Autonomous areas of China

Autonomous areas of China

In a similar fashion to the former Soviet Union's titular nations, a number of areas associated with one or more ethnic minorities are designated as autonomous within the People's Republic of China (PRC). These areas are recognized in the PRC's constitution and are nominally given a number of rights not accorded to other administrative divisions. In reality, however, autonomous regions are "political eunuchs."Fact|date=August 2008 This is because their authority rests with the Constitution and the Law on Regional Autonomy, requiring leaders to seek prior approval from the National People's Congress (NPC) to pass legislation.Fact|date=August 2008 This is not true for other provinces, which can pass legislation without such prior approval.Fact|date=August 2008 For this reason, it has been contended that Autonomous regions are in fact "less autonomous." [Justin J. Stein, “Taking the Deliberative Turn in China: International Law, Minority Rights, and the Case of Xinjiang,” Journal of Public and International Affairs, Volume 14/Spring 2003: 13-14.]

The PRC's autonomous regions may be found in the first (or top) to third levels of its national administrative divisions thus:

A few autonomous areas break the regular nomenclature pattern, because the name of the nationality is already contained within the geographical name, or because there is no geographical name:

Legal basis

Autonomous regions, prefectures, counties, and banners are covered under Section 6 of Chapter 3 (Articles 111-122) of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, and with more detail under the Law of the People's Republic of China on Regional National Autonomy (《中华人民共和国民族区域自治法》). The constitution states that the head of government of each autonomous areas must be of the ethnic group as specified by the autonomous area (Tibetan, Uyghur, etc). The constitution also guarantees a range of rights including: independence of finance, independence of economic planning, independence of arts, science and culture, organization of local police, and use of local language. In addition, the head of government of each autonomous region is known as a "chairman", unlike provinces, where they are known as "governors".


Of the five autonomous regions, only Tibet has an absolute majority (>50%) of the designated ethnic group, namely, the Tibetans. Xinjiang has a plurality (<50%) of the designated ethnic group, the Uyghurs, though this is disputed by Uyghur independence advocates, who claim that the Han Chinese population in Xinjiang has been severely understated. The remaining 3 autonomous regions have absolute majorities of Han Chinese, the majority ethnicity of China.


Autonomous regions, prefectures, counties, and banners were established after communist takeover, following Soviet practice. At first, the nomenclature of these autonomous areas were somewhat confused, with autonomous regions appearing at the province, prefecture, county, and township levels. Eventually the nomenclature was standardized to the conventions used today.

The first autonomous region to be established was Inner Mongolia, created within communist-held territory in 1947, two years before the establishment of the People's Republic. Xinjiang was converted from a province to an autonomous region in 1955. Guangxi and Ningxia followed in 1957, and Tibet Autonomous Region was formally established in 1965.


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