold to the counties they govern. There are also calls to reduce the size of the provinces. The ultimate goal is to reduce the different administration levels from five to three (Provincial level, County level, Villa

The district public offices is an ongoing reform to remove an extra level of administration from between the county and township levels. There have also been calls to abolish the prefecture level, and some provinces have transferred some of the power prefectures currently hold to the counties they govern. There are also calls to reduce the size of the provinces. The ultimate goal is to reduce the different administration levels from five to three (Provincial level, County level, Village level), reducing the amount of corruption as well as the number of government workers, in order to lower the budget.