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From the icy cold north to the tropical south, each part of China can be grouped into one of the following:
Keep reading to find out more about each corner of this unique country.
Most areas within China are classified as provinces.
Each province has key differences in terms of people, language, culture, wealth and even food.
Generally speaking, the provinces in the southeast of the China, including Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong, are more developed than inland areas.
Here are each of China’s 23 provinces, ordered in terms of population size.
The country’s most populated province is also the wealthiest. Locals speak Cantonese, and migrants from all over China come to Shenzhen to find work and a better life.
In coastal city Qingdao, you can marvel at the German-era architecture, fight for a spot at the busy beaches or drink the well-known export beer, Tsingtao.
Henan is the birthplace of Chinese civilization. Here you can practice Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple, brave the Zhangjiajie Skywalk Footbridge or simply be awed by the Longmen Caves.
The province is synonymous with spicy food and enjoys a more relaxed vibe than other provinces in China. There are also plenty of things to see and do, including the Giant Buddha and panda sanctuary. In terms of geographical area, Sichuan is the second largest China province.
A rich and densely populated province, Jiangsu is a great place for the cultured tourist. Check out Nanjing, which used to be the capital of China, or one of the many water towns like Zhouzhuang, where there are little canals everywhere.
Many of China’s dirty coal-fired power plants are in Hebei, making it one of the country’s most polluted provinces.
Hunan’s capital, Changsha, has a colorful history. Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, began his political career here. And the city was briefly occupied by the Japanese in the Sino-Japanese War (1931–1945).
Huang Shan, or Yellow Mountain, is Anhui’s major tourist drawcard. And for good reason – it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Before early 2020, Hubei wasn’t very well-known internationally. But then the coronavirus came along, which well and truly put this province on the map.
Located on the east coast, just south of Shanghai, Zhejiang is a hilly province with picturesque scenery. The capital, Hangzhou, is regarded as one of China’s greenest and most beautiful cities.
Yunnan borders Vietnam, Laos and Burma in the south of China. Capital city Kunming has one of the mildest climates in China due to its low latitude and high elevation.
Dragon Tiger Mountain (Mt Longhu), in the northeast of Jiangxi, is said to be the birthplace of Taoism. On the other end of the cultural spectrum, the fifteenth series of American TV show Survivor was filmed just 25 miles (40 km) from the capital.
Liaoning’s seaside city Dalian attracts plenty of tourists. And it has a rich history – it was founded by the Russians and you can still find Russian-style architecture lining the streets.
Delicious sweet and sour pork is always on the menu in the capital city, Fuzhou. Or head to beachside city Xiamen, known for its beaches, cool culture, and pedestrian-only Piano Island.
This province is popular with both domestic and foreign tourists alike – the Terracotta Army is one of China’s best places to visit.
Even the capital, Xi’an, is steeped in history – it’s enveloped by an ancient city wall which you can walk along.
Located in the northeast of China, this province has a strong Russian influence. Capital city Harbin embraces the cold by focusing on winter tourism, like the world-renowned Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.
The Datong area, in the north of Shanxi, is rich with history. The Yungang Caves and Hanging Temple are highlights.
Doing away with much of its former heavy industry, capital city Guiyang has made a conscious effort to fuel its economy via tech and big data.
Jilin borders North Korea in the northeast of China, and is a leading automotive manufacturer. The capital, Changchun, means ‘long spring’ – despite it having a relatively short spring. In fact, Jilin is one of the coldest provinces.
Gansu is one of the least populated, yet largest China provinces by size. The biggest and most intact entrance to the Great Wall can be found in Gansu.
The island of Taiwan is only 81 miles (130 km) from mainland China at the narrowest point. China claims sovereignty over Taiwan. However, Taiwan sees itself as an independent nation.
Fly into Sanya, the country’s popular summer playground. Yalong Bay is regarded as one of Hainan’s best beaches, home to international hotels and resorts.
Qinghai is home to a fusion of different ethnic groups, resulting in an interesting mix of cultures and cuisines. It’s the most sparsely populated yet biggest Chinese province.
You’ve probably heard of Tibet.
But did you know there are four other areas that comprise China’s autonomous regions?
Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia and Xinjiang, as well as Tibet, all have their own local government – just like the provinces do.
However, due to the higher proportion of ethnic minorities in the autonomous regions, they have more legislative rights.
With the exception of Guangxi, which borders Vietnam and the South China Sea, the autonomous regions are located inland. All have a lower standard of living than the provinces dotted along the eastern seaboard.
Tourist towns Guilin and Yangshuo offer spectacular scenery with mountains and rivers. Some of the most magnificent rice terraces in the world are also found in Guangxi, including the Longji Rice Terraces.
Inner Mongolia has an interesting mix of Russian and traditional Mongolian herder cultures. Visit Hohhot’s temples or venture out and enjoy the open space of the grasslands.
This diverse region borders eight countries including Russia, Afghanistan and India. Sadly, ethnic tensions in Xinjiang have escalated in recent years.
Archaeological wonder, the Western Xia Tombs, are the royal mausoleums of the emperors in the Western Xia Dynasty. Built between the 11th and 13th centuries, they’re a stone’s throw from the capital, Yinchuan, in this northern desert region.
Full of harsh and rugged terrain, Tibet has only been open to tourists since the 1980s. The iconic Potala Palace, perched on top of a hill in capital Lhasa, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are four direct-controlled municipalities in China – Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing.
They’re basically large, densely populated urban areas which act like provinces. They don’t have a capital city because they already are cities.
Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin have held municipality status for quite some time, while Chongqing is a relative newcomer to the group. It merged with neighboring cities and was classed as a municipality in the late 1990s.
Chongqing is the largest municipality and the only one located inland.
The grand Yangtze River flows through this mega-city. You can board one of the many river boats and cruise past the famous Three Gorges.
Shanghai is a thriving, cosmopolitan metropolis. Walk along The Bund and take in the beautiful European facades. You can see why some people call this city the Paris of the East.
Best enjoyed in fall or spring, Beijing is the home of China’s best sightseeing, all in one place. From the Forbidden City and Summer Palace to the many sections of the Great Wall of China, tourists are spoiled for choice.
Just 30 minutes by bullet train to Beijing, this metropolis has some colonial architecture mixed with modern skyscrapers. A section of the Great Wall of China can be accessed from Tianjin.
Hong Kong and Macau are China’s special administrative regions, or SARs for short.
Historically a British-controlled trading port, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997. Macau was handed back by the Portuguese in 1999.
While the SARs have different arrangements for things like government, currency and education, the central government is tightening its grip on the SARs’ autonomy.
A world-leading financial center, Hong Kong acts as a hub between the West and China’s mainland. Recent anti-government protests have raised a question mark over the region’s autonomy and civil liberties.
Macau is a short ferry ride from Hong Kong. It’s famous for its casinos, its Portuguese flavor and the Ruins of St Paul’s – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With so many differences across each province and region, it’s difficult to generalize when talking about China. But that’s what makes the country so unique.
Whether you’re planning on traveling to China, or you’re simply learning about China, you’ll find there are so many interesting things to discover.
Page last updated 20 March 2021. Population statistics are from Statista. Commercial relationship disclosure: The Helpful Panda has commercial arrangements with organizations that may appear on this page, such as affiliate links. See our terms for more info.