China has a mystique that has captivated explorers, philosophers, and travelers for centuries. It is a land of astounding and breathtaking beauty. Being the 2nd largest country in the entire world based on the sheer enormity of its landmass, the diversity of its landscape is varied and immense. It has fertile deltas along its two main water ways, the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. You will find desserts, plateaus, and alluvial planes spreading across and dotting the massive landscape with a beauty that is palatial and pastoral in turn.
The entire country borders 12 other different countries and has a complex and diverse topography that is divided into provinces. If you are considering traveling to this majestic and incredible land, you may have an entirely different experience as you move from certain provinces of China to others. We’ll take a look at each of these provinces and explore what they have in common and what makes them different from one another as well.
What Makes a Province?
All of the provinces of China are not created equal; that is to say that while each region of China is referred to as a “province”, there are a number of groupings that differentiate certain administrative regions from others. Confused? Don’t be! Let’s break it down really quick to clarify the differences between them.
A province is governed by a provincial committee, lead by a governor who reports to the provincial committee’s head; a secretary. There are 22 provinces of China that have this particular designation, and those are:
A municipality, by contrast, is controlled directly by the government as opposed to having a committee, secretary, or government. These municipalities make up some of the smallest provinces because they were initially conceived of as cities as opposed to the larger provinces. There are currently four municipalities:
An autonomous region is defined largely by the fact that a large minority ethnic group resides within its borders. Like a province, it has its own government, but unlike a province, it has a separate legislative branch as well, which gives the region a little more, well, autonomy. There are five such autonomous regions in China, and you will find them mainly along the borders. As we stated before, China borders a number of countries. In fact, it has the largest land-based border in the world! The five autonomous regions of China are:
- Inner Mongolia
Special Administrative Region:
A special administrative region is also autonomous, and are made special because while they fall under the governance of China, they are not mainland Chinese territories. There are only two such regions that fall under this designation; Hong Kong and Macau.
Perhaps the most controversial and tenuous of all the provinces of China is the claimed region of the Taiwan Province, a small island off of mainland China. The People’s Republic of China, or PRC, claims the province as its own, while Taiwan claims sovereignty and is sometimes referred to as the Republic of China, or ROC.
It is important to remember that while the provinces of China have the different administrative designations that we just discussed, they are all commonly referred to as “provinces”. There are 34 of them, in total, a little beyond the scope of what we can cover here, so we’ll choose a few of the most unique or well known provinces of China to explore. Perhaps one or more will pique your interest or give you the insight you need if you are considering doing business in China.
The Hunan Province is located in the south of China, and was initially a very important waypoint in Chinese trade and communication due to its prime location on the Yangtze river, which also contributed to the province’s high grain yield in earlier times. It was also located on the Imperial Highway and served as a major travel arterial that was begun in 220 BCE. Hunan’s major crops are rice and cotton, though the region remains important to tea production. It is also home to a large distribution of antimony mines, an important material needed to make certain batteries. Hunan cuisine is known for its spice and the inclusion of fiery, spicy, peppers.
Tibet is an autonomous region in China, located in the south west part of China, known for its beautiful mountain vistas and its high level of biodiversity and rich plant life. Tibet also has the lowest population despite its very large size, with an average of only two people per square kilometer. The region is largely unspoiled, relies on agriculture as an economic driver, and you are probably most familiar with its deeply religious and spiritual community that is grounded in Tibetan Buddhism, and follows closely the teachings of the high or Dalai Lama.
Beijing is perhaps best known as the capital of the People’s Republic of China. A municipality, it is the second most populous city in all of China and located in the north, where it is framed by the beautiful Jundu Mountains and Western Hills. The climate of Beijing is heavily influenced by the seasonal monsoons, which means that if you plan on visiting, you should be prepared for some very hot and humid summers and bitter, dry winters. Autumn in Beijing is particularly lovely, however short, because it is crisp, cool, and rarely rains.
Sichuan is located to the south and west as well, and like Tibet, is home to very beautiful vistas and Buddhist temples built during the T’ang Dynasty, which spanned from the early 7th to 10th centuries. The province was a historically rich and plentiful province, and to this day it supplies a large amount of commercial crops for export, including sugar cane, sweet potatoes, peaches, and a number of succulent citrus fruits. It isn’t just an agricultural or bucolic haven, however. Sichuan is the fourth most populous province in China and is a major industrial center for the production of energy, textiles, silk, and even wine.
Hong Kong is one of only two provinces of China that are designated as a special administrative region; the other is Macau. The name Hong Kong means “fragrant harbor”, and its position at the Pearl River delta and the South China Sea made it a perfect import/export point not just for China but for India and the British Colonial Fleet. So it was, perhaps most famously for opium, but there is much, much more to Hong Kong than that. To this day, “The Pearl of The Orient” remains the third most important financial center, the first being New York City and London. It also has its own currency, the Hong Kong Dollar or HKD, which is the eighth most frequently traded form of currency. worldwide.
Guangdong borders the South China Sea in the south east of the People’s Republic of China, and is the most populous province in all of the country, with the highest GDP. To the north are the Nan Mountains, and the main language spoken in Guangdong is Cantonese, though if you’re thinking of travelling to China, it never hurts to brush up on both Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese phrases, since Mandarin is the administrative language used in the province. It is also a vibrant cultural center where a traveler can take in traditional Cantonese opera, or delight in other forms of the famous and beautifully complex Guangdong music scene.
Inner Mongolia is located in the very northern most part of central China where it borders Mongolia and Russia. It is one of China’s five autonomous regions and is made up largely of the Han and Mongol ethnic demographics. Because it is so large and wide, the climate varies greatly from one end of Inner Mongolia to the other, and is perhaps most notable influenced by the surrounding aridity of the steppe regions that surround it. As a result, the winters in Mongolia are very long and dry, but with very little precipitation. It is also a very rocky region and is lately drawing more attention due to its potential as a mining location.
These are only a very small sampling of the many, many beautiful and diverse provinces of China. There are so many reasons to learn more about this incredibly complex country–China is a global and economical powerhouse, and Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language on Earth. You can see how trying your hand at learning a little Mandarin can help expand your worldview! Additionally, for any traveler photographer, there are more than enough opportunities in the many provinces of China to develop a beautiful portfolio that will document your adventures to last your whole life long.