The People's Republic of China (PRC) consists of 22 provinces ( sheng ) (the PRC claims Taiwan as its 23rd province), five autonomous regions ( zizhiqu ), and four centrally administered municipalities ( zhixiashi ). Provinces and autonomous regions, in turn, are divided into "special districts," counties ( xian ), and cities ( shi ) under provincial jurisdiction, as well as into autonomous minor regions ( zhou ) and autonomous counties ( zizhixian ), where non-Han Chinese minority groups reside. Counties, autonomous counties, and autonomous zhou are divided into townships ( xiang ), autonomous townships (for small minority groups), towns, and rural communes. Hong Kong and Macau are designated as Special Administrative Regions (SAR).
From 1958 to 1982, local administrative authority formerly held by the xiang was transferred to the communes and their local people's councils. In 1988, Hainan Island, formerly part of Guangdong, was made China's newest province. The 1982 constitution returned local administrative control to the xiangs as the communes began to be disbanded. Local revolutionary committees, which replaced the local people's councils during the Cultural Revolution and under the 1975 constitution, were abolished in 1980. The restored local people's councils have the power to formulate local laws and regulations. The local people's governments are administrative organs of the state and report to the State Council.
In the 1980s an emphasis was placed on recruiting and promoting younger and better educated officials in local party and government posts. Many provinces along the coastal regions have adopted more decentralized forms of administration while interior provinces remain highly beholden to the central party. Local elections involving multiple candidates have taken place, especially in the more urbanized coastal areas. Elections began on a trial basis in 1987, and in over 730,000 villages, peasants are scheduled to go to the polls every three years to elect local committees.