Prefectures are the second-level divisions of China. First, the country is broken into provinces and autonomous regions. Second, provinces and autonomous regions are broken into prefectures of various kinds. Third, prefectures are broken into counties. Fourth, counties are broken into towns and subdistricts.
Any second-level division of China can be called a prefecture. However, prefecture also means a particular kind of second-level division. For this reason, second-level divisions are also called prefecture-level divisions.
The kinds of prefecture-level divisions include:
- Prefectures: In the past, they were the most common type. Now most of them were changed into prefecture-level cities. There are only 7 today. All of them are in far-out rural areas.
- Prefecture-level cities: Most of them are very large. They are not just a city, but also contain rural areas. County-level cities and counties may be inside a prefecture-level city. A prefecture must meet certain standards to become a prefecture-level city. There are 299 prefecture-level cities today, so they are the most common kind.
- Leagues: They are in Inner Mongolia. There are only 3 leagues today, because the others were changed into prefecture-level cities.
- Autonomous prefectures: They have large numbers of ethnic minorities: people who are not Han Chinese. There are 30 autonomous prefectures today.